How to Clean Leather Seats in a Car

by James Rutter

A number of car manufacturers install leather seating in their high end, luxury vehicles or offer this feature as a pricey upgrade. As a natural, porous material, leather absorbs dirt, grime and odor easily and requires care to maintain a healthy finish. Sunlight and heat can further damage your leather seats and cause them to crack or fray. Depending on how often you drive your car, and how often it sits in sunlight (versus a garage), you should clean your leather seats at least once every three months to retain their color and healthy appearance.

Vacuum the entire interior of your car. Affix any attachments to the vacuum cleaner that will enable you to remove hair, dust and dirt from the crevices in the seats.

Dampen a cloth or sponge with water and wipe away any entrenched grime, dirt or residue in the seats. Immediately dry the seats with a clean, dry towel after wiping them down.

Test the leather cleaner by applying it to a small, concealed area of your car seat, such as the space in between the center console and the front passenger seat. Moisten a fresh cloth or sponge with water and wipe the cleaner into the leather to create foam. Let the foam sit for 10 minutes and then wipe it away with a dry towel.

Check for any discoloration in the "test" area after 24 hours. If the leather retains the same color as the remaining leather seat and does not look odd or uneven, continue to use this leather cleaner. See the "Tips" section for the type of cleaner to use on your car's seats.

Apply leather cleaner to a larger area of the seat and moisten a fresh cloth with water. Wipe the cleaner with the cloth to create foam and let this sit for 10 minutes. Wipe away the foam with a dry towel.

Repeat Step 5 for all the surfaces of your leather seats and any leather trim on the doors or interior. Repeat this process again on any tough stains or oil spots.

Apply a leather moisturizer, such as lanolin, to the seats and work it into the leather with a dry sponge or towel. Apply a sealant or leather sunscreen to the leather seats by spraying it on the leather. This last step will provide an extra layer of protection against dirt and the drying effects of sunlight.

Tip

  • check Use the type of leather cleaner recommended by your car's manufacturer; you can call the dealer and ask what product they recommend. Car companies make leather seats out of different animal skins and each type of leather requires a specific cleaner.

Warning

  • close Do not use any cleaner that is wax-, silicone- or oil-based, or that contains acids and salts. These ingredients can ruin leather seats. If necessary, make your own cleaning solution out of one part vinegar and two parts linseed oil.

Items you will need

About the Author

Since 2005, James Rutter has worked as a freelance journalist for print and Internet publications, including the “News of Delaware County,” “Main Line Times” and Broad Street Review. As a former chemist, college professor and competitive weightlifter, he writes about science, education and exercise. Rutter earned a B.A. in philosophy and biology from Albright College and studied philosophy and cognitive science at Temple University.

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