Tips For Cleaning Leather Car Seats

Tips For Cleaning Leather Car Seats

Most of your car is built from steel, aluminum, miles of wiring and a bunch of synthetic materials. But if you have a real leather interior, your seats are actually made of organic material. It acts differently than synthesized substances like vinyl and leatherette because of it. Knowing how to clean leather seats will prolong its life and keep it looking great.

It doesn’t take long to clean leather seats in a car, and it doesn’t need to cost much either. Here’s what you need to know about the products for cleaning leather seats, car seat prep and cleaning step by step, and how you should maintain it on the regular.

How to clean leather car seats

You can wipe car seats off with a wet cloth or just run a vacuum over it like the carpets, but is that really the best way to restore it to their best condition? No, there’s more to it. Preparing for a proper leather cleaning includes removing the loose dirt and french fry bits, and it goes deeper with leather-specific products that will rejuvenate the porous material and condition it. Joe Fernandez from Superior Shine in Pasadena, CA works on plenty of high-end, exotic and luxury cars that have leather upholstery, and he walked us through the best way to clean leather car seats.

Materials you’ll need

Before cleaning the leather, gather the necessary supplies. Your favorite auto parts store or online retailer carries options that will do the trick.

  • Vacuum
  • Microfiber towels
  • Wedge leather brush
  • Water
  • Leather conditioner
  • Leather cleaner

What leather cleaner should I use?

Fernandez’s favorite leather cleaner is Meguiar’s D181 Detailer Leather Cleaner. But more important than the brand, you should stick with products made specifically for leather. Since leather is organic—just like your skin—using a soap or cleaner that’s too aggressive can strip the moisture out and cause it to dull and crack.

And what do you use to clean leather seats if you don’t have leather cleaner? Fernandez suggests using water, hand soap and a microfiber towel. It makes sense, since hand soap is typically intended to be moisturizing.

Avoid using harsh products like dish soap, acetone, and bleach or ammonia-based products like glass cleaner or even olive oil.

Cleaning leather car seats step-by-step

The job of cleaning leather car seats should take a bit of time. Allot an hour to clean and condition all your seats, and make sure to hit it all: the seating surface, the side bolsters, the headrest and the backs of the front seats too. You might need more time for a three-row van or SUV.

1. Remove large items and debris

Anything loose on the seats will get in the way, guaranteed, and small pebbles can scratch the leather as you clean. Start the job off right by giving your interior a thorough vacuum. Use a brush on the leather to be safe and prevent scratching it with a plastic vacuum nozzle.

2. Test your products

Before you get to work on achieving clean leather car seats, make sure your products won’t damage the leather or react in an unexpected way. Apply a dab of your cleaning solution and your conditioner to a spot like the bottom seam on the seat back or an inner side bolster. Ideally, give it 24 hours to dry, then check if it’s altered your leather’s color. It’s especially important for aniline and full-grain leathers.

3. Wipe the seat down

Using a damp microfiber towel, wipe the leather seats down. You’ve already vacuumed it, but the extra wipedown will take off other substances that might be stuck on as well as spills like coffee and sticky juice residue. Then let it dry completely, which only takes a few minutes.

4. Apply the leather cleaner

Now’s where the deep cleaning happens. It’s time to use the leather-specific cleaner and the brush.

“I spray cleaner on the leather brush, then I gently work the product into the grain," Fernandez said. “Then I wipe it clean before it dries.”

The key is to avoid adding to the residue, so don’t leave the cleaner on the leather.

5. Condition the leather

Cleaning leather can remove natural oils and any protective coatings applied during manufacturing. A high-quality conditioner like Meguiar’s D180 Leather Cleaner & Conditioner is a good choice, and it’s Fernandez’s go-to. He cautioned not to condition the leather until it’s dry from the cleaning process, though.

Other tips for cleaning leather seats

Although the steps aren’t difficult and it sounds straightforward, a job well done requires that you’re diligent. Fernandez recommends working in small sections at a time, and doing each seat methodically, so you don’t miss any sections of leather.

And once again, don’t let the products dry on the leather. If your car interior is hot from the sun beating down on it, park it in a garage or somewhere it can cool down before attempting to clean the leather or the cleaner will almost immediately bake on. If it does dry on, wet a towel, wipe it off and then start over again.

How to maintain leather car seats

Cleaning leather car seats isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, but it’s necessary. If you’ve neglected the job for a while and it’s become a time-consuming task, how can you prevent that next time?

Fernandez said regular cleanings in between major cleans are best. He likened it to brushing your teeth daily versus not brushing and just caring for cavities every so often.


Leather has a fantastic, rich feeling when you’re driving, but as a natural material, it needs more care than your average upholstery. And with an hour’s worth of time invested once or twice a year, it’ll stay in great shape.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will vinegar damage leather seats?

Vinegar is a good ingredient for household applications, but its acidity is harmful to leather. Avoid using anything acidic on leather seats.

Are baby wipes good for leather seats?

Many baby wipes contain alcohol that strips the protective layer off of car seats. In time, you might notice discoloration or cracking if you use disposable wipes or baby wipes.

How can I make my leather seats look new again?

If seats are very bad, a multi-day process may be in order. Leatherique is a system that is done over a couple of days, allowing the product to soak in and draw out dirt before nourishing the leather.

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Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.