Written by Grove Collaborative

Clean Team: How to clean leather furniture.

Last Updated: January 12, 2021

Leather furniture can quickly become damaged if not treated properly. Learn how to best care for your leather furniture with these natural tips.

Ready to tackle the dirtiest spots in your home? Grove Collaborative has you covered with Clean Team. Each week, we’ll do a deep dive into how to clean a different place or item in your home. No spot is too small — and we’ll tell you how to conquer them all, naturally.

How to clean leather furniture

It’s highly probably you have a love-hate relationship with your leather furniture. Sure, it looks super cool and sleek and can even feel kinda cool when you sit on it, but sit too long and you might start sweating!

Not to mention, leather furniture can be damaged, especially if you have pets or kids. You can also damage leather by not cleaning it properly, so there’s that. Luckily, we’re here to help, at least in regards to the cleaning part. Pets and kids… Well, that’s all you!

Lead image by Lauren Edmonds

Best practices on how to care for leather

Know your leather

Before doing anything to care for your leather furniture, find out what type of leather it is. Dyed leather like aniline is not protected by any pigments, so it’s the most sensitive, whereas, semi-aniline leather comes with a light coat, making it somewhat stain-resistant. Unfinished leathers like suede or nubuck need a different cleaning method and require different products.

Moisturize it

Leather is protein. Like any other protein, it can dry out when exposed to the elements. That means leather requires regular conditioning to keep it supple and soft. Even gently buffing with a soft cloth can bring back the subtle shine of the leather.

Dust it regularly

The simplest and most important step in leather care is regular dusting. If a layer of dust accumulates on the surface, it can cause the leather to dry out.

Know when to seek professional help

Knowing when you are out of your depth is very important when it comes to leather care. Consult with a professional if your leather furniture is damaged, especially if there are tears, cracks, or concerning stains. You can even consult with a shoe repair expert if not a “leather” expert for some knowledgeable opinions.

Use gentle soaps and cleaners

If you are cleaning leather furniture at home by yourself, be sure to use gentle cleaners only. Read the manufacturer’s instructions and proceed as advised. If there are no cleaning instructions available, opt for the most gentle cleaning soaps you can find.

Use rubbing alcohol for dark stains

For dark stains on the leather, the best way to clean them is with rubbing alcohol. Be sure to use a cotton swab to apply the alcohol to prevent the stain from bleeding.

Think fast

Regardless of the surface you need to clean, it's best to get stains and spills up as soon as they happen. For leather, letting the stains dry or giving spills a chance to absorb into the leather makes it much harder to clean later, so act quickly.

Keep it sheltered

Position your leather furniture strategically to keep it away from direct sunlight, away from the AC, and far from the fireplace. Excess heat or cold can cause the leather to dry out much faster, and direct sunlight of course, causes fading in pretty much everything.

Leather should look lived in

Remember leather is meant to look lived-in. This is especially true for natural dyed leather that creates a patina with time, making it even more beautiful.

Best way to clean leather furniture

How you’ll do it:

Step 1:

First of all, dust the leather furniture properly. A microfiber cloth is best for this as microfiber is designed to be exceptionally absorbent. It will pick up even the smallest of dirt particles.

Step 2:

Taking a fresh, dry cloth, dampen it slightly and apply a small amount of soap, regardless of the type of soap used. In a gentle motion, buff the leather instead of rinsing or scrubbing. The moisture from the soap and the buffing motion will even contribute to the conditioning of the leather.

Step 3:

Again using a clean and soft cloth, dry the leather surface completely to make sure there is no water or moisture left standing.

Step 4:

If your leather looks in need of moisture, apply just a small amount of leather cream and gently rub it in.

What household products can you use to clean leather?

For protein stains

Leather stains caused by food and blood can be cleaned using a gentle paste of cornstarch and lemon juice.

For scratches

If your pets love the leather couch as much as you, it’ll get some scratches, especially with cats. Using olive oil or even baby oil on the scratches can make them almost indiscernible.

For DIY cleaning

Try using a mix of white vinegar or lemon juice and olive oil in a spray bottle. Adjust the amount of vinegar depending on the amount of cleaning you require.

For moisturizing

One excellent and easy way to moisturize and condition dried leather is by using coconut oil. Start with a small amount and gently rub it in. You can also use olive oil, walnut oil, or any other essential oil.

Best natural products for cleaning leather

5 common mistakes when treating leather

According to those in the know, leather is designed to last a lifetime. While that could be debatable, still, mistreating your leather can cause it to age much faster than you might like. To take care of leather properly, the first and foremost rule to remember is “less is more.” This is the case not just sometimes, but always. Some common leather care mistakes newbies often make include:

1. Using inappropriate cleaners

The most common mistake when it comes to leather cleaning is using inappropriate cleaners. Leather cleaning is a gentle art. Any cleaning product with a high pH damages the leather fibers. This results in excess drying and causes those unsightly cracks you might notice on a leather couch or sofa.

Another problem many make the mistake of doing is using general household cleaners that aren’t well-suited for leather. Leather is basically skin — sensitive skin at that — meaning it’s never a good idea to use something such as a countertop cleaner on your recliner. Put another way, it means use cleaners that are actually meant for leather or pay the price!

2. Ignoring the manufacturer’s instructions

This may seem obvious when we say it, but always check the manufacturer’s instructions before using anything to care for your leather. The label tells you all you need to know, including the type of leather it is and the things you need to do to avoid damaging it.

3. Using too much water

Water has infinite benefits, but alas… cleaning leather is not one of them. Using too much of it means that it can be absorbed into the leather, causing it to become soggy. This results in the growth of mildew and bacteria. Mold and mildew can truly destroy leather from inside out, without giving you much warning until the damage is done.

4. Doing too much moisturizing

If you keep moisturizing and conditioning the leather without cleaning it beforehand, or at least wiping off the dust, you could lose your leather furniture sooner rather than later. The moisturizers will clog the pores, making it impossible for the dirt and grime to come out, and instead pushing it deeper into the fibers. Then the clogged pores will dry out the leather and cause irreparable damage. Conditioning should be relegated to every three to four months, no more than that.

5. Scrubbing your leather

As mentioned, caring for leather requires a gentle touch. Regardless of the cleaning products and methods you employ, if you scrub the leather, it will cause scratches, discoloration, and even cracking. Definitely not a good thing.

Shop leather cleaning supplies

Looking for more cleaning how-tos and other sustainable swaps you can make at home? Grove has you covered. From timely topics such as our handwashing and hand sanitizer breakdown to evergreen primers like our simple ways to reduce your plastic use at home, our handy guides are here to answer your most pressing questions. And let us know how if you have any cleaning questions (or share your own tips using #grovehome) by following Grove Collaborative on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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