Leather seats demand extra special care both in cleaning and the activities you carry around your car - for example eating. Spillages are a major cause of stains and ruins on leather car seats which might be why you’re reading this. Other things that may bring you a headache while taking care of leather include dust, dirt, and pets.
However, there is no reason to worry as technology and chemistry have a solution in place. But before you embark on any cleaning processes, you need to be aware of the different types of leather, best cleaning practices for your leather, best conditioning practices, and best maintenance practices.
All these tips on how to clean leather car seats are featured in this guide.
The Different Types of Leather featured on car seats
Before you dive into cleaning, think about the kind of leather you have. The type of leather and finish you’re dealing with may change the type of cleaning methods you use. Below are the types of car leather and how to identify each one.
Aniline leather is whipped from the finest hide. The leather has a soft touch, but you can still see the natural hide’s texture. It brings out the richness in color. Dyes are used on this type of leather but it doesn’t have surface dye or any form of protective coating.
The Aniline wears easily which requires excellent care. In the past century, it was one of the most used leathers, but its application to vehicle seats has deteriorated over the last couple of decades. You will most probably not find this type of leather in your car.
You can identify various types of leather with just a single drop of water. Aniline leather is quick to absorb the droplet since it lacks protective covering.
It has an aniline nature because its coloring is done with aniline dyes. The coloring process is succeeded by the coating process. A protective coating is employed on the readily dyed leather, and this distinguishes it from Aniline leather.
The coat enhances the uniformity of the color.
It is not surprising to find that semi-aniline is often referred to as ‘finished leather’ while aniline is the ‘unfinished leather.’ It is as fluffy as the natural leather but offers a higher resistance to scratches, spills and other various forms of wear.
High-end cars normally have this type of leather.
Semi-aniline will also absorb the water droplet. However, it will take a long while on doing so.
Full grain leather has a texture with the hide’s original markings. This is because it has skipped the correcting stage in its processing. This leather not only has a protective coating but it has also undergone pigmentation.
Full-Grain Leather is more durable than the aniline leathers. However, it's perceived as a step down from its predecessors. It has a classy feel, and you will find it in most mid range cars.
The water droplet slides off the leather.
d. Corrected Grain
It is the most resistant leather of this lot and lowest on the natural scale. Materials used in production undergo the buffing process to be fixed. Pets and children can scratch it or get it dirty but it's a lower maintenance leather and harder to dirty.
Lower and Medium end vehicles possess this type of leather.
Corrected grain portrays similar characteristics to the Full-Grain Leather. The droplet becomes less viscous.
Why Your Leather Deteriorates
Let’s explore what wears your leather down in more detail...
I’m sorry to say, but dirt has full access to your car. The best you can try is to clean and minimize it. What’s more, dirt and leather have an abrasive relationship.
The leather cracks and rubs off and this generally affects the pigmentation of your seats.
You should clean your seats on a monthly basis. You can even do this at your local car wash after cleaning your car. Most of them have high powered vacuums which can suck up most of the dirt pretty easily.
b. Normal Depreciation
Friction is a significant cause of normal wear on your leather. You can examine the driver’s seat of your car for proof. It usually is slightly more faded in color and wears out faster. This is because it’s prone to the most cracks brought about by scratches that arise from entering and exiting your car and shifting about to get a more comfortable sitting position.
You’ve most likely experienced little bumps and accidents in your car. They’re worse if you’re holding food, drink or other fluids that spill. If you want to be on the safe side, you need to clean spills up immediately - but you already knew that :)
d. Sweat and Body Oils
If you frequent the gym and then drive home after, you’re probably getting sweat on your seat. Personally, I’ll carry a towel to put over the seat for extra sweaty days. When you repeatedly get sweat or other oils on your seats, the leather loses its matte look and appear to be shiny.
How You Clean Your Leather Seats
The Standard Procedure
i. Rubbish clean up
This step is not just bound to this procedure, but you have to constantly apply it. You will be able to conduct the rest of the process with ease after picking out all the big rubbish particles.
This is the most efficient and effective way to remove dirt. The various products you will use will also not be disrupted by it.
