How to Clean Leather Car Seats
Updated on February 24 2024
Nothing beats the luxurious and premium feel of sumptuous leather car seats. But then again, most car buyers prefer the easy-to-clean and easy-to-care nature of cloth seats. Leather seats look excellent when new, but it demands frequent cleaning to look its best. Leather seats can also last as long as cloth seats with proper care and maintenance, but improper (and infrequent) cleaning can fade or damage the leather.
Proper Leather Care Starts with Knowledge
Automotive leather seats come in many colors, but the process of making leather seats is the same. The raw cowhide undergoes washing, tanning, and dyeing after harvesting. After the dye is applied to achieve the desired color (black, red, blue, beige, gray, white, brown, etc.) and texture, the material gets a fine layer of topcoat or clear coat, similar to automotive paint. And like car paint, topcoat protects the leather from friction and UV rays, helping to preserve the color and integrity of the material.
How to Clean Leather Car Seats
The secret in cleaning leather car seats is to check the condition of the material before the actual cleaning process. Here are the proper steps on how to clean leather seats like a pro.
- Soft interior cleaning brush
- Microfiber towels
- Spray bottle filled with warm water
- White vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- Mild detergent
- Vacuum cleaner
Step 1: Vacuum the seats.
After washing your car, grab a vacuum cleaner to suck out dust and dirt from the interior, particularly the leather seats. Make sure to suck out as much grit, sand, and dirt from the leather seats to avoid inflicting friction damage when cleaning them later.
Step 2: Perform the wipe test.
Grab a clean microfiber towel, dunk it in water, and squeeze out the excess. Use the damp towel to wipe the leather seats gently. Do not exert too much pressure as you wipe! This process not only removes standing dirt and grime on the seats, but it allows you to observe color transferring.
If you notice color transfers on the towel after wiping a section of the leather seats, it means the clear coat has faded in that area of the material. Hence, you should avoid applying too much friction to that section to prevent the leather from fading as you clean the seats later.
If you have a newer car, the leather seats are relatively clean at this point. But if there are visible stains and deep-seated dirt, move on to the next step.
Step 3: Prepare the cleaning solution.
Mix a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar) to a liter of warm water in a spray bottle. Apply a pinch or two of mild detergent to the cleaning solution and mix well. You can also use a water-based, PH-neutral all-purpose cleaner (APC), but avoid using dish soap to prevent drying out the leather prematurely.
Step 4: Clean the leather.
Spray the cleaning solution directly on a small section of the leather seat. Grab a soft interior brush to agitate the cleaning solution and remove dirt and grime. Next, grab a dry microfiber towel and wipe off the excess immediately. If you find stubborn stains like catsup or lipstick, spray the cleaning solution directly over the stain and agitate lightly using the brush. If the leather has stitching, gently brush the stitches to remove dirt and grime and wipe away the excess immediately with a towel.
Do not allow the leather to soak in the cleaning solution, but do not hesitate to apply more cleaner as the need arises. The trick is to wipe off the cleaner immediately with a towel after brushing. This cleaning method applies to all leather-covered surfaces like the steering wheel, shift knob, door armrests, etc.
Step 5: Allow to air dry.
The leather seats will be slightly damp after cleaning. Allow the seats to air dry for 30 minutes to one hour by leaving the doors and windows open.
Step 6: Apply leather treatment (optional).
Unlike cloth seats, leather upholstery requires special care. Applying a light coat of leather protector or leather shield for newer cars will protect the material from abrasion, friction, and UV exposure. If your leather is fresh and you don’t see signs of color transfer in the towel after wiping, leather protectant is the right product to use.
But then again, if you are dealing with older leather seats (and see positive signs of color transfer), try using a leather conditioner to restore the supple feel of the material. Avoid using leather conditioner on new leather seats. Since new leather has a protective clear coat, the conditioner will only sit on top of the clear coat surface and attract more dirt, so keep this in mind.
If your car has leather seats, avoid parking under direct sunlight if you can help it. Consistent exposure to heat and UV rays will dry out the leather prematurely, leading to ugly cracks, tears, and wrinkles. Make it a habit to clean your leather car seats at least twice a month to maintain the like-new appearance of your car’s interior.