Leather sofas are a tried and true furniture classic. They can be found in a variety of colors and styles that range from mid-century modern to the classic British Chesterfield. And bonus: natural leather sofas are durable, easy to clean and maintain.
Most spills on a leather sofa can be easily wiped away, leather doesn't absorb odors as quickly as fabric upholstery, and pet hair can be wiped away. With just some regular care, a well-constructed leather sofa can last for decades.
What Leather is My Sofa and How Do I Clean It?
The quality of the leather on sofas can vary depending on the type of hide used and how it is processed and finished.
- Aniline: Aniline leather is full-grained hide that has been treated with the chemical aniline. It is prized for the ability to see the pores and imperfections on the hide. Aniline leather is exceptionally soft, but it does not have a protective coating preventing the finish from being stained.
- Semi-aniline: Processed with a thicker protective coating than aniline, semi-aniline is more resistant to stains, more durable, and less expensive than aniline.
- Pigmented or Protected: The natural leather is coated with a polymer that contains dye pigments to create the most durable, scuff-resistant, and least susceptible to stains type of leather for furniture.
- Suede: Natural suede leather is created from the soft underside of a split-grain animal hide. It has a nappy finish that is easily stained. There are specific care and cleaning steps for suede furniture that must be followed.
Other than suede, the cleaning methods for all types of leather sofas are the same. But, it's still a good idea to check the sofa manufacturer's specific cleaning instructions and test any cleaning products on an inconspicuous spot to be sure the leather dye is stable.
How Often to Clean a Leather Sofa
To keep a leather sofa looking its best, it should be dusted weekly and given a more thorough cleaning monthly. Of course, spills and stains from mud, ink, or grease should be cleaned up and treated immediately.
Equipment / Tools
- Vacuum with upholstery brush attachment
- Microfiber cloths
- Small bowl or bucket
- Castile, saddle, or mild soap
- Corn starch or talcum powder
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Leather conditioner
Remove Dust and Debris
Weekly dusting will help keep your leather sofa clean and bright. Use a vacuum with an upholstery brush to capture the unwanted dust, pet hair, and dirt.
The crevice tool on most vacuums is helpful to reach areas between and under cushions. You can also use a disposable electrostatic duster or a microfiber cloth.
Wipe Away Grime
A gentle touch and mild cleaning products will remove all but the toughest stains from leather. While there are plenty of commercial leather cleaners on the market, all you need is a mild soap like Castile, saddle soap, or a bar of ivory, some warm water, and a microfiber cloth.
Create a cleaning solution in a small bowl or bucket with warm water and a few drops of liquid soap. If you are using a bar of soap, simply dampen the microfiber cloth and rub it over the bar of soap.
Work in small areas, starting at the top of the sofa, and wipe down each piece of the surface. Your cloth should be thoroughly wet, but not dripping. For areas of heavier soil like sofa arms, use gentle circular motions to trap all of the soil. Rinse and wring the cloth frequently as you work.
Always test any commercial or homemade leather cleaning product on a hidden area before cleaning the sofa to make sure that there is no color change to the leather.
Buff to a Shine
Once you have wiped away the soil, you do not need to rinse the leather. Too much water can damage and discolor the leather. Instead, use a clean, dry microfiber cloth to buff the surface.
Tackle Tough Stains
Stains on leather do happen, but they are no match for prompt and careful attention and a few cleaning solutions.
- Grease stains: If treating a grease stain on your leather couch, remove any solid debris and blot the area with a paper towel to absorb as much of the oil and grease as possible. Sprinkle the area with a layer of cornstarch or talcum powder. Allow the cornstarch to remain in place for at least four hours or overnight to absorb the oil from the leather. Vacuum away the cornstarch and repeat as needed until the stain is gone.
- Ink: Blot fresh ink stains with a paper towel, being careful not to further smear the ink. Rub a damp microfiber cloth over a bar of mild soap and working in small circles, rub the area of the leather with the ink stain. Move to a clean area of the cloth as the ink is transferred. Only use isopropyl alcohol to remove an ink stain as the last resort as it can discolor the leather.
Condition Dry Leather
If your leather sofa has lost its luster and feels stiff and dry, use a good commercial leather conditioner to restore the leather's suppleness. Follow the product directions and buff the leather with a microfiber cloth to restore the finish.