Learning how to clean leather is an easy way to help maintain leather goods for years of use. A few simple steps go a long way to making it looks great and performing well for everyday use.

Leather cleaning involves the removal of dirt, grime, and stains from leather materials and goods. It helps maintain the integrity of the leather fibers and/or surface finish (on finished leathers). The process varies for natural and faux leathers, and only involves a few easy, basic steps.

There are a few things to consider when cleaning leather, from the cleaners used, to the type of leather being cleaned, to the type (if any) finish on the leather. Let’s explore more.

 

How to Clean Leather

Leather Working Tools - Leather Cleaner and Conditioner - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Cleaner and Conditioner

The steps to cleaning leather are relatively easy. Generally, prepare a clean work surface, layout your cleaning tools and supplies, brush loose dirt and debris from the leather, apply the cleaner, allow it to dry, and all should be great.

While it certainly is easy, knowing a few things ahead of time can really MAKE it that easy 🙂 We’ll take a look into those a little further below, ensuring you know what type of leather it is (natural or faux), if it has a finish, what cleaners to use for each type of leather or finish, and how to clean leather so it stays in great shape for a long time.

 

When to Clean Leather

Natural leather is comprised of natural fibers, so it’s important to ensure that the proper moisture balance is maintained, all while keeping it dirt and grime free. Faux leather is generally made from plastic, so cleaning this type of leather is more focused on just on cleanliness (and not so much on conditioning as in natural leather).

Generally, natural leather should be cleaned periodically, the frequency driven by the type of leather and how often it is used. For example, a pair of nice leather dress shoes that are worn once a week, might be helpful to clean once a month.

For a pair of leather work boots worn daily, cleaning once a week could be beneficial. For any leather, if the soiling is heavy, such as with muddy boots, they should be cleaned that day if possible. This helps prevent the dirt and mud from penetrating too deeply into the fibers.

For Faux leather, they generally have some sort of plastic finish applied, making them somewhat resistant to dirt and moisture. Faux leather can be cleaned whenever it begins to look dirty based on use. A jacket worn daily might need cleaning monthly, while a faux leather couch every other month, depending on use.

Any leather should also be cleaned when it gets dirty, beyond normal wear. For example, if a spill or stain is found, generally the sooner they can be cleaned the better. It’s easy though, and usually just takes a few minutes. Let’s review what to think about first when cleaning leather goods.

 

Factors to Consider When Cleaning Leather

Leather Luggage - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Luggage

When planning to clean something made from leather, there are a few important things to keep in mind:

What type of leather is it?

This is going to be the most important piece to determine; depending on the type of leather, cleaners can work great, damage the material, or even add new stains. For example, suede leather has the tiny leather fibers that sit up and form the soft surface. A harsh cleaner can easily discolor and damage it.

If it is a more durable leather, such as a saddle, a tougher cleaner might be needed to work out the dirt from everyday use. If the leather has a protective coating on it, this could be damaged by the chemicals in some cleaner, discoloring it, or the leather underneath it.

Here are a few of the major types of leather that generally have specialized cleaners available for them:

  • Grain leather
  • Faux leather (vegan leather)
  • Patent leather
  • Split grain leather
  • Bonded leather
  • Upholstery leather (natural or vegan leather)
  • Saddle leather

First, identify the type of leather you are trying to clean.

 

Is it Natural Leather?

Leathers such as grain leather are natural leather made up of fibers. These will require a natural leather cleaner that is PH neutral.

 

Is it Faux Leather (often plastic)?

Faux Leather Couch Surface - Liberty Leather Goods
Faux Leather Couch Surface

Leathers such as faux leather and vegan leathers, are generally made from plastic. These will require cleaners that will maintain the finish and also remove dirt from the synthetic surface. Some faux leathers are made from natural materials, such as pineapple leather. In these cases, manufacturers should be able to recommend a suitable cleaner based on the unique material composition.

 

What Type of Finish is on the Leather?

Next, determine what kind of finish is on the leather. The surface of the leather is what will come into contact with the cleaner. Some chemicals might clean them well, and others might interact with the surface composition and stain or weaken it.

For example, an abrasive cleaner on faux leather with a plastic protective surface might actually discolor it. A harsh cleaner on painted leather could remove the paint and damage the leather underneath. The right cleaner, though, will be gentle and keep the leather goods looking great for years.

