Whenever we have or use leather goods, it is inevitable that they will get soiled or dirty over time. A trusty leather cleaner will make quick work of keeping your favorite items in top shape.
Leather cleaner is a natural or synthetic substance that, when applied to leather, helps loosen and remove accumulated dirt and grime. Formulas can be bought, or made do-it-yourself (DIY). A netural PH cleaner, without alcohol, is usually the most gentle and the best cleaner for leather goods.
While cleaning leather is often a quick activity, it’s helpful to know what kinds of cleaners are safest and work best. It’s also much easier to do with the right knowledge and tools. Let’s check it out.
What is Leather Cleaner?
Leather cleaner is a term used to refer to a wide variety of products that help remove dirt, debris, and stains from leather goods. There are many different types and finished of leather available. Often, in order to ensure they work well, and prevent damage, it is important to select a cleaner that is made for the specific type of leather you are cleaning, and the substance you’re trying to remove.
Many types are available from stores and online. And some can even be made at home with ingredients likely already available around the house. With a clear work area, some cleaning cloths, and a few minutes, your leather should be looking great. But how do you choose the right cleaner? Consider the type of finish that is on the leather, and if unfinished, determine if it is faux leather, natural leather, suede, or nubuck. Let’s explore more.
Best Leather Cleaners for Natural Leather
When working with natural leathers, it is important to use a cleaner that has an appropriate pH, and is also very gentle. Why there are many cleaning materials that will clean dirt from leather, some might end up damaging the fibers. So to ensure great-looking, strong, and well-performing leather goods for a long time, here are a few of the best gentle, effective cleaners for natural leather.
It’s also worth noting that specialized leathers, such as suede or nubuck, require specialized cleaners. We’ll explore more about those below. Also, cleaners are different than conditioners; we’ll be focusing on cleaners here.
In general, cleaning agents work best when they have minimal, natural ingredients, and solely focus on removing dirt and leaving the surface clean. In most cases this will be Lexol. Other cleaners are available and certainly have benefits/risks depending on the specific application needs, though overall Lexol will be gentle and not damage leather or surface finishes.
*Note (April, 2022) – Sources have been sharing that the Lexol formula has been changed. Originally seemingly made in the USA of mostly natural ingredients – it now appears it is being made overseas, with some unnatural ingredients, and several strong additives that contribute to a noticeable smell. If that can be confirmed, the new formula would NOT be recommended. The recommendations are focused on the old, original formula that had been around for years.
This is a very gentle, pH-balanced cleaner that is also very effective. Lexol cleaner does not contain any conditioning agents, so it does an excellent job of removing dirt and grime from leather. This leaves the surface clean for conditioning, finishing or any other need. This is one of, if not the best multi-purpose leather cleaner.
Chemical Guys leather cleaner is a pH-balanced, non-toxic, water-based cleaner that helps remove dirt and leaves a residue-free finish. It’s on overall solid product, and can be diluted for use to make it even gentler if needed for more delicate leathers.
Apple Brand leather cleaner is a useful cleaner made with ingredients that are not harsh and do not leave a residue. Repeated cleanings might reduce moisture in leathers, so a conditioner, as in most cases, would be required after cleaning.
One should test color-fastness of any leathers being cleaned with this, prior to using on large areas. In general, this brand is popular for use with luxury handbags and accessories. It’s important to know if those handbags are natural or faux leather, so the appropriate cleaner can be used.
Zep makes a blended leather cleaner/conditioner. Due to it’s dual nature (cleaner/conditioner in one), and it’s intent as a broad use solution for furniture upholstery, clothing, and automotive upholstery use, it’s likely not a top option for more folks, though surely usable if needed or you already have some on hand.
Generally, a delicate, dedicated cleaner works best, such as Lexol or Chemical Guys, followed up with a quality conditioner.
Bickmore Bick 1
The Bick 1 cleaner is a stronger cleaner, intended for use on tack, boots, and leathers that have been exposed to dirt and grime. It can also be used on furniture upholstery and other durable leather goods.
If you’re looking for a gentle cleaner something like Lexol might work better, though for tougher cleaning jobs on non-delicate leather the Bick 1 cleaner might be just what you need.
Leatherique Prestine Clean
This is a formula often used in high-end auto upholstery cleaning. The ingredients contain a mix of gentle cleansers, and some conditioners. This helps nourish the leather while also cleaning. In some cases this can be easy, and effective.
In general, for delicate leathers, a two-step process is recommended. For example, a gentle cleaner, then a quality conditioner.
