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How To Disinfect Leather – Safe and Effective Methods

Leather products are high quality and very durable, which is why they usually cost a bit more than fabric products.  There will be times when people or animals get sick, and the best thing to do to prevent illness from spreading is to disinfect the leather products that have been affected.  So how do I disinfect leather?  Let’s get started with the process.

To disinfect leather is to clean leather car interiors, bags, wallets, and furniture to eliminate bacteria and other microorganisms.  Using antibacterial wipes, cleaning solutions, antimicrobial sprays, or ultraviolet (UV) light, one can disinfect their leather items to keep them clean and fresh.

What’s your routine for cleaning and disinfecting leather — did you know you should?  Are you looking for the best way to disinfect your favorite purse, gloves, or car seats?

What is How to Disinfect Leather

To disinfect leather is to rid the material of bacteria, viruses, and microorganisms to prevent the spread of disease and preserve the leather’s integrity.  This can be done through antibacterial wipes, cleaning solutions, antimicrobial sprays, and ultraviolet (UV) light. It is important to use the proper technique to disinfect leather while not damaging the material.

Disinfecting a Leather Purse - How to Disinfect Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Disinfecting a Leather Purse

Uses for How to Disinfect Leather

According to researchers Suman et al., viruses and bacteria can live on surfaces like plastic and leather for anywhere from hours to days.  Disinfecting leather can be very important to staying healthy, especially for those more susceptible to disease.  It’s also helpful in preventing unpleasant smells and mold.  When you think about how to disinfect leather, keep these items in mind:

  1. Car steering wheel
  2. Car seats
  3. Purses
  4. Wallets
  5. Shoes
  6. Jackets
  7. Pants
  8. Gloves
  9. Couches
  10. Chairs
  11. Briefcases

The usual harsh cleaners like bleach and vinegar will damage natural leather, so stick to mild soaps and cleaners to disinfect leather.

Types or Variations of How to Disinfect Leather

Leather is a porous material that can absorb and hold on to viral material even after disinfection with some methods, as found by researchers Grady, Sebeck, Theodore, and Meidenbauer of Johns Hopkins University. There are several different methods for disinfecting leather.  The right method should be used to keep the leather intact, as not all are created for daily cleaning and disinfecting. 

Also, not all leathers are exposed to the same potential pathogens as other surfaces like door handles and faucets.  However, it’s still important to routinely disinfect leather to keep it clean and looking good too.  Here are some of the most effective methods to disinfect leather:

  1. Soap and hot water
  2. Heat
  3. Sunlight
  4. Multi-purpose disinfectant
  5. Disinfecting solution
  6. Dish soap

The usual harsh cleaners like bleach and vinegar will damage natural leather, so stick to mild soaps and cleansers to disinfect leather.  Regularly disinfecting your leather products can even extend their lifetime.

Tools Needed for How to Disinfect Leather

When preparing to disinfect leather, it’s important to have the right tools on hand.  Start with an old t-shirt or a microfiber cloth which are soft enough not to scratch leather surfaces.  You’ll also want some mild soap that will not affect any finish on the leather and will disrupt the cell membrane that keeps the microorganisms intact and able to spread. 

Hot water is also a must to kill microorganisms, along with mild soap.  You may also want to have a hair dryer to assist in the drying process of the leather once the cleaning and disinfecting have been completed.  After all is said and done, leather conditioners can moisturize and protect the leather.

Special note — remember to test your soap mixture or disinfecting solution in an inconspicuous spot beforehand.

Here is a helpful video on choosing the right cleaners based on your type of leather:

Skill Level of How to Disinfect Leather 

To disinfect leather, you don’t need a degree in leatherology or even need to know everything about disinfectants.  However, there are just a few things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about if you need to disinfect leather products.  Leather is a very complex material with lots of tiny fibers holding it together. 

Strong disinfectants and cleaners can interfere with these fibers, potentially hurting your leather products.  Choosing the right products, testing in an inconspicuous area, not using too much water, and then following up with leather conditioners are really all the skills you need to know how to disinfect leather.

