Chamois Leather – what is it and why do window cleaners use it?
Chamois Leather is named after the short-horned goat-like antelope (Rupicapra rupicapra) found in the mountains of Europe and Asia Minor. Their skins, when tanned and divided, produce a soft absorbent and non-abrasive leather. Today however, mass market chamois is most commonly produced from sheep, goats or deer hide. BS: 6715 defines Chamois leather as “leather made from split sheep skin or lamb skin or from sheep skin or lamb skin from which the grain (the top split) has been removed and tanned by a process involving oxidation of marine oils in the skin”.
The history of chamois leather dates from the early 18th century
The history of chamois leather dates from the early 18th Century in South West France, where glove manufacturers discovered that by tanning chamois leather with cod oil from nearby Biarritz, it was possible to produce leather of unprecedented softness and absorbency. The leather was then fashioned into fine gloves whose wearers included carriage footmen whose responsibilities included the care and polishing of their carriages. This use was later to increase with the advent of the modern motorcar windscreen which for visibility, needed a soft absorbent material to ensure the screen was kept mist and smear-free. Although smaller than in the past, glove-making is still an important industry in an otherwise predominantly rural area of south west France. In 2019 Hermès, the French luxury goods manufacturer, announced plans for a major investment in a new glove manufacturing facility which will employ over 100 staff in Saint-Junien.
Genuine chamois leather has no abrasive properties and the elasticity of the skins’ pores provide the leather with very high absorbency and is ideal for cleaning glass and mirrors, polishing jewels and for drying and buffing cherished motor vehicles. Chamois leathers are also used by artists who use small pieces to blend charcoal. The leather blends the charcoal more softly and cleanly than other materials which can leave smudges. Chamois leather is also used around the eye pieces of professional film and video cameras to provide a soft and absorbent surface for camera operators who spend long periods with their eye at the viewfinder.