 

Here is a list of common leather surface finish types:

  • Aniline Leather
  • Semi Aniline Leather
  • Antique Grain Leather
  • Brush Colored Leather
  • Degrained Leather
  • Double Face Leather (Double Sided Leather)
  • Embossed Leather
  • Embroidered Leather
  • Faux Leather
  • Hand Worked Leather
  • Interwoven Leather
  • Metallic Leather
  • Nappa (Napa)
  • Nubuck Leather
  • Oil Leather (Pull-Up Leather, Waxy Leather, Waxed Leather)
  • Patent Leather
  • Painted Leather
  • Pearlized Leather
  • Pigmented Leather
  • Printed Leather
  • Stretch Leather
  • Suede Leather
  • Washable Leather

 

When in Doubt, Go Simple and Gentle

Once you know the type of leather and surface you’re trying to clean, choose the best leather cleaner for that combination. Generally, gently wiping leather goods with a damp, soft cloth is a great place to start. It can loosen and remove dirt and debris, leaving the original leather surface clean as new.

When working on tougher dirt, stains, or unique leather types, let’s see what the best cleaners are for those needs.

 

 

How to Clean Leather Step-by Step

Leather Cleaner - Liberty Leather Goods

Quality leather goods can easily last for hundreds of years when properly cared for. A key maintenance step is cleaning. It doesn’t have to take a long time to do, and will also make leather goods look great for everyday use. Let’s explore how to to do it.

 

1. Prepare the Work Area

First, find a location where you can lay out all of your supplies and leather goods. It should be an open, flat space. Surfaces that work well include tables, desks, work benches, countertops, side tables, and even the floor.

Lay something onto the surface that will be a protective layer. It can be a layer of plastic, old tablecloth, towel, drop cloth, thin tarp, even an old sheet. The main purpose of the protective layer is to keep the work surface clean from any of the cleaning chemicals and dirt/grim that come off of them. It beats having to clean the leather, then having to clean up the work surface later 🙂

Indoors usually works best, with a temperature around 72 degrees fahrenheit (22 degrees celsius). This is a relatively ideal temperature, and doesn’t have to be exact. In general though, in conditions that are too hot or too cold, the cleaners might not work as effectively as needed. For example, if too hot out, the cleaners might change consistency and not work great. If too cold, they might become more solid and not spread as evenly as needed. Often, the cleaners will indicate optimal working temperature ranges on the packages or with use instructions.

 

2. Lay Out the Supplies & Leather

  • Next, lay out your leather cleaning supplies. This usually includes:
    Cleaners (click here to read my article listing which leather cleaners work best for different types of leathers)
  • Lint-free cloths
  • Cotton swabs (for cleaning the nooks and hard to reach spots)
  • Brushes (to loosen dirt/debris)
  • The leather goods being cleaned
  • Any other supplies needed for the particular leather type being cleaned

 

3. Brush the Leather

Use a very gentle leather brush to lightly brush the leather surface. This will help loosen up and remove some dirt and grime that might have accumulated. With some of that dirt and grime gone, it will make the cleaning much easier and more effective.

Some leather types, such as suede and nubuck, will also utilize a brush when applying the cleaners. for now though, we can put the brush down and move onto the lint-free cloths.

 

4. Apply the Leather Cleaner

OK, now it’s cleaning time! Gently apply the leather cleaner based on how the specific cleaner instructions guide. Some are spray on and others are to be applied with a cloth. Once sprayed or applied with a cloth, gently rub the cleaner around the leather surface with a cloth. Small circular movements usually work best. This will help to loosen and remove the remaining dirt and grime from the surface.

For very soiled goods, the dirt might make the cloth dirty. If it does, use another cloth to continue cleaning. This will ensure the removed dirt and grime do not get rubbed deeper into the leather or damage the surface/finish.

If you’re cleaning suede or nubuck, they’re require a somewhat different approach. Generally, they’ll just need a brush to apply the cleaner, instead of a cloth. Since these leather types still have some of the longer leather fibers on the surface (what give it the unique look and texture), a brush is needed to effectively work the cleaner into and around the fibers. It’s easy though, just follow the instructions on the cleaner container, and it should go relatively smoothly.

For heavily soiled goods, it might require a few passes with cleaner to get things looking good.

