Leather upholstery is an amazing investment, and when you spend money on the highest quality leather, then there’s no reason why it won’t last for many decades.
But that doesn’t mean that you can simply leave your leather sofa untouched without putting in some regular effort to keep it looking great.
To help you with your new purchase, we’ve put together this guide on how to clean leather furniture on a regular basis.
Let’s start with the first step before you pull out a cleaning kit.
Identify The Type Of Leather Furniture
Here at Leather Furniture USA, we pride ourselves in making sure that we only bring you the highest quality leather upholstery.
And there are some great advantages from a cleaning and maintenance perspective with both full and top grain leather.
Full Grain Leather
Full grain is arguably the highest quality type of leather you can buy. The reason is that the preparation process ensures that the outer grain layer remains in place.
This layer contains the toughest fibers of the animal hide, making it more resistant to wear and tear.
At the same time, you’ll also notice some natural markings in this layer, and it’s a matter of personal preference whether you like that natural look or prefer the more uniform look of top grain leather.
Top Grain Leather
Another very popular option for a leather sofa, loveseat, or recliner is top grain leather.
While the manufacturing process does remove the outer grain layer to gain a smoother finish and an easier material to work with, there is a benefit to it from a maintenance perspective.
Manufacturers will usually spray or roll an extra layer onto the upholstery to make it more water and stain-resistant.
And that means it’s also a bit easier to keep clean.
Pigmented leathers follow a few different approaches.
If your leather piece of furniture has a completely uniform color with no natural shades in it, then it’s likely sprayed on pigment.
But if you notice some different shades in color, then it’s most likely pure aniline leather.
Full aniline leather involves using soluble dyes that penetrate deep into the hide and bring out those natural shades.
Semi-aniline leathers offer a bit less protection, which means that cleaning the leather regularly becomes a lot more important.
Regular Cleaning Tips
The first thing I would say is that you should try and get into the habit of cleaning a leather sofa, chair, or loveseat about once a week.
That’s assuming there are no obvious stains that need immediate attention.
And if you have new furniture with leather upholstery and you’ve never owned any before, then make sure you start with the right cleaning materials.
Step 1: The Right Materials
Now, if you talk to a professional leather specialist, then they’ll probably tell you to be very careful with your choice of materials.
And I would 100% agree that this is where people make the biggest mistakes.
Here is a list of things to make sure you have:
- Vacuum cleaner
- pH neutral soap
- Microfiber cloths
- Rubbing Alcohol
- Cotton pads
You should be able to get all of these in the cleaning aisle during your next grocery shopping trip.
Step 2: Vacuuming The Right Way
There are a couple of tips I want to share here, and the first thing you need to make sure of is that you have a soft brush attachment for your vacuum nozzle.
Most vacuum cleaners come with these included, and it’s the best way to avoid scratching the leather surface.
You should also reduce the suction setting on the vacuum so that you avoid the nozzle getting stuck and causing surface damage as well.
If your leather furniture allows you to remove the seat and back cushions, then carefully take them off to be able to fully clean in all those small gaps where dirt and debris tend to accumulate.
Step 3: Apply Rubbing Alcohol
Once you have finished the vacuuming step, perform a careful inspection of all the exposed leather surfaces for any possible minor stains.
It’s quite common for such stains to go unnoticed for a while, and when they are minor, then this step will likely deal with them.
Use some cotton pads to dab rubbing alcohol onto the stain, but avoid a rubbing motion that might spread the stain.
You can then use a microfiber cloth to dab it clean and dry.
Important tip: don’t use cleaning solvents as these can pull up leather protection layers and even change the color of pigmented leather.
Step 4: Soap And Water
For the rest of your leather furniture, it’s a case of using a damp cloth with warm water and mild soap.
But before you use the water and soap liberally, let me guide you through this process.
Ideally, use saddle soap or baby soap, which is pH neutral. Because you’re dealing with a natural material, you have to avoid anything that could damage or break down the fibers of the hide.
Dissolve just a small amount of the soap in lukewarm water and soak a clean cloth in it for five seconds.
Then wring out the excess water so that you can get to work without water dripping all over the leather.
Next, carefully clean the leather by rubbing the cloth in a circular motion over the surface. Also, be careful that you don’t allow excess water to pool on the clean leather, as this may make the drying process more difficult.
Once you have completed the cleaning process, use a dry and soft cloth to wipe away as much water and soap residue as possible.
Step 5: Careful Drying
There are two mistakes you can make here.
