How to Clean and Protect Your Car’s Leather Upholstery

So you’ve invested in a leather interior for your car. Good choice! We love leather for how sleek it looks and how good it feels, but we admit we love it mostly for the fact it is so much easier to clean than its fabric counterpart. No bulky shampoo machines required.

The key to keeping your leather upholstery looking as good as it did the day you drove away with it is regular cleaning. Same goes for a lot of things in life, right? Cleaning is the root of all things looking good!

cleaning leather car upholstery

Cleaning leather interiors is super easy. Below is a general guideline on cleaning and protecting your car’s leather upholstery. Just remember, though, that the process may differ slightly, depending on the make and model of your vehicle. Consult your owner’s manual before getting too far ahead of yourself, and then gather the right materials:

What You’ll Need:

  • Vacuum cleaner (optional)
  • Air compressor (optional)
  • Soft-bristled scrub brush
  • Clean, dry cloth
  • Leather-friendly cleanser
  • Leather conditioner/protector

To start, give everything a good once over with the vacuum to take care of dust and debris like pesky pine needles, pet hair and any incriminating food crumbs. If you are without a vacuum, try using one of those air compressors intended to clean computer keyboards to clear out the seams of the upholstery. It may sound crazy, but hey, you don’t want to be there all day.

Now it’s time to go to town on the surface dirt of the seats. Simply mist the leather with leather cleaner or saddle soap, and wipe with a soft cloth. Notice how we didn’t recommend an all-purpose household cleaner for this task? As handy as they are for nearly everything else, all-purpose cleaners are harsh and are not designed to do leather any favours.

If time allows and it looks like a required step, get a deeper cleaning happening with the soft brush and some more cleaner. With the surface grime gone, there is probably a lot of dirt still hiding, which a brush will help bring to the surface. You’re essentially wicking it out of the seams with the bristled brush at this stage. Now wipe clear.

How are things looking? At this point you could call it a day, but we recommend an added step, which is protecting your leather upholstery with a conditioner.

Protecting Your Leather Upholstery

Conditioning your leather interior after it is clean replenishes its natural oils, helping it stay shiny and feel luxurious. A leather conditioner, which will also help protect your leather upholstery between cleanings, is really simple to apply. The key here is selecting a high-quality, water-based product, and just following the product’s instructions. You can also make your own leather conditioner.

If you are the type of person that errs on the side of caution, do a spot test first if you’re not sure how your car will react to the substance. This will also give you an idea of how far the product goes. It’s all about striking a balance here, like you should aim to do at any Chinese Food buffet. Too much product and things will be left feeling greasy.

If you’re happy with the spot test, go ahead and apply the leather conditioner to the rest of the leather upholstery in broad, sweeping motions, then remove the excess product with a clean, dry cloth. We promise that this extra effort goes a long way.

Allow the leather conditioner to do its magic away from direct sunlight and undisturbed for an hour or so, then examine the situation and give your seats one last pass with the cloth if need be.

Presto! You’re done for another few months. If all of this sounds like too much work, or if your vehicle is in need of a more in-depth auto detailing, bring your vehicle to us here at Searles. Our dedicated team will have your car looking brand new again.

Things to Avoid When Cleaning Leather Upholstery:

  • Using any cleaners that contain harsh dyes or bleaches. While this could be said for the bulk of cleaning tasks out there, this is especially true for leather, as these strong detergents can weaken leather, leading to tears or cracks – not exactly the look you were going for.
  • Getting water or cleaner inside cracks or seams. Too much moisture trapped underneath the leather of your interior could damage things from the inside out. We’re not saying things are going to get mouldy or deteriorate or anything, but to be on the safe side, just avoid using water altogether.
  • Hiring someone without talking to the dealership. When you’re strapped for time, it’s tempting to hit up a quickie auto detailer to handle your leather interior. But proceed with caution here. Their methods might do more harm than good, and might even be enough to void your vehicle’s warranty. A certified auto repair shop will steer you in the right direction.
  • Overdoing it. Yeah, we know. Who’s really going to spend TOO much time cleaning? You’d be surprised, but it happens! A general guideline is cleaning your car or truck’s leather interior every few months, giving things a quick pass over as necessary, and going for a more thorough clean at least twice a year. Of course, it all depends on your lifestyle!
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