Having leather upholstery in your car is a luxury. One that costs thousands of dollars and takes effort to maintain. But if you do take care of it properly, it gives you the value of its money and lasts the entire lifetime of your car.
However, most people avoid installing leather seats because they think its high maintenance. Sure, it might take some effort to keep the leather looking new but it is worth it. Moreover, to clean leather car seats is not as difficult as people assume. In fact, it is easier than cleaning the headliner of a car.
So, if you’ve got leather upholstery in your car and want to clean it yourself, here’s a detailed guide to cleaning it and taking care of it to minimize damage.
Identifying what type of Leather your Car Seats Have
Before we jump on to the actual cleaning, we need to identify which type of leather your car seats have. There are four main types of leather used in cars. Consult the vehicle owner’s manual to see which one does yours have.
It is important to know this because the cleaning method depends on it. Although, there aren’t any major differences between cleaning the various types of leather minor details need to be considered.
1. Aniline Leather
Aniline leather is the purest form of leather. It is made of excellent quality animal hides with only dyes added to it. Apart from that, it doesn’t contain any kind of chemicals and even protective coating. It is extremely susceptible to wear and tear and also really hard to clean. This was the primary leather used in car upholstery in the past century but nowadays, more durable and low-maintenance leather has replaced it.
2. Semi-Aniline Leather
Semi-aniline leather is a more durable form of aniline leather. It is mostly natural but with dyes and protective coating added to it. It retains the original texture and softness of the hide but is less likely to get damaged.
3. Full Grain Leather
Full-grain leather is the best quality leather available these days. It is very expensive and used in luxury vehicles. Although it is not completely natural, it is more durable and maintains the original texture of the hide. It is also more resistant to wear and tear, stains, spills, etc.
4. Corrected Grain Leather
Corrected grain leather is mostly artificial but also more durable. Not only that, but it is also the most resistant to damages and stains. It is also a lot less expensive than the previous types of leathers. Due to these qualities, it is used extensively in lower-end cars and vehicles.
Test to Check Leather Type
The car owner’s manual states clearly what kind of leather you have in your car but if you’re still unsure, here’s a simple test to check it.
Pour a few drops of water on the seat and observe the reaction.
- Aniline leather – absorbs instantly
- Semi-aniline leather – takes a few seconds but absorbs water completely
- Full-grain leather – absorbs very little water
- Corrected grain leather – doesn’t absolute water at all
How often do you need to clean leather seats?
Most people get their cars minor detailing about two times a year. Cleaning leather seats should be the same. Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned the interior of the car, you only need to keep it clean for the next 6 to 8 months. Cleaning the leather seats twice a year is enough but if you maintain it properly, even once a year is sufficient.
How much time does it take?
The time it takes to properly clean leather seats depends on how dirty it is. Usually, it takes about 40 to 45 minutes, not including the time for drying the leather after cleaning and conditioning, which can take about twelve hours. Therefore, it’s best to do this either on weekends when you don’t have any plans to go out or in the evening, so you can leave it overnight.
You don’t need a lot of materials to clean leather seats, but here’s a list of all the essentials. You can find these in any automotive shop.
- Cleaning Solution for upholstery – $8 to $10 – it is advisable that you buy the one for cleaning leathers specifically
- Leather conditioner – $25 to $30 – make sure to buy the highest quality one
- Microfiber cloths – $5 to $10 – available at any supermarket
- Scrubbing brush – $3 to $5 – only buy the one with soft bristles otherwise you risk damaging the leather
- A vacuum cleaner – $300 to $500 – you can use the regular household one but with a new brush or rent it for a cheaper price
How to make a DIY cleaning solution at home
Although, it is recommended that you purchase high-quality materials suggested by experts. But if you don’t want to or cannot afford to, you can make a cleaning solution at home. This especially comes in handy when your leather seats are too dirty and you need to clean them asap to make a good impression.
Take three-part vinegar and one part water in a spray bottle and shake it well. Do adjust the quantity depending on the size of the bottle. You can also replace vinegar with dishwashing soap or liquid.
How to Clean Leather Car Seats
The procedure is really easy and doesn’t take much time. All you need to do it follow it step by step.