Firstly, avoid standing your freshly cleaned and slightly damp leather furniture in a sunny spot to speed up the drying process.
Secondly, avoid using a hairdryer or other heat source to dry out leather sofas and chairs.
Both of these options can cause the drying process to be too fast and resulting in the leather dehydrating and possibly cracking.
What you should aim to do is to clean your leather furniture in the evening and then allow it to dry overnight slowly.
Use A High-Quality Leather Conditioner
OK, so we’ve covered how to clean leather on a weekly basis, but there are a few more things you can do on a regular basis to take your leather care to a professional cleaner level.
The first thing we’ll look at here is to invest in a good leather conditioner. Because leather is a natural product, it contains oils that help to avoid it drying out and cracking.
Through regular use and exposure to the elements, those oils will gradually evaporate, and a leather conditioner will help to replenish them.
You won’t need to and shouldn’t apply a conditioner every week after you finish cleaning leather. That could end up causing excess conditioner to remain on the surface, and it will transfer to clothes and won’t feel particularly natural either.
Instead, aim to do this every six weeks. If you live in a particularly hot and dry climate, then you may need to apply a conditioner every four weeks.
It’s a simple process, and you just need a clean, dry cloth to rub in the conditioner across the entire surface area.
It should be dry within an hour.
Apply A Leather Polish
This is one step up from the regular conditioner application. Using a leather furniture polish is one of the easiest ways to get that brand new leather couch effect back.
The idea is similar to a car polish that removes micro dirt and leaves an amazingly clean surface.
Now, the important thing is to pick the right type of leather polish.
It all depends on what kind of pigmentation and finishing touches were applied to your leather.
What does that mean?
So, if you have a smooth and matte finish, then you don’t want to use a polish that will leave the surface shiny.
The way to do this is to apply the polish with a dry cloth after you have gone through a weekly cleaning and monthly conditioning process.
Then gently buff the leather with a white cloth, and you’ll notice that you were able to remove some extra dirt.
The great thing about using a polish is that it also creates a protected leather surface that is less likely to stain or absorb greasy dirt.
I would suggest doing this about every six months.
Protection From Direct Sunlight
One thing people often get wrong is the placement of their leather sofa or chair. Even though most leather furniture will come with care instructions that say to avoid direct light, different times of year may expose leather to some sunshine.
The problem is that especially dark pigmented leather will start to fade and even crack in places where the sun heats the surface too much.
And while a conditioner might help prevent the cracking, it’ll be a lot more difficult to try and fix a faded surface.
You’ll also lose that luxurious feel, which is half the enjoyment of such a furniture investment.
But what if there’s no place for you to fully protect your furniture from the sun’s UV rays?
One option you may want to consider is finding some sort of decorative blanket to cover the furniture, at least for the more intense times of day when the sun is at its strongest.
It might seem like a pain to deal with, but don’t underestimate how much damage the sun can do.
Deal With Spills And Stains Immediately
When you accidentally spill food or drink on leather sofas, then you have to act fast and wipe away as much as possible from the surface with a dry cloth.
In many cases, properly protected leather won’t absorb the spills.
But if you do notice a stain from food, grease, or even dye transfer from clothes or a magazine, then you may need to take some additional actions to deal with the stain.
We have a dedicated page for cleaning leather stains that you may want to use before you make things worse with common household cleaners.
And for really difficult stains, it might be best to get the furniture professionally cleaned, especially with aniline leather, where a permanent stain might completely ruin the look of your furniture.
What Could Happen To Unprotected Leather?
Over time, even well-protected leather will lose some of the protective layers.
This is only normal, and even careful use will mean that you have to consider what might happen if you don’t regularly care for your furniture.
The first thing that can happen is that the leather will completely dry out, and that will make it brittle and prone to cracking.
When that becomes severe, then the cracks can turn into deep tears that will be very difficult to repair without professional help.
But even if you don’t end up in the worst-case scenario, you will start to notice that a lack of care will make the leather look and feel dull.
And that’s not really something you want to have happen when you invest a lot of money in something that should be the center of attention in a room.
Have You Got All The Materials Ready For Proper Leather Sofa Care?
It doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to care for leather furniture. With just a few cleaning materials, you can achieve fully protected leathers that will last for decades to come.
And once you’re in the habit of spending 10 minutes cleaning your leather couch, chair, or loveseat on a weekly basis, you’ll be amazed at how little it will age from wear and tear.
Some regular conditioning and polishing will then add the long-lasting protection that you need to avoid staining in the first place.
It’s how people manage to keep leather furniture looking great for 20 years and more.