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Care and Feeding of Show Chaps
From: 
  Lindsey
Located: 
   
Question: 
 

What is the best way to care for my show chaps?

     
     

If you’ve invested in quality show chaps, a little bit of care will go a long ways towards keeping you and your chaps happy together. Gentle cleaning and careful storage will extend their useful life, and also add to a higher resale value when it’s time to trade your old faithful chaps in for a new pair.

Chaps are made from either leather or synthetic suedes. All  chap materials are subject to stretching and distortion with wear, and all chaps will sun fade over time. Stretching can be minimized by investing in quality chaps with reinforcements at points of stress, and proper fit. Fading is inevitable but can be reduced by not sitting around in the sun all day in  your chaps- consider just putting them on for your classes—and by keeping them clean. Darker colors show fading more than paler shades, but exposure to sun and air will alter the original color of all chaps, especially along the top of the thighs.

Keep dirt from damaging chaps by gently brushing them clean with a soft bristle grooming brush or horsehair hat brush (don’t use these brushes for anything else) after each show. Letting arena dust stay on the chaps dulls the color and abrades the fibers, be they leather or Ultrasuede, which causes damage. Store leather chaps inside out, folded from thigh to instep, on a fat plastic hanger. Ultrasuede chaps should be folded right side out to avoid wrinkling in the laminated areas of yokes and cuffs. Any garment bag will do, but don’t zip it up completely—chaps benefit from ‘breathing space’ while stored.

All garments sold in the United States are required by law to have care instructions attached, but most chaps don’t. Both leather and synthetic styles can be machine washed, but check with manufacturers for their recommendations. Chaps should be washed only when showing visible dirt on the outside of the legs: expect and accept stains and discoloration on the inside of the legs from saddle oils and horse sweat around the lower legs. The more you wash your chaps, the more you’ll shorten their life, because each washing softens the fibers and invites more staining and fading by stripping tanning and finishing chemicals from the material. An annual tune-up is usually fine for cleaning chaps.

The hints and tips below have been successful for Hobby Horse chaps for more than a decade, but we do not guarantee that your results will be the same as ours. Use common sense and understand that you can refresh your chaps, but you can’t make them new.

READ ALL INSTRUCTIONS BEFORE YOU START!

Washing Ultrasuede Chaps

NOTE! All synthetic suedes are not created equal.  Ultrasuede is the trademarked name for one particular synthetic material that makes great chaps. Other synthetic suedes are cheaper, but they do not wash or wear as well as Ultrasuede.

1. Remove all loose silver conchos or buttons so they don’t chip the enamel off your washing machine. Don’t worry about attached buckles. Don’t  machine wash covered belts, as they will delaminate. They can be spot cleaned with warm water and mild soap.

2. Fill washer tub with cool water on a low setting, and add a capful of gentle soap, like Ivory. DO NOT add fabric softeners or other treatments!

3. Allow chaps to run through a complete wash cycle. Use a gentle setting if your machine has it. If you have obvious stains on the outside of the legs, use a toothbrush to gently scrub your soap solution into problem areas. Suede washes and other fancy soaps may stain—be sure to spot test in an inconspicuous place first. Don’t scrub the inside of the legs- it will only weaken the material and the chaps will be the same color again the first time you wear them from saddle oils.

4. If your chaps were tight, zip them on over your show pants when they are damp, and stretch them out a bit. Chaps will not shrink in cool water, but they usually draw back up to their original size and length. Tug all zipper tapes to relax them.

5. Remove chaps and allow to air dry, face down, on large towels. Gently straighten fringe with your fingers. Use spray starch (any weight or brand) to saturate the chaps from the back side. This helps restore some of the body that you just washed out of the chaps. Several coats of starch, especially on the fringe, are recommended.

6. When chaps are dry or almost dry, put them in the dryer for about ten minutes on an air or fluff setting. This helps remove any wrinkles and fluffs the nap a little bit. DO NOT use dryer sheets!

7. First Aid for Faded Ultrasuede: follow directions for dying below. You can also use suede spray (NOT leather spray!) from the shoe repair shop to lightly mist damaged areas.

Washing and Re-dyeing Leather Chaps

Cleaning leather chaps in your home washer is similar to washing Ultrasuede chaps, but you’ll add a second trip through the washer with some liquid dye to help restore the color that always fades out of leather chaps.

Smoothie leather chaps are best left alone, and simply dusted after each use. A light misting of Armor-All applied with a clean towel can refresh Smoothies, but washing and dyeing is not recommended.

