How to Clean Leather

In order to keep your leather items looking new, you need to clean the leather regularly. But the process of cleaning leather — and the products you use to do so – is quite specific. That’s because leather is a natural material, and it can be delicate – typical cleaning methods don’t always work on leather, and some of the most common household cleaning products will be too harsh or may otherwise damage the leather. The below guidance applies to cleaning nearly all types of leather and all leather items, including leather purses, leather furniture, leather car seats and leather shoes. 

Let’s start with what not to do when cleaning leather. 

What not to clean leather with

People often ask about the best thing to clean leather with, but more important than that may be what not to use to clean leather: Go ahead and rule out bleach and other harsh household cleaners, as well as DIY or homemade leather cleaners you might read about online. All of these methods can do more harm than good by fading the leather, stripping it of important moisture or dyes or damaging the leather’s stitching. Along the same lines, never put leather in a washing machine or dryer — water can severely damage the leather, and high heat often makes that damage significantly worse. Your leather will end up dry, brittle and cracked.

6 tips for cleaning leather

1. Understand what type of leather you have

As we noted earlier, leather is a natural material and varies widely, so it’s important to know what type of leather you have and what the manufacturer's instructions are for that leather. If your leather is prone to water stains — many soft leathers are — be sure to clean the entire surface of the leather rather than simply spot treating. 

It’s also wise to spot test any product you plan to apply to your leather in a discreet area before using. This is true even if you’re cleaning with a product that is suitable for all types and colors of leather, like Leather Honey Leather Cleaner. Spot testing involves finding a hidden section of the item, applying a bit of the leather cleaner and then allowing it to dry so you can fully preview the effects. The underside or back of a couch cushion, the inside of a jacket collar and the inside seam of a purse are all good suggestions for where to spot test.  

 

2. Clean stains on your leather quickly

Leather is a very absorbent material in many cases, unless it has been coated with a protective barrier. The sooner you can get to any potential stain, the better — letting a stain linger increases the odds that it will be difficult to remove. In some cases, that may mean giving your leather items a frequent once-over to make sure they don’t need immediate cleaning. If you spill something, accidentally brush your couch with an ink pen, get a jean stain on your cream car seats or all of the above, time is of the essence – quickly cleaning the stain will always get you the best results, even if you’re cleaning really dirty leather.

 

Cleaning

 

3. Clean leather regularly to maintain

Outside of SOS moments when you need to react quickly to clean a stain, we generally recommend cleaning your leather every six to eight weeks to maintain its look and feel and prevent dirt and grime from building up. This can help prevent the most common leather stain we hear about: Body oil on leather furniture, which often coats head and arm rests, darkening the entire area and making the leather sticky or tacky. The best way to clean body oil stains on leather furniture is to clean the leather often, so the body oil doesn’t build up. Once it does — and the stain is visible — it is much more difficult to remove.

4. Remove loose dirt and dust

Before using a cleaning product, you’ll want to remove any dirt and dust from the surface of the leather, with a dry soft cloth or a vacuum. This is especially important with leather car seats, leather couches or chairs, which tend to accumulate bits of dirt in the cracks and crevices. It’s also crucial with leather shoes and boots, which may get muddy or dirty. Gently dust any loose dirt away before cleaning the leather with a leather cleaner. 

5. Clean the leather thoroughly, but don't scrub

You have a few options here: One is to put leather cleaner in a spray bottle and lightly spray down your leather, then follow with a lint-free cloth to lift dirt. The other is to dip a lint-free cloth into your leather cleaner, then use the moist cloth to wipe down and clean the leather. In most cases, you should not have to scrub — gently wiping the leather will remove most dirt and grime. If you have set stains that aren’t lifting, you may need to clean a few times to get rid of the toughest spots, but you should still use a gentle hand – scrubbing can remove the dye in the leather or damage the leather’s finish, which is not what you want.

6. Condition after cleaning to protect your leather

After cleaning the leather, let it dry fully before conditioning. Once your leather is completely dry, you’re ready to protect and soften it with a leather conditioner, which will help preserve the leather and prevent future stains. Apply Leather Honey Leather Conditioner to a lint-free application cloth and then rub a thin, even coat into your leather. One note: Unlike other leather conditioners, Leather Honey Leather Conditioner only needs to be applied every six months, so you don’t need to condition after every single cleaning.

 

How to clean specific types of leather 

All types of leather but suede can be cleaned using the above guidance, as can all leather items — the process is very similar, whether you're cleaning a leather jacket, leather car seats or leather motorcycle gear. That said, and as mentioned above, it's wise to understand the type of leather you're cleaning and get familiar with the manufacturer's instructions.  The exception is suede, which requires its own approach — with suede, you should often avoid typical leather cleaners completely, as well as water, and simply dry brush to clean the leather. They sell suede erasers and brushes specifically for this reason.

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