A couple of weeks ago, we took a look at what it takes to keep your watch as clean as possible with a few easy steps you can do from home. Hopefully, by now, you’ve had a chance to clean your watches and any bracelets you’re fond of using – but what about the rest of your straps? What about the crusty NATO you wore all summer? Or your favorite leather strap now that leather strap season is upon us? Yes, those need to be cleaned and maintained too (don’t worry, it’s easy).
As with the How To Clean Your Watch post, the following is meant to steer most people in the right direction. If you have a strap care routine that’s working, I’m not suggesting that you change a thing. But, if you have a handful (or drawers full) of straps, the following steps are quick and easy, offering a basic method for keeping your straps tidy and for ensuring that they don’t wear out faster than they ought to. For simplicity, I’m breaking it down into leather straps, nylon straps (including NATOs), and rubber straps. Let’s dig in.
The key to getting the most from leather is to ensure that the material stays soft and clean. Generally speaking, some water is ok, but you want to avoid soaking the strap (especially if it has a liner). Some leathers deal with water better than others, so while a shell cordovan is quite easy to keep clean and conditioned, suede or nubuck-finished straps will require more specific care.
- Remove the strap from your watch.
- Wipe with a cloth or even a very soft brush (if suede or nubuck, a suede brush or suede eraser is a good option, if needed).
- For straps with a smooth grain (non-suede or nubuck), use a minimal amount of water and some gentle soap. Let it dry entirely before moving to the next step. Don’t do this for suede or similar.
- Once dry, treat with a leather conditioner to keep the leather soft and protected – just like you’d do for a decent pair of shoes. Please remember that some leather conditioners or supplemental oils can darken the color of the leather. I like to use Allen Edmonds Leather Lotion, and I tend to avoid heavier treatments like mink oil (it’s great for certain uses, but will darken leather). The goal here is to moisturize and keep the material as soft and supple as possible.
Pro Tip: Swap straps (and/or watches) frequently as day-to-day use of a single leather strap leads to considerable wear and tear. Like leather shoes, it’s best when they are worn and then given a chance to rest.
NATOs and Nylon Straps
NATOs are great straps that offer excellent comfort and flexibility and can easily stand up to the water, sun, and more that is common to an active lifestyle (they are great for sunscreen, and bug spray, too). But all of this sweat, water, and various protective chemicals end up soaked into the strap’s woven material, so cleaning is key to avoid a stinky and stained NATO (or other nylon strap). This is one of the most common queries I get via my DMs or questions sent into my podcast, The Grey NATO. Thankfully, they are really easy to wash.
- Remove the strap from your watch.
- Prep the strap with a clean towel or soft brush, ensuring there’s no crud left on the surface of the strap.
- In a suitably-sized dish, mix a soft soap (I commonly use dish soap) with warm water and submerge your strap for a few minutes. Do not use hot water; intense heat can (and will) affect the nylon (this is also why I don’t recommend using your dishwasher, as I’ve seen NATOs melt from the heat).
- Once soaked, rub the strap between your fingers to work the soap into the fabric.
- Rinse thoroughly under running water.
- Roll the strap in a hand towel and compress to remove as much water as possible.
- Hang the strap to dry it (preferably not in direct sunlight).
- If, after cleaning and drying, you find any frayed bits of nylon, use the heat (not the direct flame) from a lighter to ever so lightly melt away the fray and seal up the edge of the strap.
Pro Tip: Want a more automated option? Put your nylon straps in a wash bag (or even a spare sock) and toss them in with the rest of your cold water laundry. Again, with heat being the enemy, don’t put your nylon straps in the dryer. After removing from the wash, follow steps 6 and 7 above. You can also combine the two options and soak your dirty NATOs in ice water with a strong detergent and then move on to rinsing and drying.
As fast as straps go, rubber is the easiest to clean and maintain. I love rubber straps because they are comfortable, great in the summer, and stand up to a lot of abuse (sunlight, salt, sunscreen, bug spray, etc.). That being said, keep in mind that “rubber” is a bit of a blanket term and is often used to describe a range of straps rather than ones that are exclusively made from real rubber (many are silicone, for example). If you’re not sure, you can always consult with the manufacturer of your rubber strap to see if there are any specialized cleaning needs. If not, the following should do the trick:
- Remove the strap from the watch (unless you absolutely trust the water-resistance of said watch).
- Rinse strap under warm running water.
- Apply a soft hand soap (dish soap is fine, too).
- Rinse away any excess soap and allow the strap to dry. Avoid direct sunlight as UV can be hard on rubber materials.
And it’s as easy as that. From cleaning your watch and its bracelet to any of your hundreds of other straps (I might be projecting, but only a bit), I offer the above information as nothing more than a hopefully helpful guide to protect your favorite straps from a shortened and overly-sweaty life on your wrist. After all, if you’re going to spend good money on great straps, you might as well treat them well by keeping them clean and ready to wear.