Ensure that you enlist the use of an upholstery attachment. This is the tube-like structure that is attached to the nozzle of the vacuum to be able to access places the vacuum cleaner cannot.
iii. Make the solution
Various solutions will require different mix-up procedures. You can always make your own DIY leather cleaner but there’s so many affordable products that it's really not necessary. We like good ol’ fashioned armorall for most seats.
The products you use at home are convenient and a slightly cheaper option. But when you compare them to the specialized products, they tend to lean on the mild side in cleaning and conditioning.
iv. Use a leather cleaner
Once you’ve picked your product, go ahead and get to work with the “wax on, wax off” motion. Apply special attention to areas with stains or ones that require more work.
Just make sure you follow the directions on whichever product you’re using. It's a good idea to also test the product on an inconspicuous spot before spraying it on your seats.
v. Wipe off the product
Use a leather chamois if you can get one or a regular wooly piece of cloth and wipe down your seats. It helps to dissolve the solution and you can use it to scrub stains. These cloths are also really good at absorbing the leather cleaner.
vi. Let the seats dry
It is now time for some patience. Exposing your car to more dirt and activity while it is still wet can add more stains on your leather so give it 20 minutes or so to air out.
DIY Car Leather Cleaning Solutions
a. Vinegar Cleaning Solution
Get some Vinegar, water, and a spray bottle.
Fill three-quarters of the bottle with vinegar.
Fill the remaining quarter with water.
Shake vigorously for half a minute or stir to blend them.
When you spray this solution, be sure to keep a distance of about 20 cm between the bottle and leather. Try to cover every part of the leather with the solution, but you need to be wary of soaking the seats.
Use a little water clean the vinegar off the seats and let it dry.
(Related: How to Get Tar Off Your Car - The Right Way!)
b. Laundry detergent solution
Gather some warm water, a spray bottle, and some detergent soap.
Use the warm water to fill your spray bottle.
Stir one teaspoon of the laundry detergent.
You should try to spray your seats lightly. Use a chamois cloth to rub the solution on the leather and to scrub off stains.
You should also use warm water to rinse off the detergent solution. Give it time to dry.
A couple of Examples of specialized products
a. Chamberlain’s Leather Cleaner
This product is also an excellent water protector and conditioner. It sets you back about $44.
You can clean any leather with this solution.
You can conduct both light and heavy-duty cleanups.
It eliminates, dust, oils and stubborn stains
Its components are toxic free.
It’s easy to use and you don’t have to waste time mixing stuff.
It can’t effectively eliminate all types of stains - but nothing can.
b. Leather Honey Multipurpose Cleaner & Conditioner
Leather Honey is a household brand in the market. And it's a cost-effective conditioner that still gives your leather seats a fresh look.
It’s a toxic-free cleaner.
It’s weather resistant especially against water, rain and even snow.
You can extend its purpose to other leather products for example gloves, furniture, and bags.
It gets rid of mold and mildew.
It is highly economical costing around $17 for a bottle.
If you do not apply it correctly, you stand a risk of ruining your leather.
Home cleaning vs. Professional cleaning
With professional cleaning, you enlist both skill and experience. What’s more, with professional cleaning they have excellent choices of products and tools that are up to date. You also transfer the risk of cleaning to those who take up the job.
Even though cleaning at home is cheaper, it may be a good idea to do a pro clean a few times a year just to keep things up to snuff.
Work on small sections.
As you clean, don’t let the solution go dry.
Always vacuum first.
Condition your seats after cleaning and drying.
Avoid exposing your car to direct sunlight while cleaning or leaving it to dry.
Avoid oil-based products, wax or silicone.
Avoid overusing the products.
Cleaning your car leather seats doesn’t have to be difficult or even time consuming. Pick a good leather cleaning solution, test and small and inconspicuous spot and get to work. It may take some elbow grease to get the stains out but it's worth it when you get to the finished product.
Remember that regular cleaning, conditioning, and maintenance has a positive contribution to the lifespan of your leather seats. If you have questions, let us know below!