How to Clean White Leather
Leather is a natural product made from the hide of an animal. It can be processed into a softer finish like suede or nubuck or tanned to create a smooth finish like aniline or Napa leather. White leather is created during the alum or chrome tanning process with no colored dyes added.
White leather goods, whether used for upholstery, accessories or clothing, are particularly susceptible to stains and discoloration. Special care should be taken with white leather goods to prevent yellowing from natural pollutants and cleaning products.
How Often to Clean White Leather
Whether you have a piece of furniture covered in white leather, a purse, shoes, or a jacket, you clean it regularly to help keep it stain-free and conditioned to prevent cracking. Wipe down the leather with a dry microfiber cloth, depending on how often it is used. Wiping it will remove smudges and light soil. Here are some general recommendations on what "regularly" means for each of the items:
- Leather couch: Clean and dust twice per week.
- Purse or handbag: Wipe it down once per week.
- Shoes: After every wear (if worn long or exposed to dust or dirt) or at least once per week
- Jacket: Dry clean and have it conditioned once a year (if worn sporadically) or twice a year (if worn daily or several times per week)
To minimize staining, you should treat spills and stains as soon as they happen.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- 2 Spray bottle
- Microfiber cloth
- Liquid Castile soap or leather soap
- Room temperature water
- Distilled white vinegar
- Linseed oil or olive oil
Mix a Cleaning Solution
You can purchase commercial leather soaps or cleaners, but it is very simple to make your own. Mix your cleaning solution in a spray bottle and be sure to label it clearly. Choose from one of these formulas:
- One part Castile soap with eight parts lukewarm water.
- Two parts distilled white vinegar and one part linseed oil or olive oil.
Wipe Leather with a Damp Cloth
Dampen a microfiber cloth with clean tap water and wipe down the white leather. This will remove dust and some surface soil.
Spray the Cleaning Solution on a Cloth
Rather than spraying directly onto the leather, spray the cleaning solution onto a clean microfiber cloth. This will prevent over-wetting and possible watermarks.
Wipe Down the Leather
Starting at the top of a piece and working in small sections, wipe down the leather with the cloth sprayed with the cleaning solution. Use a gentle, circular motion, and do not scrub. If soil remains, use a bit more cleaning solution.
Buff the Leather
Once the white leather is clean, use a dry microfiber cloth to gently buff the leather. There is no need to rinse away the cleaning solution.
Removing Oil Stains From White Leather
If oil or grease stains mar the leather, sprinkle the area liberally with baby powder or cornstarch. Allow the powder to remain on the stain for at least four hours—the oil will be drawn into the powder. Brush or vacuum away the powder and repeat until the stain is gone.
Removing Ink Stains From White Leather
When an ink stain happens, blot away any damp ink with a white paper towel or a Magic Eraser. Dip a cotton swab in isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) and, working from the outside edge toward the center to prevent the ink from spreading, rub the cotton swab on the stain. As the ink is transferred, move to a clean swab. Work slowly until all of the ink is gone. The leather may look dull after treatment, so you can use a leather conditioner or a tiny dab of olive oil to recondition the surface.
Removing Scuff Marks From White Leather
Scuff marks are common on white leather shoes. You can use a melamine eraser (like Mr. Clean Magic Eraser) to gently buff away the marks. Be extremely careful not to scrub—it can remove the surface finish of the leather. If that doesn't work, you can also make a homemade cleaning paste by mixing equal parts of lemon juice and cream of tartar. Spread the paste on the stained area and let it sit for up to 30 minutes. Wipe away the paste with a damp cloth and buff the leather with a microfiber cloth. Repeat until the stain is removed, then use a leather conditioner to help restore the leather finish and prevent the leather from drying out and cracking.
Removing Mold and Mildew Stains From White Leather
If your leather goods are stored in an area with high humidity and temperatures, mold and mildew can begin to grow. Regular cleaning to remove food stains and grime can help prevent mold growth. For small areas of mold, follow these recommended removal steps. For extensive mold, professional anti-fungal treatment may be necessary.
Tips to Keep White Leather Clean Longer
Discovering that your once pristine, bright white leather jacket is now butter-yellow can be disappointing. This discoloration is caused by exposure to air pollution. The material oxidizes, and the leather fibers start to break down. While it is impossible to prevent yellowing completely, there are some things you can do to help keep leather white:
- Avoid exposure to nicotine and cigarette smoke.
- Clean the leather regularly.
- Use a good leather conditioner every six months or so to protect the surface from cracking. The conditioner also slows oxidation.