You’d never wear the same pair of socks every day without washing them. The same goes with shirts and just about everything else we put on our bodies. However, there’s often one exception: a watch—specifically the strap. Just like any other material, your watch strap can get dirty, smell, and even be ruined without proper cleanings.
“Cleaning your watch helps maintain its original luster and rinse away any corrosive deposits that may destroy them over time,” says Justin Vrakas, a watch influencer and founder of watchsteez.com, an online vintage watch boutique.
Just as different materials need different cleansers, how often you should clean your timepiece‘s straps depends on how often you’re wearing it and where. If you’re sporting the same watch every day in an active setting where you’re sweating a lot, clean it once every two to three weeks. If you’re rotating watches and mostly wear them to a desk job and happy hours, you can wash them much less often—every three to four months.
To clean your case, Vrakas recommends screwing down your crown tightly to prevent damage and removing any leather straps that could be damaged by liquids. Then, rinse the case in soapy water. Brush away any dirty from small nooks with a gentle brush—like this one from Wrist Clean. An unused toothbrush also works. Pat dry with a soft cloth or old T-shirt and allow to air dry.
After your case is clean, it’s time to clean your strap. Here are our best tips on how to clean them so they look sharp, smell fresh, and last as close to a lifetime as possible.
Perhaps the trickiest material to clean, leather in general shouldn’t get wet, Vrakas says. “Moisture can stain the leather and cause it to dry out and deteriorate over time,” he explains. If the strap does get wet, dry it immediately with a clean cloth or towel. That includes sweat, which can leave behind corrosive stains that can ruin your watch strap. In other words, wearing a leather strap in an active environment isn’t the best idea.
When you do clean your leather strap, remove it from the case and wipe off debris with a clean cloth. Then apply a leather cleaner or conditioner like these options from Saphir [$25; amazon.com] or Wrist Clean [$6; wristclean.com]. Massage the conditioner into the leather with a soft cloth to remove dirt and deposits and soften the leather. Wipe clean with a towel. Allow the strap to air dry—overnight if possible. Then, reattach the strap and enjoy a soft feel and no funky smell.
Synthetic materials like nylon are much easier to clean because you can apply liquid cleaner without having to remove the strap. But because the nylon is often woven, dirt can settle in small nooks that are hard to reach, which requires some extra care.
If your watch is water resistant, start by giving the whole watch a good rinse under water. Then, submerge the strap in warm water with gentle soap and allow it to soak for three to five minutes. Remove the strap and gently scrub away any dirt with a soft brush. Submerge it one more time for a few minutes, and then rinse and pat it dry with a soft cloth. Good as new.
Rubber or Silicone
These materials are popular in part because they naturally repel dirt and liquid, making them easy to clean and perfect for active guys. They often smell less than more absorbent fabric straps, but over time they can accumulate build-up. You can keep the watch on for this process if it’s water resistant: Give the watch a good rinse just like with the nylon strap. Then submerge the watch in a gentle, abrasive-free jewelry cleaner [$8; amazon.com] for a few minutes. Brush your strap clean, if needed, or simply wipe it clean with your hands while rinsing it again under cold water. Pat the watch dry and allow it to air dry overnight, if possible. That way you can not only have a watch strap that smells and feels like new, you’ll help extend its life, too.