How to Clean Leather Furniture

Leather furniture, while quite beautiful and elegant, can be a challenge to maintain. It can be easily damaged by improper cleaning techniques.

Before You Begin

  • Before you attempt to clean your leather furniture, it is important to determine the type of leather you’re working with. You can typically find this information on the tags attached to your furniture or in the written material distributed with your furniture. You can also contact your furniture retailer or manufacturer.
  • The tags and other written information generally provide tips on cleaning your particular furniture. It is recommended that before attempting any of the suggestions offered in this article that you follow the cleaning procedures recommended by the manufacturer of your particular furniture.
  • When you purchased your furniture your retailer may have supplied you with leather care products which may be more appropriate for your furniture than the cleaning solutions suggested here.
  • For additional help in determining what type of leather is on your furniture, you may want to refer to the information provided by Leather Magic, a leading manufacturer and retailer of leather related products.
  • Most of today’s leather furniture will be made with top-coat protected leather which is generally safe to clean with the method below. Again, it is important to read your tags to determine what kind of leather you have and any cleaning solutions or methods to avoid. Some types of leather (although rarely found on today’s furniture) cannot tolerate water and should only be cleaned professionally.

What You Will Need

 

  • Vacuum cleaner with soft brush attachment
  • Mild liquid facial or body soap (such as Dove or Neutrogena)
  • Distilled water*
  • buckets
  • At least four soft rags
  • Water-based leather protector/conditioner (found in most furniture stores)

*It is best to use distilled water because tap water may contain chlorine and other contaminants which can damage the surface of the leather.

Cleaning Instructions

  1. Vacuum the piece of furniture thoroughly, being sure to use the soft brush attachment (leather scratches easily). If the suction on your vacuum is too strong, consider using a smaller hand held vacuum with less power to prevent leaving marks on the leather.
  2. Mix a few drops of liquid soap with about a quart of distilled water, mixing until suds form.
  3. Test a small, inconspicuous area of the furniture first.
  4. Dip one of the rags in the soapy water and wring out thoroughly.
  5. Working one section at a time, wipe the surface of the furniture with the damp rag.
  6. Dip a separate rag in clean distilled water (no soap), wring thoroughly, and wipe away the soap residue.
  7. Dry thoroughly with the third rag.
  8. Buff the surface with the fourth clean rag to restore luster.
  9. Treat the surface with leather protector/conditioner as per product instructions.

Leather Furniture Stain Removal

Remember to ALWAYS test a small, inconspicuous area of the furniture first before using any of these methods.

Ink stains: Dip a cotton swab in rubbing (Isoprophl) alcohol and rub over the ink stain. Dry with a blow dryer set on its lowest setting.

Dark stains: (i.e. food, blood, etc.): Make a paste of one part cream of tartar with 1 part lemon juice. Rub this paste on the stain and leave it set for 10 minutes. Remove the paste with a damp rag and moisturizing soap, as described above for general cleaning. Buff the leather dry with a soft cloth.

Grease stains: Simply wipe stain from the leather using a dry cloth. Do not apply water to the grease stain.

Newsprint: Newspapers left on leather furniture can cause a newsprint ink stain. Spray the stain lightly with aerosol hair spray and then wipe with a soft cloth.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • Clean spills immediately! Leather is porous in nature and if any liquid is allowed to penetrate the surface, the stain will be extremely difficult to clean.
  • Avoid using any type of harsh cleaners or abrasive cleansers on your leather furniture as these will cause damage to the surface.
  • NEVER use any kind of oils (such as mink oil), furniture polish, or any product containing waxes or silicone (including many car care products) on your leather furniture as it may damage the leather and leave it feeling sticky. Consequently, be very careful when using Pledge, or any other type of furniture polish, around your leather.
  • Generally, it is not good to use saddle soap, varnish, ammonia-based cleaners (i.e. Windex) or bleach on your leather furniture, all of which may be too harsh for the leather and may cause serious damage or discoloration.
  • Vacuum and dust your leather furniture on a regular basis to help the leather breathe and last longer.
  • To protect your leather furniture, keep it from fading, drying out and/or cracking, avoid placing it in direct sunlight and keep it at least two feet away from any heat (i.e. heating vents, fireplaces, radiators, etc.) and air conditioning sources.
  • Leather does occasionally need to be replenished. Although there are products on the market for this, you might try mixing 1 part distilled white vinegar with 2 parts linseed oil. Shake well and apply to leather in broad circular motions. Let sit for about 10 minutes, then buff with a soft cloth. A second buffing may be necessary.
  • NEVER use baby wipes or any other alkaline cleaner on your leather furniture as it may damage the finish.
  • Remember, if you have any doubt as to the proper way to clean your leather furniture; do not hesitate to call a professional. After all, leather furniture is an investment, and sometimes you may need to spend some extra cash to protect that investment. For help finding reputable professional to clean your leather upholstery, contact your local Chamber of Commerce. You can also find a variety of cleaning specialists in your yellow pages.

 

Comments

  1. Lee says:

    I use Method cleaning wipes on my leather chairs and in my car. They clean and moisturize lightly. Make sure to test in a hidden place first.

  2. Kate 538 says:

    I like Magic American’s leather spray on my leather couch (has worked on my boots, too!). You can get it online.

