How to Clean Leather Furniture

Routine maintenance keeps leather looking fresh

Leather sofa chair in front of living room fireplace

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Leather furniture is simple to clean and maintain. Barring emergencies or difficult stains—which justify professional attention—you can do the job yourself fairly easily. Leather is an extremely forgiving material. If you have your manufacturer's instructions for the care and cleaning of your furniture, follow those recommendations. Keep in mind that different types of leather are used in manufacturing furniture, and each may require different methods of cleaning. If you don't have the manufacturer's 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. The cleaning cloth should be white to ensure 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 any other upholstery material. But unlike with other upholstery, on leather, 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 damp, 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 powder 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 damp cloth and mild hand soap, such as Ivory or Dove. Always test soap or other cleaning agents in an inconspicuous area and allow it to dry to confirm that it will not damage or discolor the leather.

  1. Vacuum: Use 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. Wipe with soap and water: 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. Clean the leather by wiping with the soapy cloth, working in circular motions.

  3. Buff: 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 spot: Using a dry, soft cloth, blot up as much grease from the leather surface as you can.

  2. Soak up the spot: Sprinkle talcum powder or cornstarch on the stain, and allow it to sit for 15 minutes.

  3. Brush away the powder: Remove the talcum powder with a soft-bristle brush. Inspect the area to see if the stain is gone. If not, repeat the process as many times 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 the moisture: 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 watermark.

  2. Wipe the spot: 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. Fade the spot into the background: Rewet the cloth, as needed, but release 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 treated by a professional, depending on the type of ink and the severity or size of the stain.

  1. Blot with a dry cloth: 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. Use another cloth to clean: Try cleaning small areas of dried ink with another soft, dry cloth and a small amount of hand soap. Rub with the direction of the stain, using very small circles to prevent spreading. If you can partially remove the stain the rest might disappear on its own over time. Do not use alcohol to clean the stain because you could damage the color.

  3. Buff the spot: 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 in the pros: If you have a large ink stain or you can't remove a smaller stain, you may need to have your piece treated professionally. Consult a leather restoration professional.

Tips for Keeping Leather Furniture Clean Longer

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 pieces of 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.