1. Vacuum the leather seats to remove loose dirt
Take a vacuum cleaner and thoroughly vacuum the entire interior of the car. This removes loose dirt and debris on the surface. Be sure to vacuum along the seams as it is the place most likely to collect dirt and food particles, etc. You can also use a vacuum cleaner with a wet brush for more efficiency.
2. Wipe it clean with water to get rid of grime
Take some paper towels or microfiber cloths and wet it with water. Wipe the leather seats clean to soften the grime. It’s all right if it doesn’t come off completely. This is just a preparatory step for using the cleaning solution.
3. Use cleaning solution for a deep clean
Spray the cleaning solution liberally on the leather seats. Make sure to work in sections as the solution can dry out very quickly, leaving more stains. Take a microfiber cloth and rub on the cleaning solution. The stains should come off. If the stains are too stubborn, you can repeat this step or use a different cleaning solution.
4. Scrub if necessary
Although, rubbing with an adequate amount of cleaning solution removes the majority of the stains but if it doesn’t, you need to scrub it. Buy a high-quality scrubbing brush with soft bristles for this purpose. When scrubbing, make sure to not use too much pressure because it will ruin the leather. Instead of scrubbing more forcefully, scrub the surface for a long time.
5. Wipe it for the last time
After you’ve removed the stains, spray some water onto the section and wipe it off with a clean cloth. Before conditioning the leather, make sure the seats are completely dry. You can leave the seats for half an hour to dry or use a vacuum cleaner to suck up excess moisture.
6. Apply leather conditioner to the seats
Now, it’s time for conditioning the leather. Apply the leather conditioner on the seats and make sure to cover the surface completely. However, do not overdo it. If the conditioner is running on the surface, wipe it off with a cloth. Leave it for 5 to 10 minutes to let the leather absorb some of the conditioners. After a while, take a new microfiber cloth and rub the conditioner in.
7. Buff it up
The thing that will really make your leather seats look like new is buffing up the conditioner. After the previous step, all you need to do is polish the leather seats repeatedly. Use circular motions to polish the leather. Remember the ideal look for leather is not shiny but matte. Stop the polishing once all the liquid has been absorbed in the seats and you’re satisfied with the results.
8. Leave it under shade or dark place
After polishing the leather, leave the car in a dark place for it to set. Usually, overnight is best but you can also park it under shade away from the harsh sunlight and leave it for at least ten hours.
How to clean Perforated Leather Car Seats
Some people might notice that their car leather upholstery has textured holes in it. This is known as perforated leather. It helps balance the flow of air, especially what seats are heated. In order to clean perforated leather, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind. Never pour cleaning solution directly on perforated leather because it will clog up the holes, become harder to clean and build up into stubborn grime over time.
Pour the cleaning solution as well as the conditioner on a microfiber cloth. Rub this on the stains to remove them or condition the seats.
Using Steamer to Clean Leather Car Seats
If buying cleaning solutions or making one at home sounds like too much work for you, then you should use a steamer. This is the easiest car hack to remove dirt and grime from the car interior. A steamer softens the stains, making them easy to remove. However, be cautious about not exposing the leather to too much steam as the excessive heat can damage it.
Do’s and Don’ts of Cleaning Leather
To help you achieve greater and faster results, here are some do’s and don’ts to consider when cleaning leather seats that can prevent major mistakes.
- Do perform a spot check – before putting any kind of chemicals on leather, perform a spot check on an inconspicuous part of the seat. See how it reacts or if it damages the leather.
- Do invest in high-quality materials – low-quality materials can ruin the leather and do more damage than good.
- Do work in sections – it’s too difficult to manage a whole seat at once. It is better if you divide it into sections and work on it.
- Do take measures to keep it clean – if you don’t want your hard work to be destroyed, take measures to keep the car leather clean. Avoid eating or drinking in the car and drive with windows closed.
- Don’t expose leather to Sunlight – sunlight contains UV rays which are highly dangerous for the leather. It can discolor the leather permanently and make it more vulnerable to wear and tear.
- Don’t let the cleaning solution sit for too long – when you rub the cleaning solution on the seats, it attaches the dirt to itself. If you let it sit for too long, the solution can dry and become harder to clean.
In conclusion, to clean leather car seats is hard work. If you don’t cheat and put in all your effort, the reward will be equally satisfying.