Belvoir Tack Cleaner
This cleaner helps remove dirt, grime, sweat, and greases from leather. It is pH neutral, which is important, and also includes anti-fungal agents that help prevent the growth of mold and mildew over time, as can be common with tack and leathers uses often in the elements and frequently handled.
So while intended for saddles, reins, straps, and other tack, this can work well for sturdy leather goods too.
Passier Bridle Cleaner
The Passier bridle cleaner is a gentle cleaner and conditioner that is designed for horse tack, though can also be used for everyday leather goods. Since it does include leather nourishing components, a different cleaner might be preferred if you’re looking to strictly clean (and not condition), though for everyday touch-ups the spray bottle might make it quite convenient.
Leather Therapy Wash
The Wash formula by Leather Therapy is a deep cleaner for durable leathers. Designed for horse tack and heavier leathers that are exposed to dirt, grime, sweat, and oils, this helps get those clean relatively well. It also includes conditioning agents, so why not an isolated cleaner, it also softens and leaves a protective layer on the leather that helps repel dirt.
Effax Leder-Combi Leather Cleaner
This is another horse-tack focused cleaner and conditioner. It’s a gentle, deep cleaner that cuts into sweat and grime, while also conditioning the leather leaving a residue-free finish.
This leather cleaner is a formula used in the 1800’s, and made available today by the Jarnigan company (click here to view their details about it) to use in the cleaning and restoration of antique leathers. While more modern formulas might be gentler and more effective, if one is looking to replicate previous methods of leather cleaning and care, this is certainly an option to consider.
Another option for cleaning, not for everyday use, and only in situations requiring removal of the leather finish while cleaning, is deglazer.
Deglazer, once applied to the leather, helps strip away the existing finish and any additional residues or chemicals underneath it. They are usually highly toxic and require outdoor ventilation for safe use. They are also temperature sensitive, and should be used within the temperature range recommended on any specific deglazer you’re using.
One can also make their own deglazer by using denatured alcohol. Another option involves using a combination of ethyl acetate and ethyl alcohol. Though, if you plan to mix your own, make sure you’re familiar with any chemicals, their potential reactions, and safe/proper handling. Deglazers made for leather dye prep are usually help and an easy way to first try it out.
Saddle Soaps for Cleaning Leather
Saddle soaps are a type of leather cleaner that often combine cleaning and conditioning and polishing agents. This makes application easier, one step, though also leaves less choice for the type of conditioner used. Here is a video demonstrating application of saddle soap on fine leather shoes:
These soaps are also deep cleaners, and can be used on leathers that are exposed to harsh environments and dirt and grime. These are usually boots, shoes, saddlery, and tack. In general, for finer leathers, individuals cleaners and conditioners are most gentle. For leather used in rougher conditions, can withstand deeper cleaning, and benefits from a time-saving cleaning process, saddle soap can be great.
When cleaning, the leather should generally be brushed, or wiped with a damp cloth. Then, the saddle soap applied, worked into a lather, and wiped off. They will usually dry with a haze on the surface, this is ok. After drying, buff the surface with a lint-free cloth to bring a shine to the finish.
Here are some of the best saddle soaps:
Leather new is a type of glycerin-based saddle soap. It does not leave a greasy residue, it removed dirt and grime, and comes in a spray-bottle for easy application. This is helpful for more frequent cleanings.
This is a glycerin-based saddle soap made in Germany. It is recommended for use on European leather dressage saddles, based on it’s unique formula.
This is a popular and relatively inexpensive saddle soap that works well. It’s suitable for most types of leather goods, and can be suitable for occasional cleanings.
Effax Leder-Balsam (Leather-Balm)
Effax makes this product that cleans and conditions leather, also adding some water resistance to the finish. Its ingredients contain lanolin, beeswax, and avocado oil that help to nourish the leather and protect it during daily use.
This saddle soap is a gentle one, where only a small amount is needed for nice results. It does’t contain any dyes that might transfer to the leather being cleaned, and cleans and protects without leaving a surface residue.
This saddle soap is very popular in the tack world, used often for saddles, reins, bridles, and related items. It cleans, nourishes, and protects the leather with leaving the surface with a rich, deep sheen to it.
Best Leather Cleaners for Suede and Nubuck
Suede and Nubuck are leathers where one side of them has been sanded, and the other retains some of the natural fibers; this results in the soft, textured feel of these types of leathers. It also requires some additional care when cleaning.
Generally, suede and nubuck should be prepped with a suede brush. This will help loosen dirt and debris, while helping to maintain the look/feel of the delicate surface. A suede “gum” eraser can be used to help remove tougher stains and debris from the surface fibers.
