How to Carefully Clean Leather With Household Materials

A little soap or vinegar does the trick

a leather armchair

The Spruce / Danielle Holstein

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

The best way to clean leather furniture is to do it gently—the gentler your cleaning method, the better. Leather is a very forgiving material, and just a tiny amount of regular care goes a long way. The jury is out whether soapy water or vinegary water solution is best, but both work wonders. For a quick leather cleaning, you can gently wipe down the surface using a microfiber cloth and equal parts vinegar and water to remove light dirt. For a deeper cleaning, it's helpful to incorporate mild soap.

Stains happen, and so do dust and dirt. However, harsh cleansers on leather can leave stubborn stains that are hard to remove. This approach is especially true for aniline leather which can become stained easily as it does not have a surface protective layer.

Tip

Vinegar is a practical, inexpensive household product that naturally cleans and removes stubborn stains from leather. However, to ensure it doesn't ruin or discolor the leather before cleaning, test the vinegar solution on a small, hidden part of the item to check it can handle it.

How Often to Clean Leather

Clean any stains immediately, so they do not have a chance to set. Older stains that have had time to dry and set may be harder to remove, and these gentler cleaning methods may not work so well.

It is best to clean your leather furniture regularly to prevent dirt buildup. Save your furniture manufacturer's instructions, and follow them for the care and cleaning of your leather furniture. Those instructions are targeted towards the specific type of leather used in your furniture. It is very helpful to have them when there are difficult stains on your upholstery.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Microfiber cloth

Materials

  • Mild soap
  • Vinegar (Optional)

Instructions

When there are no instructions, the single best and simplest way to clean leather is with a very small amount of very mild soap, such as Dove or Ivory. This process works on most stains and for general cleaning and upkeep. Always test an inconspicuous spot first and allow it to dry.

materials for cleaning leather
The Spruce / Danielle Holstein
  1. Use a Microfiber Cloth First

    Before cleaning it with soap and water, go over it with a dry microfiber cloth. It will get most of the dirt.

    person going over the chair with a dry cloth
    The Spruce / Danielle Holstein 
  2. Moisten Cloth Slightly

    Once you are done, moisten a cloth very slightly; wipe it across a bar of mild soap. If you are using liquid soap, use a very slight amount. Now, clean the surface of your furniture with this damp cloth.

    person using a damp cloth and soap
    The Spruce / Danielle Holstein 
  3. Do Not Rinse; Instead, Buff with a Dry Cloth

    Never let the leather get overly wet, and remember to not rinse after cleaning with the soap. Simply buffing with a soft cloth is all you need. The moisture from the soap will condition the leather as it cleans. Polish if you need to, but just using this method is enough.

    person buffing a leather chair with a dry cloth
    The Spruce / Danielle Holstein 
  4. Remove Tough Stains With Lather or Vinegar Solution

    When treating a stain, your best bet is to first try a gentle method that works on most stains: soap lather. A tougher stain may need a more heavy-duty approach, like a vinegar solution.

    First, get several rags to use for wet wiping and drying. Use a clean, soft, absorbent cloth. If the stain comes from a liquid, blot up as much as possible. Do not wipe it, as that can make the stain bigger and unmanageable. Dampen the cloth with water, but do not make it soggy since it can leave water stains. To control it, spray water onto the rag and wring out the excess before using.

    Apply a small amount of soap to the damp cloth and work it into a lather. Work the lather into the leather gently. Soft circular motions work well—no need to rinse. Absorb any excess moisture with a clean, dry cloth.

    If you have a problematic or stained area, make a solution of half water and half vinegar. Dip a rag into the solution, wring out the cloth, so it’s damp but not wet, and wipe down the furniture. Repeatedly rinse the cloth to avoid spreading the stain.

    person removing a stain from a leather chair
    The Spruce / Danielle Holstein