How to Safely Clean Leather

Get tips on how to clean leather in your home, what products to avoid, and how to keep your leather furniture looking like new.

Leather's an impressively durable choice in furniture covering, especially if you treat it right. We consulted the pros to bring you the top tips for cleaning leather, including general maintenance and emergency spot treatment. Together, they'll help ensure your favorite leather couch, armchair, or ottoman a long, lustrous life.

Self-Clean, or Hire an Expert?
Most leather pieces today are protected, which makes them pretty simple to clean yourself, says Jeff Cross, furniture-cleaning expert, senior editor of Cleanfax, and an Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) approved instructor. Cross offers this simple test: In an inconspicuous spot, lightly scratch the leather with your fingernail. If it doesn't leave a mark, clean away. If it does, hire a leather-cleaning expert to do it for you.

The Bimonthly Clean
Dust your leather furniture regularly, as you do wooden furniture. Use a microfiber cloth that's just barely dampened with water. Vacuum the cushions with a stiff-bristle upholstery brush, and break out the crevice tool for corners and other hard-to-reach areas.

The Biannual Clean
Clean and condition your leather furniture with saddle soap, or another leather cleaner-conditioner, to prevent cracking and keep it looking better, longer. (Always check with the leather furniture manufacturer before applying any product.)

DIY Condition and Shine
Leslie Reichert, aka The Cleaning Coach, offers this homemade leather-conditioning recipe: Mix ½ cup olive oil, ¼ cup brewed tea, and ¼ cup white vinegar in a spray bottle. Lightly spritz leather, let sit for 5 minutes, then wipe dry.

Ron Holt, CEO of Two Maids & a Mop, recommends this simple leather shine-promoting solution: Apply a few drops of olive oil to a dry microfiber cloth, and rub into leather with a circular motion.

The Spot Clean
"Deal with spills immediately to prevent discoloration," says MyClean COO Kenny Schultz. If you catch spots and spills right away, blotting them with a clean, dry microfiber cloth may be treatment enough.

Here are some more options for cleaning leather's more set-in stains. (Always test in an inconspicuous spot first).

  • General: Blot with warm water and a clear, mild dish soap.
  • Ink: Blot with a cotton swab dipped in nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol. Apply a leather cleaner-conditioner after removing the spot.
  • Oil or grease: Sprinkle with baking soda or corn starch. Let it sit overnight, then wipe or vacuum off. If this doesn't work, try rubbing alcohol. Apply a leather cleaner-conditioner after removing the spot.

The Deep Clean
Even if you know how to clean leather furniture yourself, it doesn't hurt to have a pro do a thorough job every couple of years, says Craig Jasper, Master Textile Cleaner and IICRC instructor. "Professionals have special leather protectors that can greatly extend the life and beauty of the piece," he says.


Want to clean more? Make your stainless steel shine!

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