Disinfecting a Leather Couch - How to Disinfect Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Disinfecting a Leather Couch

How to Disinfect Leather 

If you’ve made it this far, you’re comfortable enough to disinfect your leather products.  Congratulations!  Now, let’s walk through the process step by step to ensure even more confidence in your skill.  Special note — remember to test your soap mixture or disinfecting solution in an inconspicuous spot beforehand.

  1. Start by cleaning off any dust or debris with a soft brush or vacuum.
  2. Identify the type of leather you’re working with. Finished leather will have a coating as a protective barrier, while untreated leather and suede will not.
  3.  Mix your mild soap in hot water.
  4. Dampen the microfiber cloth or old t-shirt in the soap mixture.
  5. Wipe the leather surface with the dampened cloth, being careful not to get the leather too wet.
  6. Allow to air dry, or use a hair dryer at least a foot away to dry the leather.
  7. Follow up with a leather conditioner.

Tips for How to Disinfect Leather 

There are a few tips to keep in mind when deciding how to disinfect leather products. 

  1. Don’t use harsh chemicals like bleach or alcohol.
  2. Use water so hot you can barely hold the cloth.
  3. Never soak leather with water-use just enough to clean and disinfect.
  4. Use pH-balanced cleansers and disinfectants on leather.
  5. Always condition your leather after cleaning and disinfecting.
  6. If you’re not comfortable with the process, professionals are available to consult and treat your leather products.

How to Get Better at How to Disinfect Leather 

So, how do you get better at disinfecting leather?  It takes practice and knowing what you’re working with.  Get to know the types of leather products you have on hand, as well as if they have protective coatings or not.  Know which products are safe to use on which types of leather. 

Remember that we learn from our mistakes, and you will probably make errors along the way.  That’s why we always suggest testing products someplace inconspicuously, like the bottom side of a pillow or cushion or the inside of a bag or shoe.

The Most Popular Methods for Disinfecting Leather Products 

I asked friends and family if they own leather products like gloves, car seats, or bags and how they clean and disinfect them.  Here is a table representing the percentages of their responses and what I learned from the poll about how people prefer to disinfect leather.

Disinfecting MethodsTimes Selected
People who own leather car seats, bags, or wallets and use leather wipes to disinfect them.28%
People who own leather shoes and car seats and use soap and water to disinfect them.14%
People who own leather products but do not disinfect them.29%
People who don’t own leather products.29%
Methods for Disinfecting Leather

Examples of How to Disinfect Leather

We all get “snotty” noses working outside in the cold.  Disinfect your leather gloves once you’re inside to prevent damage to the leather and the spread of any illness.  Rub down leather gloves with a damp cloth and a little mild soap all over.  Then use a cloth dampened with clean water to wipe it down.  Wear the glove on one hand while cleaning with the other to make it easier.

Car steering wheels are handled more than toilet seats.  Keep your leather steering wheels disinfected and conditioned to keep them clean and looking exquisite.  Use a damp cloth with mild soap to wipe down the entire steering wheel, then wipe off with a cloth dampened with clean water.

Leather shoes are worn in some disgusting places you may not be thinking about, like the Walmart parking lot and the public dog park.  Clean and disinfect your leather shoes to keep them clean and prevent bringing anything gross inside your home. 

Use paper towels or a hard-bristled brush on the bottoms of leather shoes first to remove any obvious particles and debris.  Then use hot, soapy water with a cloth to wipe down all surfaces.

Related Insights

Is rubbing alcohol safe on leather?

Rubbing alcohol is not safe to use on leather because it can lead to discoloration.

Do disinfectants dry out leather?

Some disinfectants dry out leather, so it’s always best to use pH-balanced and mild products on leather and condition it afterward.

Should bleach be used on leather?

Bleach should not be used on leather because it leads to discoloration and breakdown of the leather fibers.

Final Thoughts 

If you were wondering how to disinfect leather when you started reading this article, we hope you’ve found the answers (and confidence) you were seeking.  Always use mild products, test in an inconspicuous area, and condition the leather when you’re done.  It’s excellent practice to routinely clean and disinfect your leather products to keep you and your loved ones safe and your leather looking beautiful.

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