Ensure you’re treating your car right with this quick and easy guide on leather care.
There’s nothing that screams luxury more than a set of plush leather-upholstered seats. For decades’ manufacturers have been offering leather interiors for cars—either as a premium option, or to denote the highest rung of model or trim.
But, if not treated right, your leather chairs can quickly become cracked and torn. Ask yourself: who wants to be seen in a car with dry, damaged or discolored seats?
Luckily the solution is simple: learn how to properly care for your car’s leather interior. And, although it may sound daunting, it doesn’t have to be. All you need is basic know-how, some readily available products, and a few minutes to keep your leather seats looking as good as new. And luckily for you, we’ve detailed the process below!
Why Car Leather Needs to be Cared for
You may be wondering why leather requires this extra care and attention — your mom’s grocery-getter with vinyl-covered benches sure didn’t need anything more than a wipe down at best!
Leather is unique in that it’s a natural product; think of it as you would your skin. When exposed to the elements it can dry out, get sunburnt, and develop wrinkles. Over the time these blemishes become more pronounced, and harder to remove.
Fortunately, as with skin, you can offset these effects with regular care and attention. The more you start to treat your car’s leather interior as if it were alive, the more you’ll understand the importance that it remains clean and nourished; just as you clean and moisturize your skin, so too should you do to your car’s leather.
So Where Do We Start?
First, you’ll need to assess the condition of your car’s leather. If it’s brand-new, or even a few years old, you’re likely to be in luck—age-related wear will be at a minimum, and you can get a head-start at preventing any future damage.
What if your leather is several years old—decades even? Well, if it’s still in one piece—without deep cracks, tears or fading—you’ll still be able to restore some of the previous luster to it.
But bear in mind, you may not be able to get the factory-finish you want after one or two treatments. It’ll likely take several rounds of leather cleaning and conditioning, and may still not be 100% perfect. But fear not: many consider one of the charming qualities of leather to be its aged character.
If you find your leather has cracks the size of the Grand Canyon, gashes as wide as a cat’s grin, or is faded worse than a bumper sticker in California, you may need to get it professionally assessed.
Clean as a Whistle
Once you’ve assessed your leather, you’ll need to clean it. You may be surprised at how dirty your leather is. Even if it looks clean, there’s likely to be a fair amount of ingrained dirt.
There are many options on the market when it comes to selecting a leather cleaning solution. We’d recommend one that is proven to lift dirt, but also mild—a PH-balanced cleaner is a great option! Always apply a small amount in an inconspicuous area to ensure colorfastness.
The best way to clean your seats is to use a leather-specific soft horsehair brush. But you can get away with using a microfiber cloth in a pinch. Gently agitate after applying the cleaner, and work in circular motions.
Contrary to popular belief, Leather isn’t supposed to be shiny. That “shine” is the result of a buildup of dirt and oils that become caked onto the surface. Pay special attention to these areas.
Ensure your seat is adjusted so that you can reach all crevices. If you find an excessive number of crumbs or other debris hiding, you may want to consider vacuuming those areas.
Once agitated, use a separate, clean microfiber cloth to wipe the seats. This will remove the dirt and oils that have been lifted by the cleaner. It’s key to wipe away the lather created in the previous step before it dries. Use a light-colored cloth to properly gauge the amount of dirt.
Now that you have a gunk-free canvas, you can start to condition the leather. Use any reputable leather conditioner available, but remember to test on a small spot before tackling the rest of the interior.
When it comes to conditioner, a little goes a long way. Apply a small amount of conditioner to a folded microfiber towel or applicator pad. Gently massage this into the leather. You’ll find it will naturally begin to absorb the conditioner, so you’ll want to have an even application.
If your car’s leather has perforations (commonly found for seat ventilation) or stitching, you may want to pay particular attention to the application of conditioner. This is to avoid the product from being excessively applied, clogging up the perforations or staining the stitching. To avoid this, before tackling the seat, work the conditioner into the towel or applicator itself. This will ensure the conditioner is evenly spread on the surface, rather than any excess being left where it shouldn’t.
Once completed you shouldn’t have any excess residue, but if you do, simply wipe it away with a clean microfiber towel.
And there you have it! See? Not so hard after all. Remember, although we focused mostly on the seats, these points can be applied to any leather surfaces, such as dashboards, door cards, and steering wheels—just remember to ensure there’s no slippery residue on the latter, for your own safety.
It’s recommended that you clean your leather interior at least once a month, and condition it every quarter. If you do, it’s almost guaranteed that your leather seats will retain their luxurious qualities for years to come.