Some of the best cleaners for suede and nubuck include:
Saphir Omni’Nettoyant Suede Shampoo
This French-made cleaner is a very light, delicate shampoo that deeply cleans the leather fibers. It is also great for preparing the surface for other finishes. Here is a video showing how to clean suede shoes with the Saphir suede shampoo:
Bickmore Suede & Nubuck Cleaner
This cleaner removes oil and water stains from suede and nubuck, while also conditioning and protecting the surface to help repel dirt and moisture.
Jason Markk Premium Shoe Cleaner
This is a mostly-natural, biodegradable cleaning solution that is designed for footwear. It can be used gently on suede and nubuck leathers.
Best Leather Cleaners for Faux Leather
Faux leathers have a different material composition than natural leathers. Thus, some different cleaners can be used effectively for them.
Leather honey is a non-toxic, relatively gentle leather cleaner. For some, it works great, though I have also heard of if removing the color of some dyed leathers. This might be dependent on the type of finish the leather has, as well as the type of dye used, though in general one should be cautious where this type is used.
This cleaner also works on faux leathers. Since faux and natural leather are made from different materials, they require different cleaners to be most effective. One would have to this this on their particular material to ensure it works well and maintains color-fastness.
The TriNova leather cleaner is a pH-balanced cleaner that is mostly residue-free, making it a useful cleaner for many applications. Since it does work well on vinyl and faux leathers, it’s likely best to use it for those types.
While it might work for natural leathers, ensure to test on a small, out-of-sight area if choosing this to clean them. This will help ensure it maintains the color and finish, before using on larger, more visible areas.
Meguiar’s Gold Class Leather & Vinyl Cleaner – G18516
Meguiar’s makes some of the best auto-care products. Its ingredients include fragrance, degreaser, surfactant, and solvent, all within a water base. Effective on both leather and vinyl, this is another cleaner that’s likely best for use on faux leathers and automobile upholstery.
While it might work for natural leathers, ensure to test on a small, out-of-sight area if choosing this to clean them. This will help ensure it maintains the color and finish, before using on larger, more visible areas.
Alternative Leather Cleaners and Their Effectiveness
There are many cleaning substances or household cleaners that people will try using to clean leather. In some cases, they might work to a degree, or appear to work very well. However, depending on the leather, the substances be harsher than we think and weaken the fibers over time. So a quick cleaning looks great now, though results in leather damage and faster wear of the material.
You should not clean leather with, generally, harsh or alcohol-based cleaners; most of these items below. Truly, there are many innovative people and clever ways to utilize household things to do various jobs. So, not saying these will never work. Though, for long-term care of leather, it’s usually best to use gentle cleaners, conditioners, and finishes that will ensure the leather fibers are well-protected and look great for a very long time.
If you’re wondering if it’s safe or good to clean leather with vinegar, in general, it is not. Vinegar can be mixed with water to dilute it a bit, making it a little less harsh. Then applied to leather to help remove stains and odors. That said, it might also stain the leather, depending on the concentration of vinegar, and it could also dry out the leather, making it brittle.
All of this in moderation of course based on how the cleaning solution is mixed, though in general vinegar is not safe on leather. Can it possibly work in a pinch, yes, though there are much more gentle, easy to use cleaners that work great.
Apple Cider Vinegar
If you’re curious about using apple cider vinegar to clean leather, it can be substituted for cleaning solutions that use vinegar and water. That in mind, it also has the cautions of vinegar on leather in general, and recommended to use a more gentle, leather-specific cleaner.
Murphy’s Oil Soap
Can I use Murphy’s Oil Soap to clean leather? It is generally not recommended. Murphy’s oil soap is made with a potassium vegetable oil base, sodium EDTA (acid), propylene glycol, fragrance, surfactants, and water. While it works well on wood, and has been mentioned safe for leather, the chemicals in it make it slightly harsh for use on quality leathers, even when mixed with water. It can also leave a residue on the leather once it dries. Thus, it is recommended to use a gentle, leather-specific cleaner.
If you’re curious, does Simple Green Clean leather?; it wouldn’t be a great choice. Some of the ingredients of Simple Green include alcohol, sodium citrate, sodium carbonate, colorant, fragrance, citric acid, and tetrasodium glutamate diacetate. While these are not deemed overly harsh, their ideal application is not for leather. They could dry out the fibers, and possibly damage them. If possible, a gentle, leather-specific cleaner would be recommended for use.
You might be wondering if you can clean leather with vodka, and in general, it’s not a great leather cleaner. Vodka contains approximately 40% alcohol content. Alcohol, if applied to leather, will dry out the fibers, weakening them and possibly causing damage. If possible, using a leather-specific cleaner is recommended. If using alcohol is a must, try pure alcohol and follow it up with proper conditioning.