 

5. Allow it to Dry

Once all looks clean, wether it’s one pass, or a few, then we can let things dry. Usually, air drying works best, around room temperature. Generally, avoid using a hair dryer; while this might speed up drying, it could lead to uneven drying and in extreme cases, the heat generated from the hair dryer might damage the leather fibers.

A fan can be used if needed to speed up dry time, though usually just letting things site out and dry on their own can work just great.

 

6. Condition the Leather (if needed)

Great! The leather is now clean. Sometimes, the cleaning process can remove moisture from within the leather fibers, and it’s helpful to add these back in to nourish the leather. Usually, conditioning isn’t done as often as cleaning. Too much conditioning can lead to a greasy surface and blocked pores in the leather.

So in general, every few months or so is a good time to condition. If the leather goods are used heavily (for example work boots, tack, couches) or frequently (purses, shoes), they might been conditioning more often. Those goods used less often, such as watch bands, personal accessories, or anything used only on occasion, usually require conditioning less frequently.

And that’s it! Clean leather 🙂

Here is a helpful video that shows the process relatively quickly:

 

Common Leather Cleaning Questions

Here are a few insights into a few day-to-day questions about how to clean leather.

How do you clean and condition leather furniture?

Leather furniture can be kept clean day-to-day by wiping down with a damp, lint-free cloth. For more soiled furniture, application of a leather cleaner (for the specific type of leather and finish being cleaned) periodically is all that is needed. After application with a lint-free cloth, let it dry. Conditioner can then be applied. Click here for my article that dives into the most helpful leather conditioners.

 

How do you clean old leather?

Worn Leather Shoes - How to Clean Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Worn Leather Shoes

Old leather can be weak and brittle, and in most cases it can be cleaned. Some rare and very antique leathers, such as those in museums, might not be cleaned much, if any. Though if it’s a daily-use leather good that you’re looking to revive, it’s relatively easy.

Just use a leather brush, gentle cleaner, let it dry, and apply a conditioner. In just a few minutes, that old leather should be looking great.

 

How do you clean and restore leather?

Cleaning and restoring leather is relatively easy – often, it just involves brushing the dirt/grime from the leather’s surface, applying a gentle cleaner with a lint-free cloth, then letting the leather air-dry. Once dry, application of a leather conditioner can help restore moisture and keep the leather looking excellent.

 

How do you deep clean leather?

Deep cleaning leather is very similar to general leather cleaning. Often, it just involved cleaning it multiple times to really bring out the dirt. Leather is a natural material, so gentle cleaning is the way to go. Repeating a few times and the leather should be deep cleaned and in good shape.

 

What is the best way to clean a leather recliner?

A leather recliner can be cleaned generally, by brushing the surface with a gentle leather brush to loosen remove any dirt/debris. Next, apply a gentle leather cleaner with a lint-free cloth. Then let it air dry. Apply a leather conditioner if needed, to add some moisture back that might have been lost during cleaning.

 

How do you clean dirty (or yellowed) white leather?

Yellowed white leather can be cleaned generally, by brushing the surface with a gentle leather brush to loosen remove any dirt/debris. Next, apply a gentle leather cleaner with a lint-free cloth. Then let it air dry. Apply a leather conditioner if needed.

Some white leathers, especially faux leathers, appear yellow because the surface finish naturally discolors over time. Since the finish is over the leather, it appears that the leather is yellow, while in reality, it’s just the finish. These, often plastic, finishes, can often not be changed in color. A white, natural leather, without a plastic finish, can be cleaned like any other leather.

 

How do you remove ballpoint ink from leather?

While not recommended to apply rubbing alcohol on leather often, in the case of an ink stain, it usually is one of the more effective methods. It should only be applied in small areas, and tested in an inconspicuous area first to ensure it does not affect the leather finish or color.

Generally, use a cotton swab, dipped in alcohol and apply to the stain. Wipe dry with a link free cloth. If needed, apply gentle leather cleaner for further cleaning. Also, since alcohol dries leather out, if needed, apply conditioner to the area to restore that needed moisture after cleaning.

 

How do you get sweat stains out of a leather couch?

Leather Couch - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Couch

Sweat stains can be removed from a leather couch through a thorough cleaning. Find a gentle leather cleaner for the type of leather the couch is, apply, allow to air dry, and condition if needed. The stains should, in general, come out, leaving the couch clean and looking nice.