NOTE! Leather chaps can do weird things when you wash them. There may be invisible stains and residue from chemicals, like fly spray, that can cause strange spotting and streaks on the chaps. Re-dying will usually take care of most of this, but dyeing chaps is an art, not a science, and we cannot guarantee your results with our methods. If you’re nervous, pay a dry cleaner a fortune and blame them if something goes wrong…but washing and re-dyeing almost always produces a better result for less money.

Do not wash leather chaps with tooled saddle leather yokes or trims. Dry clean or spot clean the legs.

1. Remove all loose silver conchos or buttons so they don’t chip the enamel off your washing machine Don’t worry about attached buckles. Don’t  machine wash covered belts, as they will delaminate. They can be spot cleaned with warm water and mild soap.

2. Fill washer tub with cool water on a low setting, and add a capful of gentle soap, like Ivory. DO NOT add fabric softeners or other treatments!

3. Allow chaps to run through a complete wash cycle. Use a gentle setting if your machine has it. If you have obvious stains on the outside of the legs, use a toothbrush to gently scrub your soap solution into problem areas. Suede washes and other fancy soaps may stain—be sure to spot test in an inconspicuous place first. Don’t scrub the inside of the legs—it will only weaken the material and the chaps will be the same color again the first time you wear them from saddle oils.

4. Set the wet chaps aside and fill the washer again to a low setting, this time with warm (not hot) water. Add liquid dye (see below) and put the wet chaps back in the washer. Let the wash cycle complete for moderately faded chaps, or let the chaps soak for an hour if they are very faded. Be sure that you put WET chaps into the dye bath, and that they are completely submerged for soaking.

About Dye

Liquid Rit is readily available at drug and grocery stores, and is recommended. Powdered Rit is cheaper, but not worth the hassle if you can find the colors you need in liquid. If not completely dissolved in boiling water first, then strained through an old nylon, powdered dye will leave stain marks on chaps that look a little like you tried to tie-dye your chaps. Not good unless you are having a flashback to the 60’s.

Lighter colors are harder to restore than black, navy, and brown. If you have to experiment, cut the very top or bottom fringe off and use it for a test strip. The wet color is much darker than the finished shade. Better to use too little dye and have to do it again than too much and end up with the wrong color. If you really have a wreck use Rit color stripper. You may only find it in powder so dissolve it well, wash the chaps in stripper, have a glass of good wine, and try again.

Black—use two bottles of black Rit. Add a half bottle or so of navy to kill green, and a quarter bottle of green to kill navy.

Sand—use sand dye sparingly if you can find it, or a spoonful of cocoa brown.

Rust—mix a little brown into orange.

Most other colors—get the closest Rit liquid you can find and experiment gently.

Changing Colors

You can usually darken leather chaps a shade or two, but be realistic. Dying sand chaps black is likely to make for dark gray chaps, but dying chocolate to black will work well. Changing shades, say sand to tan, is also usually satisfactory. Vibrant colors like red and royal are almost impossible to create without commercial equipment and dyes. If you do go light to dark, you may need to buy shoe spray (suede for suede, leather for slick leather) from the shoe repair store to color the back of the fringe. Sand-backed fringe on black chaps is a dead giveaway for your remodel!

Ultrasuede is harder to change in color, because the synthetic material simply does not absorb much dye. You should expect to change or dull a shade, say mint green to sage green, and forget vibrant colors like red or royal from pale shades. Also, re-dyed Ultrasuede is not as colorfast as the original color. Expect to wash and re-dye often.

1. If your chaps were tight, zip them on over your show pants when they are damp, and stretch them out a bit. Chaps will not shrink in cool water, but they usually draw back up to their original size. Chaps dyed in warm water will likely draw up to their original size and length, so check them when damp and stretch to fit. Tug all zipper tapes to relax them. 

2. Remove chaps and put them in the dryer for about ten minutes on an air or fluff setting. This helps remove any wrinkles and fluffs the nap a little bit. DO NOT use dryer sheets! 

3. Allow to air dry, face up, on large towels. Gently straighten fringe with your fingers. Do not starch leather chaps. When chaps are completely dry, you may want to fluff them in the dryer again for a few minutes. They can also be gently groomed with a suede brush when dry.

4. Be sure to wash a load of cleaning towels or dark work jeans before you put anything else through your washer. You can also run a cycle of hot water through with a cup of bleach to avoid gray undies.

5. Remember that freshly-dyed chaps will probably transfer some color to your saddle. This is normal and happens with new chaps, too, but you may want to have a helper rub the inner legs of your chaps with clean white towels before you hop on that new show saddle with a the sand-colored suede seat!

Good Luck, thanks for asking, and have fun!

Suzi D
Hobby Horse


All materials are copyright 2009 © Suzanne Drnec and cannot be reprinted or used in any way without express written permission.

 

 
 
 
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