Windex is generally not safe for leather. It’s ingredients include water, 2-hexoxyethanol, isopropanolamine, sodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate, lauramine oxide, ammonium hydroxide, fragrance, and blue colorant. These can be very harsh on leather, stripping it of moisture and possibly damaging the fibers, or surface finish on the material. It is recommended to use a gentle, leather-specific cleaner if possible.
WD 40 does not safely remove ink from leather. It’s main ingredients are kerosene in a petroleum oil base. This is a harsh mix to apply to leather, any might cause discoloration or staining. It’s recommended to use a leather-specific cleaner for stain removal.
If you’re wondering if you can use baby wipes on leather, it’s highly dependent on the surface coating of the leather. If it’s a thick, solid coating (such as on patent leather), it might be ok in a pinch. Though any cleaner that wears the surface finish away, or comes in contact with the natural leather material underneath, could cause staining or discoloration. In general, it’s recommended to use a gentle, leather-specific cleaner.
Dawn Dish Soap
Are you curious if Dawn dish soap safe for leather? In most cases, it is not. The pH of this cleaner is usually too high for leather, and while it can clean the grime away, the difference in pH can also damage the fibers.
For heavier leathers that get exposed to mud and heavy dirt, such as tack, this might be an occasional solution to removing the layers of grime, then properly cleaning and conditioning. In most cases though, while gentle, this soap might damage more common and finer leathers. A leather-specific soap would in most cases be recommended.
Wondering if Clorox wipes are safe for leather or cleaning a leather couch? In general, they are not. The wipes’ ingredients include water, isopropyl alcohol, and alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride. The alcohol will dry out the leather fibers, which could lead to cracking or damage. While they might be easily reachable on-hand, going for a leather-specific cleaner would yield much better results.
If you’re curious if baking soda ruin leather, generally over time, yes. Finished leather has a pH of about 4.5-5.5, making it slightly acidic. Baking soda has a pH of about 8.3, making it slightly basic. When combined, the contrasting pH substances will react, and begin to break down the leather fibers.
Consider the old science experiment of combining backing soda (basic) with vinegar (acidic), and noting the common “volcano” reaction. While baking soda won’t cause such a drastic reaction with leather, on a small level the pH differences can weaken the leather fibers. So if possible, a gentle, leather-specific cleaner is recommended for use.
Alcohol wipes should generally not be used on leather goods. The alcohol, once evaporated, will draw important moisture out of the leather. This could lead to weakening and ultimately cracking of the leather fibers over time. If alcohol is needed as an only option, consider following it up with an application of a leather conditioner to ensure the moisture in the leather is optimal.
Isopropyl alcohol, similar to alcohol wipes, should generally not be used on leather goods. The alcohol, once evaporated, will draw important moisture out of the leather. This could lead to weakening and ultimately cracking of the leather fibers over time. If alcohol is needed as an only option, consider following it up with an application of a leather conditioner to ensure the moisture in the leather is optimal.
Rubbing alcohol, similar to other alcohol-based cleaners, can damage leather. Depending on the leather and type of finish that is on it, rubbing alcohol can also stain leather. In some cases it might prove useful in removing stains, but depending on various factors, might also stain the leather itself.
Further, as the alcohol dries, it removes key moisture from the leather, which could lead to drying or cracking. If possible, using a leather-specific cleaner usually works best. If alcohol is needed as an only option, consider following it up with an application of a leather conditioner to ensure the moisture in the leather is optimal.
Curious if you can you clean leather with water? In general, water in small amounts is ok for leather. If leather becomes too wet for too long it can certainly start to mold. Also, too much moisture makes leather overly supple and flexible. Water can also evaporate from leather, leaving it somewhat dry.
When applying water onto leather with a damp cloth to remove some debris, it should in most cases be ok. If possible, use a leather-specific cleaner, and follow-up with a leather conditioner to ensure it is properly hydrated with the right oils for long-term care.
Wondering if you can clean leather with magic eraser? Or use the Magic Eraser to remove ink from leather? In short, it can remove things on the finish of leather, which can be great. However, it can also wear down the leather finish, and ultimately roughly rub the leather’s surface.
For example, if the leather being cleaned has a thick, protective finish on it with a scuff, the Magic Eraser will likely take away a small amount of the finish with it as it clears off the scuff. That might be ok for some folks. Rubbing extensively, it would wear through the finish, and even start to wear away the underlying leather due to the friction of using the eraser.
In most cases, using a gentle, leather-specific cleaner is recommended if possible.
Common Leather Cleaner Questions
Can you steam clean leather?
