How To Clean Leather Car Seats

Dustin Hawley | Mar 18, 2021

Leather car seats can look fantastic in your ride, but only if you take care of them properly. Leather can all too easily accrue dirt or cracks from regular wear and tear if you don’t clean it often. When you clean and treat your seats regularly, you prevent dirt and other abrasive materials from scratching them, helping to preserve the leather.

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Not sure how to properly clean leather car seats? Fear not! This guide will tell you everything you need to know on how to clean your leather seats correctly. We’ll also go over some do’s and don'ts for those who may be new to the process. Let’s jump into it!

Step One: Vacuum

Before you begin cleaning your leather seats, you’ll need to vacuum to suck up any dirt, hair, and other debris. This will prevent these substances from becoming ingrained into the leather and ruining its texture. Keep in mind; you can’t clean your car’s leather seats well if you end up grinding dirt or debris into the material. 

When possible, use a heavy-duty shop-vac (or even a home vacuum cleaner with a hose) to vacuum your leather seats and upholstery thoroughly. You’ll want to suck up any dirt or debris from crevices as well. Be sure to stick the vacuum nozzle into the crease between your leather seats’ sitting surfaces and back surfaces in order to clean those hard to reach areas.

Step Two: Apply a Cleaning Solution

Next, you’ll need to apply a cleaning solution to the leather to get rid of any stains and bacteria collected over time. You can either purchase a commercial cleaning solution or make one with household supplies.

Regardless of which option you choose, do not apply the cleaning solution directly to your leather seats. Instead, apply some solution to a microfiber cloth so that it is reasonably damp, but not soaked.

What Kind of Cleaning Solution Should You Use?

Commercial leather cleaners are an easy choice and are available at most auto shops (and even some grocery stores). However, be careful not to purchase a cleaning solution with bleach or ammonia, as either compounds can damage your leather.

If you want to make your own leather cleaner, mix warm water and either liquid dishwashing soap or Castile soap (a specific type of vegetable oil-based soap) at a ratio of 5 to 1 (five parts water, one part soap). Mix the leather cleaning soap in a bucket and apply to the microfiber cloth you are using to clean the seats.

Step Three: Wash With a Microfiber Cloth

With the first two steps completed, take a microfiber cloth dampened with the cleaning solution and begin to scrub your leather seats. Be careful not to saturate your leather surfaces with too much cleaning solution. Soaked leather takes a long time to dry and can eventually get moldy if not properly dried.

With your cleaning cloth in hand, scrub any stains or dirt spots you can see until they are gone. If the stains haven’t settled into the leather, you should only need to use a little bit of elbow grease to get rid of them. More resilient stains and marks may require some additional scrubbing to fully remove.

Step Four: Wipe Clean and Dry

It’s very important to note that you cannot leave your leather seats wet overnight or allow them to air dry by themselves. In many cases, doing so can warp the leather and cause it to crack. Instead, take a second, fresh microfiber cloth and dry your leather seats with it after scrubbing.

Your leather seats may still have some moisture inside the fabric, and this is perfectly normal. The key is to remove a majority of the moisture to lower the likelihood of mold or material damage.

What If There’s A Stain?

The key to removing stains from leather car seats is to address any spills immediately. If you spill food or a beverage, a small stain may be inevitable - no matter how quickly you act. But the sooner you rid the leather of any potential staining materials, the easier it will be to scrub out.

Try and clean your leather seats soon after they accumulate stains to maximize the effectiveness of your leather cleaning solution.

Tips for Cleaning Leather Car Seats

  • When using a new leather cleaning solution, spot test it by dabbing a little of the solution onto a hidden or out-of-sight area, such as beneath your leather seats. You can check the spot to make sure it doesn't bleach the leather before using it on the rest of the seat.
  • Work slowly and in small sections to eliminate any chance of discoloration.
  • Only use microfiber cloths for scrubbing and wiping. Microfiber cloths are soft and don’t scratch leather surfaces, whereas other types of fabrics can create tiny scratches in your leather seat surfaces over time.
  • Prioritize soaps or cleaning solutions with non-toxic and natural ingredients. They’re less likely to damage the leather.
  • Try and clean your seats about once a month, even if there are no significant stains to take care of.
  • Consider adding a leather conditioner to your cleaning routine. Leather conditioner can protect your leather seats for an extended period of time by creating a seal over the top of the leather, preventing moisture and dirt from becoming ingrained into the material. Think of it as car wax for your leather seats.

Summary

Regularly cleaning your leather car seats will help you enjoy them for a long time to come, and protect them from all the wear and tear that comes with usage. The process is rather straightforward, and as long as you use the appropriate tools and solutions, your leather will continue to provide comfort and a pleasing esthetic to your ride.

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