How to Clean Leather Car Seats

Black leather car seats being cleaned with spray cleaner and brush closeup

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 5 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $30

It doesn't matter if you have a retro ride or the latest, greatest model: A set of leather seats can give any car a luxurious edge. (Technology and trends might come and go, but leather is the material-equivalent to driving off into the sunset.)

The catch? With great style comes great responsibility. Whether you accidentally spilled your drive-thru order or are coming home from an ultra-sandy beach trip, your seats are bound to get a little messy. Sure, one tiny crumb or stain might not seem like a huge deal; however, it can seriously cramp your ride's overall appeal. And, to make matters even more complicated, you can't tidy up your leather car seats with any type of cleaner. One false move, and your leather might be ruined for good.

To help, check out this step-by-step guide to cleaning your car's leather seats.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Vacuum with soft brush
  • Microfiber cloth

Materials

  • Leather cleaner
  • Leather conditioner
  • Water
  • Soap
  • Vinegar

Instructions

Materials and tools to clean leather car seats

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  1. Vacuum Your Seats

    In case you didn't get the memo, soap and water won't do those food crumbs or sprinkles of dirt any favors. Before you bust out the leather cleaner, you'll want to grab a dust buster.

    Tip

    If you don't have a dust buster, you can also use the dust brush on your regular vacuum, since its soft bristles won't scratch or gouge the leather.

    "When beginning to clean a stain from your leather seat, try vacuuming the entire area first," says Alicia Sokolowski, president and co-CEO of AspenClean. "Leather offers a great surface that doesn’t allow liquids to quickly absorb into the cushions themselves; however, dust and dirt can be rubbed into the leather grain causing abrasions and damage to the surface."

    Black leather car seats being vacuumed with dust brush attachment

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  2. Lather on a Cleaner

    One your leather car seats are free of dust and debris, you'll want to make those stains and spills a thing of the past. You know you'll need a cleaner, but which one should you choose? Well, it depends. Alex Varela, general manager of Dallas Maids, prefers a store-bought cleaner.

    "Even though I’m a fan of organic and DIY products, I prefer to use manufactured cleaning products for organic surfaces," he says. "Therefore, I would recommend buying a leather cleaner."

    While a pre-made leather cleaner is specially designed to keep your seat in tip-top condition, it's important to use the solution in moderation.

    "It’s important to test your cleaning agents in a small, hidden place," Varela says. "You never know how materials will react to one another."

    After you've tested the cleaner, apply it to the car seats according to the manufacturer's instructions.

    Leather cleaner sprayed on front car seats

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  3. Or Opt for a DIY Alternative

    That said, other cleaning experts favor a homemade alternative.

    "A good DIY cleaner for leather is a simple mixture of white vinegar and water," Sokolowski says. "A citrus-based solvent can also yield good results. [Plus], moisturizing soap and some warm water can provide good results. The moisturizing aspect is to prevent the leather from drying out—it is an organic material, after all."

    Warning

    If you have pets, you may not want to expose them to citrus when they ride in the car, as citrus (including orange) is toxic to many pets: If you do use a citrus-based solvent, be sure to wipe it away thoroughly with a lightly damp cloth.

    White vinegar and water solution mixed and wiped on black leather car seats with rag

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  4. Wipe With a Microfiber Cloth

    Once you lather your seat with a cleaner, you'll want to wipe off the formula with a damp microfiber cloth. But not too damp: An excess of water can stain your precious car seats. For good measure, you might want to dry any excess moisture with another microfiber cloth.

    Leather cleaner wiped on black car seats with microfiber cloth

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  5. Apply Leather Conditioner

    If you want to protect your leather car seats from any future stains and damage, add some leather conditioner. While Sokolowski says one part vinegar with two parts linseed oil or flaxseed oil will get the job done, Varela says store-bought will work wonders, too.

    "A leather conditioner is also an important cleaning agent to use after your cleaning," he says. "A water-based conditioner will work just [as] nicely. Follow the same process, applying this time with a microfiber cloth. Let sit for 10 minutes and then use a different, clean microfiber towel and blot the surface to remove any excess product."

    White leather conditioner sprayed and wiped on black leather car seat

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  6. Let It Sit

    According to Varela, one of the most important things about using a leather conditioner—and cleaning your precious seats in general—is letting them set. Translation? You may not want to clean your car seats right before you embark on a lengthy road trip. "You should let your car air dry for at least one hour, but three to four hours would be ideal," he says.

    Black leather car seats let to sit with leather cleaner and air dry

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Tips for Cleaning Your Leather Car Seats

Though it might seem like a massive undertaking, cleaning your leather car seats is surprisingly simple. But, if you really want to make your car's interior shine, keep these expert tips in mind.

Stay Still and Scrub Down: If you want to make your leather cleaner work its magic, Varela recommends letting your cleaner sit for a few minutes, and then scrubbing with a soft bristle cleaning brush. The trick? Work your brush in a very soft, circular motion.

Use Leather Conditioner Sparingly: Sure, leather conditioner might keep your car's interior nice and supple, but you shouldn't use it every time you clean your seats. According to Varela, you'll want to use leather conditioner once a quarter.

Explore the Alternatives: What's a driver to do if a combination of leather cleaner and conditioner doesn't make their car seats shine? Don't worry: Sokolowski says there are plenty of other alternatives. Permanent marker spots could be removed with aerosol hairspray, while mold and mildew can be obliterated with equal parts warm water and rubbing alcohol. A little sprinkle of baking soda can cut through grease.

And as for those dark stains? "Red wine or fruit juice can be removed using lemon juice and cream of tartar," Sokolowski says. "Leave this on the stain for a good 10 minutes before wiping away with a damp sponge." If you use lemon juice, condition the leather after wiping the juice away.

All you need to do is get a little creative and you'll have a tidy car in no time.

Article Sources
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  1. "Orange." American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.