Illustration for article titled How Do You Clean a Watch Band, Anyway?
Photo: Plush Design Studio (Unsplash)

SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? [Email her.](  

Cleaning a watch band is a 5-minute proposition, tops. But before you can clean your watch band there is a critical thing to know: What material it’s made of. Because not all watch bands are created equally, and they have their own wants, hopes, fears, and needs. Here, I’ll cover the cleaning of the most common types of watch bands, but if you have an unusual watch band (ostrich skin, Mr. Manafort?) in need of cleaning you can email your query to

If the Watch Band Is … Leather

At its most basic, cleaning a leather watch band only requires a lint-free cloth to wipe it clean, possibly with the addition of a bit of water. There are, however, two important “don’ts” with leather watch bands: 1) Don’t soak them in water and 2) don’t dry or store them in direct sunlight, at high temperatures, or in high humidity.

But if the watch band has taken on a smell, is especially dirty or stained, or is starting to dry out, it’s time to reach for leather cleaner and conditioner. Using leather cleaner and conditioner regularly will help to make the watch band last a long time and keep smells and filth from ruining it; if you remember—or better yet, stick a reminder on your calendar or phone—it’s a thing you could do weekly/monthly/quarterly. To perform this operation, apply a small amount of the leather cleaner to a soft cloth, rub it into the leather in a circular motion, then buff it out with a clean portion of the cloth. That’s all! Let the band dry completely, away from direct sunlight, before reattaching to the watch.

If the Watch Band Is … Grosgrain or Another Fabric

Grosgrain and other fabric watch bands can take a spin in the washing machine, provided you put them in a mesh washing bag so the metal fastener doesn’t snag on other items in the load. But but but: It’s possible the plating of the metal fastener can become damaged due to overexposure to water, so be aware of that before deciding that machine washing is the way you want to go. If you do machine wash, you should also know that grosgrain can be prone to bleeding, so using a Shout Color Catcher is a good idea.

If you don’t want to take the chance of damaging a grosgrain band in the washing machine, you can very easily hand wash it: Take the band off the watch, fill a small bowl with cool water and a small amount of liquid laundry detergent or dish soap (about ¼ teaspoon is all you need!), put the band in the solution, swish it around and massage it a bit with your fingers to coax out grime, then let it soak for 15 to 20 minutes before rinsing with cool water. Allow the band to air dry before reattaching it to the watch.

If the Watch Band Is … Silicone or Rubber

Silicone and rubber are popular watch band materials, and like leather, they do benefit from being cleaned regularly to prevent a funky odor from developing. Rubbing alcohol is perfect for quickly wiping a silicone or rubber watch band clean, but if it starts to become stained, set the alcohol aside and reach for baking soda.

You’ll need to make a paste by mixing about a tablespoon of baking soda with just enough water for the concoction to get thick. Remove the band from the watch and smear the paste on it using your fingers, then sort of work it into the band. Leave the paste on the band for 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing with cool water. Dry the band thoroughly and reattach it to the watch.

If the Watch Band Is … Fluoroelastamer

Apple Watch Sport Bands are made of Fluoroelastamer, which can be cleaned with good old dish soap. Take the band off the watch, wet your fingers, and massage a small drop of dish soap into the band. Rinse the band with cool water, dry it well and reattach it to the watch.

So easy, right? Right! But, as with leather the more important thing to know about cleaning a Fluoroelastamer band isn’t what to use, it’s what not to use: No rubbing alcohol [SOBS DRAMATICALLY]. So, my beloved rubbing alcohol is a no-no, but so are any products that contain alcohol, like hand sanitizer and many of those disposable cleaning wipes.


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