In general, leather should not be steam cleaned. In some cases it can work, opening up the fibers with heat and penetrating them with the steam. Though here are a few variables that can make this damaging to the leather.
If the temperature is too hot it can weaken the leather fibers. Also, if the cleaning mixture contains harsh chemicals it can also weaken the leather fibers. If only water is used in the cleaning solution, it can penetrate the leather deeply, possibly making it wet, and possibly drying out the leather (taking out important moisture) once it evaporates.
So in a case of excellently, carefully applied steam cleaning, it can help for some cleaning jobs. However, in likely more cases than not, it can introduce risks to the long-term strength of the leather. In general, a gentle, leather-specific cleaner is recommended.
What is the best leather cleaner and conditioner for cars?
Lexol leather cleaners and conditioners are excellent for cars. They are gentle and can really penetrate dirt and grime while maintaining the structural integrity of the leather fibers. Lexol cleaner has a similar pH to most leathers, making it one of the top choices for use across leather types, including for leather in cars.
What gets stains out of leather?
Isopropyl alcohol, if used in small amounts and very carefully, can help get some stains out of leather. Generally, alcohol dries leather out, so the leather should be conditioned after. Also, 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.
What is a good leather couch and furniture cleaner?
When considering cleaners for natural leather couches and furniture, they should be gentle and able to loosen dirt and grime. Lexol is a great leather cleaner that works well across most leather types and if used carefully, should work well for couches and furniture.
DIY (Do-it-Yourself) Leather Cleaner
Some folks might be curious if there are things around the house that can be mixed into a good homemade leather cleaner for leather. Or, if there are common household products that can be used. Often, they’ll want to use a natural cleaner for shoes, purses, to clean leather couches, or to clean leather in the car. In general, homemade leather cleaners are not as effective as leather-specific cleaners. Also, some very popular recipes for DIY leather cleaners can actually cause harm to the leather, or leave residues over time.
For example, a popular DIY leather cleaner recipe includes the ingredients:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Essential oils
When used in the short term, these will often clean the leather up some, leave some oil moisture in the fibers, and make the leather smell good. All of that sounds great! However, it’s important to use conditioning agents that protect the leather in the long-term. Olive oil can lead to the breakdown of leather fibers over time, and it an coconut oil can stain leather, depending on the type it is used on.
In some cases, folks might be using it on faux (plastic) leather, in which case it would appear to clean fine ant not do much damage, this making it seems like a great recommendation. When used on natural leathers, it might looks great in the short term, though could also be causing microscopic damage to the fibers which would weaken it over time.
Effective DIY Leather Cleaner
So, you might be asking, then what homemade leather cleaner can I use?? Well, we can look to museums and leather restorers for insight, as they need to care for important historical artifacts, which often include leather goods hundreds of years old. In general, the best homemade leather cleaner is not a solution, but gentle application of some common items. Here are a few of them to consider:
Very gentle brushes can be used to brush dirt and grime away from the leather’s surface. They will be able to loosen debris, while not rubbing too harshly against the leather fibers.
A light vacuum can help remove dust, dirt, and grime from the leather’s surface; especially if it has been loosened by brushing. This helps keep the fibers in the best shape possible.
Clean cosmetic sponges, used to hold makeup power and related substances, can also be dabbed onto the leather, picking up dirt and grim without disturbing the fibers too much.
In general alcohol dries out leather and is not ideal. However, in some cases it might also be a balance between being the best option for cleaning on a small area, where conditioning can be added back right after it dries. In these cases, dabbing a cotton swap or q-tip into alcohol and lightly dabbing onto the soiled spot might work. It should be tested first in a small area, and strong consideration given to conditioning the area right after use.
A cloth dipped into distilled water can also be used to gently wipe dirt and grime away from the leather’s surface. As long as the cloth is not too wet, the leather should not get too wet, and it will dry shortly after.
While leather might only need to be cleaned occasionally, if it’s dirty or for general maintenance, it’s a simple and important step to maintaining quality leather goods for a long time. With the right tools and just a few minutes, most any leather can be clean and in great shape, ready to be enjoyed. If you’re looking for how to clean leather step-by-step, click here for my article on the easy process.
What is a good white leather cleaner?
In general, a good white leather cleaner will be the same as a good leather cleaner; gentle, and effective. An example is Lexol. It is has a good pH for cleaning leather, and is a gentle formula for use across leather types.
What is a good leather cleaner for shoes?
Saphir Leather Cleaning Soap is a very gentle cleaner intended for use on shoes. It will remove dirt and grime, and open up the pores of the leather, now clean, making it ready for application of a conditioner. Lexol is another option for shoes.