How To Clean Leather Car Seats

I bet you love the new leather car feel when the seats are freshly cleaned. How can you achieve this without damaging it?

I love the feeling of sitting down in an immaculate leather seat. It makes me feel like I am getting into a new car. 

What is the proper way of cleaning your seats if they get dirty? Are chemicals safe to use?

How To Clean Your Car’s Leather Seats

Over time, if you don’t take care of the inside of your car, it will slowly deteriorate. You can make sure your leather seats will last for a long time by giving them some attention.

Before cleaning them, check your seats for rips, stains, or tears. Water and cleaning products can seep into the seat, causing problems if there are holes. Once you know there are no holes, you can start your cleaning process.

What You Will Need

Five things you’ll need:

  • Leather cleaner
  • Microfiber cloths
  • A vacuum cleaner with attachments
  • Soft-bristle brush
  • Leather conditioner

5 Steps to Cleaning

1. Vacuum

You’ll need to vacuum your leather seats before you start cleaning them to remove any dirt, hair, or other debris. This will keep these substances from becoming embedded in the leather and destroying its texture. 

Keep in mind that if you end up grinding dirt or debris into your car’s leather seats, you won’t be able to clean them effectively.

When possible, vacuum your leather seats and upholstery thoroughly with a heavy-duty shop-vac (or even a home vacuum cleaner with a hose).

You’ll also want to suck up any dirt or debris that has accumulated in crevices. To clean those hard-to-reach areas, insert the vacuum nozzle into the crease between your leather seats’ sitting and back surfaces.

2. Clean with Microfiber Rag

There may be visible grime or other residues that need to be cleaned over time. Wipe down your seats with a leather cleaner that contains no toxic ingredients.

Remove the grime with a microfiber rag soaked in cleaner. Avoid spray cleaner directly on them, especially if they’re perforated.

If you can’t find an environmentally friendly cleaner, you can use a mixture of vinegar and water or Castile soap and warm water. Ammonia or bleach should never be used on leather because they will ruin it. If you use a lot of cleaner or water, you risk soaking the leather and permanently staining it.

A closeup picture of a leather car seat stitching

3. Gently Scrub

It’s fine to scrub your chairs after you’ve wiped down the seats because some dirt may still be present.

Spray the cleaner onto a soft brush and gently scrub the seats. Dirt should rise to the surface, which can be easily removed with a clean microfiber cloth.

Scrubbing perforated seats will cause them to become soaked with cleanser or water, so it is not recommended. If the water sinks into the seats, mold can grow in your seats. If your seats are particularly filthy, a second round of cleaning with a microfiber rag may be required.

To avoid staining, remember to wipe away any excess water or cleaner.

4. Condition and Buff

It’s time to condition the leather after your seats have been cleaned and dried. Dry conditions cause leather to lose some of its oils. Conditioning replenishes the oils in the leather, keeping it supple and healthy.

A conditioner that contains natural ingredients will perform better than one that contains synthetic ingredients. Avoid using petroleum or waxes on your leather because they will make it look greasy and dull.

After you’ve decided on a natural conditioner, dampen a clean microfiber cloth with it. To apply the conditioner, gently rub the cloth over the seats. If you use too much conditioner, it can ruin the seats, so be careful.

After you’ve conditioned your seats, keep them out of direct sunlight. Avoid anything coming into contact with the seats for an hour while the air conditioner sits on the seats.
After they’ve dried, buff them with another clean microfiber cloth to remove any remaining dirt or grime.

How Often Should You Clean?

There are many different thoughts about how often you should condition leather seats. There isn’t a single correct response to this question. It varies depending on the amount of sun exposure, how many people usually ride in the car, and whether or not there are pets or children in the vehicle.

Every three months is a good rule of thumb. If the car is used frequently or spends a lot of time outside in the sun, every two months might be better. Cleaning and conditioning every six months, on the other hand, should suffice if the vehicle is used gently on an irregular basis.

A person wiping the back car seats with a dry towel

How to Avoid Stains

The key to preventing stains on leather car seats is to clean up spills as soon as possible. A small stain may be inevitable if you spill food or a beverage, no matter how quickly you react. However, the sooner you remove any potential staining materials from the leather, the easier it will be to scrub out.

To get the most out of your leather cleaning solution, clean it as soon as possible after it accumulates stains.

Tips for Cleaning

  • When using a new leather cleaning solution, dab a small amount onto a hidden or out-of-sight area, such as beneath your leather seats, to spot-test it. Before using it on the rest of the seat, check the spot to ensure it doesn’t bleach the leather.
  • To eliminate any chance of discoloration, work slowly and in small sections.
  • Scrubbing and wiping should only be done with microfiber cloths. Microfiber cloths are soft and won’t scratch your leather seats, whereas other fabrics can leave tiny scratches over time.
  • Make non-toxic and natural soaps or cleaning solutions a top priority. It’s less likely that they’ll harm the leather.
  • Even if there are no significant stains on your seats, try to clean them regularly. 
  • Use a leather conditioner as part of your regular cleaning regimen, as I suggest above. Leather conditioner works by creating a seal over the top of the leather, preventing moisture and dirt from becoming ingrained in the material for an extended period of time. Consider it similar to car wax for your leather seats.

Things to Avoid

  • It’s not a good idea to spray anything directly on seats, especially perforated leather. Soak your microfiber cloth in the solution instead.
  • Petroleum or wax-based conditioners should be avoided since they can produce product build-up and damage your leather’s finish.
  • It’s not a good idea to let the wet solution dry on the seats. With your towel, massage it in until it is entirely absorbed.
  • Hard bristles should not be used for deep cleaning. A soft-bristled toothbrush or a car-specific cleaning brush are good options.
  • Don’t be cheap when it comes to price. Using a high-quality, natural cleaning can bring out the best in your leather.
  • Apply the cleaning solution on your microfiber rag, but do not saturate it entirely.
A clean and shiny luxury car interior

Consult the Manual

While you may be eager to get those seats cleaned, remember to consult your car’s owner’s manual first. They may have recommendations for specific brands to use or instructions on cleaning the leather properly. Before you begin cleaning, make sure to read the instruction manual. 

Caitlyn Koch
Caitlyn Koch has been working in interior design for over 5 years. Caitlyn believes that interior design is more than just making a space look pretty - it's about creating an environment that people will enjoy living in.
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