 

How do you deep clean leather seats?

Leather seats can be deep cleaned through several applications of a gentle leather cleaner. While very dirty seats might take a little longer, it’s essentially the same process as cleaning lightly-soiled seats. Just repeat the cleaning process to keep removing deeper dirt and grime, and eventually the seats should be clean and in great shape.

Condition if needed, which is likely after a deep clean. Cleaning can remove moisture from leather, so adding that back via conditioning can help ensure the leather is cared for properly and can last a long time.

 

Can worn leather be restored?

Generally, work leather can be made to look better and restored, though fibers worn away from abrasion cannot be re-adhered. Leather is made up of tightly arranged fibers, once they wear away, they are gone.

However, some leather looks worn just from being too dry and brittle. In this case, cleaning and conditioning can rejuvenate the fibers and restore them to a healthy condition, making the leather usable again.

 

Can you recondition leather furniture?

In some cases, yes, leather furniture can be reconditioned. Faux leather furniture is usually made of plastic, so once those wear or crack, those usually can not be reconditioned to looking new.

Natural leather, if dry or dirty, can easily be cleaned and conditioned to recondition the leather furniture and make it look excellent again, and in some cases, almost like new.

 

How do you make leather cleaner?

Leather can be made cleaner by applying a gentle leather cleaner to the surface, working it in with a lint-free cloth, and allowing it to dry. A damp, lint-free cloth can also be used. Once air dried, conditioner can be applied and the leather looking much better.

 

What gets stains out of leather?

Leather cleaners work great for getting stains out of leather. It is recommended to make sure they are a gentle, non-harsh cleaner. Sometimes, synthetic or tough cleaners might actually stain leather, not ideal given they are intended to help clean it 🙂

For getting ink stains out of leather, rubbing alcohol is an option that can work, if used in a limited way, and in small areas, followed-up with conditioning.

 

How do you clean leather handbags?

Leather Handbags in Various Colors - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Handbags in Various Colors

Leather handbags can be cleaned in various ways, most dependent on the type of leather the bag is made from and the type of finish that is on top.

Faux leather handbags are usually made from plastic, and have a plastic finish on them. They can generally be cleaned by any cleaners safe for and gentle plastic surfaces. There are are handbag specific cleaners available.

Natural leather handbags can generally be cleaned by application of a very gentle leather cleaner with a lint-free cloth, worked in small circles. Once clean, it should be allowed to air-dry, then a quality leather conditioner applied if needed.

 

How do you remove ballpoint ink from leather?

Ballpoint ink can generally be removed from leather with rubbing alcohol. It should only be applied in small areas, and tested in an inconspicuous area first to ensure it does not affect the leather finish or color.

Generally, use a cotton swab, dipped in alcohol and apply to the stain. Wipe dry with a link free cloth. If needed, apply gentle leather cleaner for further cleaning. Also, since alcohol dries leather out, if needed, apply conditioner to the area to restore that needed moisture after cleaning.

 

How do you get stains out of white leather?

Stains can be removed from white leather by applying a gentle leather cleaner with a lint-free cloth, worked in small circles. Once clean, it should be allowed to air-dry, then a quality leather conditioner applied if needed.

Some white leathers, especially faux leathers, appear yellow because the surface finish naturally discolors over time. Since the finish is over the leather, it appears that the leather is yellow, while in reality, it’s just the finish. These, often plastic, finishes, can often not be changed in color. A white, natural leather, without a plastic finish, can be cleaned like any other leather.

Here’s a helpful video demonstrating the cleaning of a white leather couch/sofa:

 

 

It can be very rewarding to take leather that is old or dirty and clean it up into something that looks great and new. Cleaning leather is a way to help ensure it is maintained well, and is something that be useful, functional, and enjoyed daily for a very long time.

 

 

Related Questions

How do you clean leather naturally?

The most natural way to clean leather is with a lint-free cloth, dampened with just a little water. Also, pH balanced leather cleaners that are gentle, and made with biodegradable ingredients usually work best to clean leather naturally.

 

How do you make leather look new?

Leather can be made to look new with a good cleaning and conditioning. The cleaning can remove dirt and grime, the conditioning can restore important moisture and oils lost during the cleaning process.Just a few minutes and leather can look great.

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