How to wash a Joe Rocket Reactor (?) Jacket
Not sure if this should go in the howto section or the gear section. But anyway...
A couple of days ago I scored a black Joe Rocket leather/mesh jacket at the local Value Village—I think it’s an old Reactor model—which was totally awesome, as I’d been looking for a warm-weather jacket to supplement my Firstgear Kilimanjaro. It still had the armor in it, and it fit, and it was perfect.
But on the way home I thought I’d run over a piece of old roadkill, or perhaps a vagrant had fallen asleep in the back of the car. It turned out to be my new jacket.
My suspicions were confirmed when I stepped out for a quick errand, returning to the car to find one of the sleeves dipped in a cup of fresh water I’d left in the center console, only now the water was the color of old Gatorade. I can’t wear this thing to work, I thought—not unless I get a new job at a rendering plant or a cigar factory. Either that, or figure out how to clean the thing.
I did some research. There’s a lot out there about how to wash a leather jacket (in the shower, or don’t), and how to clean a mesh jacket (follow the manufacturer’s instructions, carefully, in lukewarm water). But there’s nothing out there describing how to wash a leather/mesh jacket, and Joe Rocket doesn’t have cleaning instructions on their site.
So in the interest of posterity, and to help anybody else who might have stumbled across something like this and didn’t know what to do (pro tip: just keep walking), I’ve written a howto. Note that this is how I did it, and I can’t take any responsibility for how yours might turn out. But considering the situation (a $25 motorcycle jacket with a questionable provenance, warning everybody downwind of its presence), I had little to lose.
With that caveat emptor out of the way, here goes:
HOW TO WASH A LEATHER/MESH MOTORCYCLE JACKET
I’m a retrogrouch cyclist, meaning I’m into merino wool, waxed cotton and leather saddles. I’ve managed to keep my woolens and Brooks saddles and Carradice bags in good working order for a while now. In short, I have a jug of Kookabura soap and a tin of Proofhide and I know how to use them.
I thought the Kookabura might be just the thing: a very mild laundry soap, with some lanolin oils in there designed to keep woolens happy. It might be just the thing for leather, too.
The few care instructions on the jacket warned against using water any warmer than 40 degrees C. So I grabbed a dish pan, prepared a bath with a LITTLE BIT of Kookabura (like, maybe half a tablespoon) in about two or three gallons of lukewarm water—I tried for a temperature that might make a jar of goldfish a little nervous, without actually poaching them—and started dunking. No wringing, no whacking; just dunking and squeezing, dunking and squeezing.
The first tub of water was jet black, and I swear I could hear frightened rodents scurrying away into the dark recesses of the basement as I washed.
I dumped the water out and prepared another batch—no soap this time; that Kookabura is pretty strong stuff, and any residual soap in the tub and in the jacket itself would probably be enough to keep going.
The second tub of water was also jet black, releasing a small cloud of pantry moths screaming in anguish for the loss of their home.
The third tub of water was the color of black Starbucks coffee, and emitted the aroma of sweat and old cigarettes, while the fourth tub looked, smelled, and tasted much like fermented tobacco juice. Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought.
By the fifth tub--now smelling like Beer Vat--the water started to lose its opacity, which I took as a sign to keep going. So I kept going, dunking and squeezing, draining and refilling, dunking and squeezing, pausing for air, draining and refilling, dunking and squeezing, pausing for air. And the water continued to clear, from Starbucks to Dunkin’ Donuts to Merlot to 12-year-old Scotch to Lipton’s Iced Tea to old cat urine and beyond.
I called it Good Enough after the seventh or eighth tub change (now watered-down oolong), and hung it up to dry above my poor maligned slop sink. Don’t dry leather in the sun, they say. So I didn’t. I just pointed a fan at it, washed my hands of the thing, and walked away, giving it a (very) slight buff with beeswax after the dust settled.
(I tried using Brooks Proofhide on one of the sleeves, but I'd forgotten about its herring-like aroma. So now it's one side fish sauce, one side beeswax.)
Much to my surprise, my new black riding jacket turned out to be hi-viz yellow.
Just kidding. But at least once it dried it seemed to weigh a bit less, and to smell slightly better--or at least a bit less awful--and you could see through the mesh now. So that’s all a step in the right direction.
How’d the leather bits turn out? Sweet and creaky with that wonderful tanned leather smell? As supple and well-blocked as the day it was bought? Frankly I have no idea; I wasn’t there. All I know is I started with a $25 thrift-store jacket that smelled like it’d been left at a bar in Sturgis, and ended up with a $25 thrift-store jacket that smelled a bit less like it’d been left at a bar in Sturgis, and was a good deal less gritty and sticky, too. Progress, people.
The result: success, for the most part. I have to be careful when I go past the local zoo, as it still pisses off the orangutans if the wind is blowing just the right way. And on particularly hot days goats and feral dogs still follow me home. But on the whole it’s MUCH better than before, certainly worth the $25 investment, albeit still with a certain terroir. And—added bonus!—I’m enjoying a bit more buffer space around my cube at work.
So if any of you know a Seattle-based right-handed chain-smoker serving time in the local joint for fencing stolen meat, tell them I’ve found their riding jacket.
And no, they can’t have it back.
Last edited by Sturmeyhack; 07-02-2018 at 12:54 PM.