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How to Clean Leather Car Upholstery: The Best Tips & Tricks

Use our guide on how to clean leather car seats to discover easy-to-follow steps to keep dirt at bay!


Reading Time: 5 minutes

Learn how to clean leather

Leather car seats are a comfortable and luxurious addition to any vehicle, but it can be hard to keep them looking showroom perfect without regular cleaning.

Fortunately, this handy guide on how to clean leather car seats provides three different and simple methods with easy-to-follow steps to help you keep dirt at bay!

As well as following our tips for how to clean leather car upholstery, look out for leather wipes which generally contain cleaner and conditioner, to get two jobs done at once!

How to remove stains from car seats

As well as understanding how to clean leather car upholstery it is important to know how to remove stains from leather car seats for those times when you, your children or pets have unfortunate accidents. Here are our top tips for leather car cleaning:

  • Always work quickly when you spill something like coffee on your seats.

  1. Blot at the stain with a clean cloth, towel or tissue to pick up as much of the liquid as possible.

  2. Rub the stain with a mix of washing liquid, white vinegar and water.

  3. Rinse with clean water, taking care not to saturate the leather.

  4. Blot the area with a clean cloth to soak up any leftover liquid and leave to dry naturally.

  • If you discover a grease or oil spot on your upholstery or other parts of your car use cornstarch to lift the stain.

  1. Cover the stain with cornstarch.

  2. Allow this to set for 12 hours.

  3. Cornstarch will absorb the grease, so all you need to do is vacuum and clean the seats using one of the methods below.

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Now you know how to clean leather car seats, there are two important things to remember:

  1. Make sure you test any product you plan to use on a small, inconspicuous area first. If you notice any adverse effects (for example, color fading, staining etc.) then switch to an alternative product.

  2. Avoid wax, silicone, or oil-based products as these can damage leather.

Cleaning leather seats in a car: 4 easy steps for using specialist products

There are some very effective bespoke products on the market for cleaning car leather seats. The perfect finish is not a brilliant sheen as one might assume, but rather a matte elegance. Follow these four steps to learn how to wash leather car seats and restore them to their former factory-fresh glory:

  • Vacuum the seats using an upholstery attachment. This will avoid damaging the leather.

  • Apply a specialist leather car seat cleaner.

  1. Research the best option for your car seats, as different brands and cleaners are designed for different colours and types of car seat.

  2. If in doubt, ask your local car dealer or auto centre as they will be able to advise you of the best one for your car.

  3. Always use the car seat cleaner as per the manufacturer’s directions which can be found on the product.

  • Next, you need to clean the car seat cleaner off the surface of the leather. Wipe down the seats with a damp chamois leather.

  1. Use just enough water to remove all of the cleaning agent.

  2. Do not saturate the leather as this could damage the protective coating.

  • Leave to dry naturally before hitting the road.

How to clean leather car upholstery with laundry detergent

If you want to know how to clean car upholstery, you have to consider that it is significantly trickier than tackling your average living room sofa. It is a logistical challenge to reach the dirt; which could get under and between the seats. That said, some underhand tactics and a little detergent make short work of the job:

  • Prepare the way for cleaning by vacuuming the seats to suck up dust and crumbs. This is especially key if you have children or pets.

  1. Do not forget to vacuum first, as loose and dirt crumbs are abrasive and could damage the leather while cleaning.

  2. Use an upholstery brush attachment to avoid damaging the leather.

  3. Remember to target the clumps of dirt that often congregate between the backrest and the cushion.

  • Fill a spray bottle with warm water.

  • Add a heaped teaspoon of detergent. Our top tip is to use a fragranced product. This will leave your car upholstery smelling fresh, reducing the need for an air freshener.

  • Fill another spray bottle with warm water only.

  • Spray the seat with the soap bottle, paying particular attention to soiled areas.

  • Lightly scrub with a soft cotton cloth, ensuring you clean all the leather, in particular spots which are most often in contact with those who sit on them, such as the seat and upper backrest.

  • Rinse with the warm water, taking care to not soak the leather.

  • Leave to dry naturally, prior to anyone sitting in the seat.

How to clean leather seats in a car using household products

If you’re looking for top tips for how to clean leather seats in a car and are interested in a more natural approach, then we have you covered. Here some simple ways you can use products from around your home to clean your car seats.

  • Cornstarch is a great natural deodorizer.

  1. Sprinkle cornstarch onto the upholstery.

  2. Leave it to sit for 30 minutes.

  3. Thoroughly vacuum your car seats.

  • An easy, natural homemade cleaner is a water-vinegar mix.

  1. First, fill a spray bottle three-quarters full of white vinegar.

  2. Top-up the bottle with warm water.

  3. Spray your seats from a distance of around 20cm.

  4. Lightly rub the solution into the seat with a damp chamois

  5. Refill the bottle with clean water.

  6. Rinse the seat and leave to dry for great results

  • Coconut oil is well known as being great for cooking, softening your skin and even using on your hair, but did you know it’s also a perfect conditioner for leather.

  1. Wipe your leather car seats clean using a damp, clean, dye-free cloth.

  2. Add small amounts of coconut oil to the surface of the leather.

  3. Rub the coconut oil into the leather gently with a clean, dry cloth.

Now you have the perfect guide for how to wash leather car seats, with different options to choose from, be sure to take good care of your seats after. Apply a leather conditioning and moisturising treatment at least once every three months or so to protect the material from heat, sunlight, and spillages.

  • If using a specialised leather cleaner always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.

  • Laundry detergent or vinegar can also be used to clean leather car seats.

  • Be careful not to saturate your seats with water or cleaning products.

  • Leave the seats to dry fully before sitting on them.

Frequently asked questions on cleaning leather car upholstery

Can I use mineral oil on leather seats?

Mineral oil is an ingredient often found in leather seat cleaners but it is not normally used t clean leather on its own. It is definitely a cheaper option, but the long-term harm it could cause outweighs the good it could do for your wallet. Mineral oil can dry out leather or soften and discolour it if used neat.

Is Vaseline/petroleum jelly good for leather car seats?

So, you're wondering, “Is Vaseline good for leather car seats?” and the answer is a definitive no. You should take extreme care when it comes to any petroleum-based products. These can break down the leather fibers and weaken the seat stitching which holds the panels together resulting in the seats being damaged and irreparable.

How do you prevent faux leather seats from cracking?

If you're trying to find out how to prevent faux leather from cracking, we recommend following a regular care routine from dusting regularly and avoiding getting them wet to using a good quality leather conditioner frequently.

What is leather oil, and can it be used for car seats?

Leather oil is a specialist product designed to be gentle on your seats and help you to remove dirt and keep your leather seats in the best condition possible. Using them correctly as per the manufacturer’s instructions can help to keep your leather seats looking good as new. It's not just your leather seats which need caring for though - you should also give similar care to leather bags, shoes, and accessories.

Can water damage leather seats?

A small amount of water spilt on your leather seats and cleaned up fast is unlikely to cause much damage. However, large amounts of water, and water which has been left to sit for too long, can cause damage to your seats. In particular it can cause them to become stiff – not an ideal result for something you wish to sit comfortably in.

Originally published