How to Clean Leather Furniture

Routine maintenance keeps leather looking fresh

Leather sofa chair in front of living room fireplace

Jupiterimages / Stockbyte / Getty

Leather furniture typically is simple to clean and maintain. Barring emergencies or difficult stains—when you are better off calling a professional—you can do the job yourself fairly easily. Leather is an extremely forgiving material. If you have the owner's manual for your furniture, follow its recommendations for care and cleaning. Different types of leather are used in manufacturing furniture, and each may require different methods of cleaning. If you don't have a manual or cleaning instructions, sticking with mild soap and gentle methods is the safest approach.

How Often to Clean Leather Furniture

Wipe down leather furniture with a clean, soft, white cloth every week or so. Do this more frequently in a dusty environment. Why should the cleaning cloth be white? It ensures that you don't deposit dyes on your leather couch by mistake, and it also makes it easy to see if you have removed all the dirt.

Vacuum your leather furniture from time to time, just as you would for any other upholstery material. But unlike other upholstery, you can use a damp, soft cloth to remove dirt buildup if you have not been cleaning it regularly. Just make sure your cleaning cloth is not soaking wet.

Remove stains from leather furniture as soon as possible, preferably before the stain dries.

What You Need

Supplies

  • Vacuum or microfiber cloth
  • Mild hand soap
  • Soft white cloths
  • Talcum power or cornstarch
  • Soft-bristle brush

How to Clean Leather Furniture

For general cleaning of leather furniture, vacuum as needed to remove loose debris and crumbs, then wipe the leather with a mild hand soap, such as Ivory or Dove. Always test any soap or other cleaning agent in an inconspicuous area and allow it to dry to confirm that it will not damage or discolor the leather.

  1. Vacuum or Dust

    Vacuum the furniture piece with a standard vacuum and a soft brush attachment to remove crumbs, dirt, and dust. Alternatively, if there isn't much for the vacuum to pick up, you can dust the furniture with a microfiber cloth.

  2. Prepare a Cloth

    Slightly dampen a clean white cloth with lukewarm water. Wipe the cloth on a bar of hand soap or apply a very small amount of liquid hand soap to the cloth.

  3. Wipe the Leather

    Clean the leather by wiping with the soapy cloth, working in circular motions.

  4. Buff the Leather

Rub the leather with a new, dry cloth to buff the surface. There is no need to rinse the soap, which helps to condition the leather.

How to Clean Grease Stains From Leather

Do not bother with a damp cleaning cloth on grease stains because it will not remove the stain, and wiping can spread the stain.

  1. Blot the Stain

    Use a dry, soft cloth and a blotting action. Press down to blot up as much grease from the leather surface as you can.

  2. Add Talcum Powder

    Sprinkle talcum powder or cornstarch on the stain, and allow it to sit for 15 minutes.

  3. Brush the Stain

Remove the talcum powder with a soft-bristle brush. Inspect the area to see if the stain is gone. If not, repeat the same process as needed.

How to Clean Water Stains From Leather

Water stains look ugly, but they can be easily remedied. Whenever possible, it's best to catch wetness before it dries.

  1. Blot Dry

    Use a soft, white cloth to blot water from the surface of the leather, if the stain is still wet. Let the area dry and inspect the surface for a water mark.

  2. Wipe Out the Stain

    If the water has dried and left a mark, slightly dampen a clean, soft cloth and wring it out well. Starting from inside the stained area, wipe outward, toward the edges of the surface in all directions. Do not scrub; just wipe gently.

  3. Keep Wiping

Rewet the cloth, as needed, but use less and less moisture as you move outward from the stain. The goal is to create a uniform look that blends the stain into the surrounding surface to minimize its visual impact. 

How to Clean Ink Stains From Leather

Ink stains on leather are among the hardest to remove and might need to be cleaned by a professional, depending on the type of ink and the severity or size of the stain.

  1. Blot Fresh Stains

    Blot a new ink stain as soon as possible, using a soft, dry cloth. If the ink comes off on the cloth, you know it's working. Be careful not to rub the ink so as not to spread it.

  2. Wipe Dried Stains

    Try cleaning small areas of dried ink with a clean cloth and a small amount of hand soap. Rub with the direction of stain, using very small circles to prevent spreading. If you can remove some of the stain, the rest might disappear on its own over time.

  3. Buff With a Clean Cloth

    Buff the area with a clean, dry cloth if all of the ink has been removed. This step is simply to rub the soap into the leather for conditioning.

  4. Call a Pro

Consult a leather restoration professional if you have a large ink stain or you can't remove a smaller stain. Ink stains often need to be treated professionally. Do not use alcohol to clean the stain because you could damage the color.

Tips for Removing Stains on Leather Furniture

If your leather furniture did not come with cleaning instructions, try the gentlest cleaning methods first.

  • Always test cleaners in an inconspicuous spot on your furniture, such as an edge on the underside of a chair or sofa.
  • Consult a professional if you are not able to remove a stain with a mild cleaner. You can do more damage than good with harsher methods.
  • Use a circular motion when wiping leather; never scrub.
  • Never use harsh chemicals, alcohol, strong detergents, or abrasive cleaners to clean leather. All of these can cause irreparable damage.