  3. Richa M. says:

    I use a normal shampoo or mild dishwasher for my sofa sets and these are quite effective without having any adverse effect on the texture or finish of my furniture.

  4. Diane says:

    Over the years, on occasion, I would wipe them with the baby wipes, and the above statement is true; I ruined the color on my expensive set… :(

  5. Kaylee says:

    We just accidentally used bleach on our 10-year-old light beige couch. I was amazed at how easily the dirt came off. I just used a damp kitchen rag and then rinsed out the rag to wipe the bleach off and in 30 minutes, we had a couch that looked like it had just come from the furniture store. After that, I conditioned it twice with store-bought leather conditioner.

  6. Tom says:

    A comment from August 29, 2009 mentioned the use of bleach. Is the bleach mixed with a portion of water or used straight? I also have a beige couch and would like to try this method, but don’t know how to put the bleach to work without risk. Does the bleach go on the rag and then to the couch or directly on the couch?

  7. Cody says:

    I have a dark leather couch that was outside for a couple of months without the cushions. I seem to have gotten the smell out from the inside, but I haven’t been able to get it out of the seams. How do I accomplish this?

  8. Gwen says:

    If anyone knows how to remove black permanent marker from a beige leather sofa please send your remedy.

  9. Ellen says:

    We recently purchased a used saddle-colored Italian leather sofa. Great deal, except that it smells slightly of cigarettes. Any suggestions?

  10. Jill says:

    One of my daycare kids threw-up on the inside end of my leather couch. I wiped it up with water immediately, I didn’t use any cleaners because I didn’t want to discolor the material. What can I use to get rid of the smell?

  11. MDN says:

    I have successfully removed all kinds of smells (including smoke and mildew) from furniture, carpets, cars and even plastic by using dry, fresh (not brewed) coffee grounds. Sprinkle carpet or furniture with fresh coffee grounds and let set for a few days. Then vacuum. It will absorb the smell. It will smell like coffee for a few days, but will dissipate. If a car, leave closed up with the grounds in it, then vacuum. Have used it successfully many times.

  12. Zee says:

    I removed permanent marker from my couch with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Test first, it can remove color and carefully use only on the marker. I had quite a bit after a guest’s two-year-old found a marker in my daughter’s room and went straight for the couch!

  13. Jodesac says:

    My husband sat on our white leather couch with his new belt and it’s left marks – looks like a train went over the furniture! I have an ink stain remover that I’ve used and I’ve been scrubbing and scrubbing – it’s lightened, but is still there. Does anyone have any suggestions? I’m wondering if the bleach idea would work? I’d appreciate all thoughts… It’s only nine months old! :)

  14. Mo says:

    Called three companies that clean carpets, area rugs and leather furniture and all three said they would steam clean my love seat and two-arm chairs. Is it a safe process?

  15. Ash says:

    DO NOT USE A MAGIC ERASER ON A LEATHER COUCH…

    I used it on my beige leather couch and it made the area I cleaned discolor.

  16. Sweaterhead says:

    I used hairspray with a Q-tip for it on a white leather couch at vacation property and it worked great.

  17. Nicole says:

    I bought the product Quick n Brite from a home show years ago for my leather couch – it was beginning to look old and dingy with the years of buildup. Quick n Brite worked amazing! It softened the leather and I didn’t have to use a conditioner afterward. Since then, I have had pretty much everything happen to my couch – spilled juice, vomit, grease, etc. – and I just run to the sink and grab my Quick n Brite without having to worry! This product is a must-own for people with leather furniture or clothing!

  18. Joyce says:

    I have a dark brown leather recliner with some scratches(?)/lighter marks where the head goes. Will shoe polish restore the color? If not, what will?

  19. Wanda says:

    I purchased two recliner leather sofas from Arizona Leather approximately two months ago. My husband likes to sit on one side of the couch and the headrest has a dark stain on it from the natural oils in his hair. I have called the manufacturer and was told there is nothing that can remove the stain from the headrest. The leather absorbs body oils and this is the nature of the leather. I can replace the head cushion, but I’m sure it will happen again. If I end up replacing the head cushion, I might as well try to clean it myself. The couches are a dark butterscotch color-beautiful, but am very disappointed in this product. I have purchase the cleaner and conditioner that Arizona Leather has made especially for their leather and it did not clean my stain at all. Would appreciate any suggestions you have. Thank you.

  20. A. Loring says:

    How can I remove the odor of cat pee from my leather couch?

  21. M. Kelly says:

    To remove the smell of cat pee from your furniture, just sprinkle with bicarbonate of soda and leave for a few days. Then, vacuum it up. It worked for me.

  22. D says:

    Mr. Clean Magic Eraser’s site states that it is safe to use on leather. If you are worried, try it on a inconspicuous spot first.

  23. Colleen says:

    I have a leather-topped end table that has two ring stains on it. I seem to remember reading somewhere that I can clean it with cigarette ashes. Does anyone know if that is true, or is there another way?

  24. Angela says:

    I have a chocolate brown leather couch and it has motorcycle Hondabond on it. Does anyone, or any specialist, know how to remove this from my leather?

  25. Mary Ann says:

    The tag on my sofa says it is urethane foam. Does this refer to the cushions, or the covering? It was made in Italy.
    I want to be sure to use the right cleaning agent.

  26. Ann says:

    How can I get rid of a cigarette smell from my leather settee? I bought it second hand, and the person I bought it from smoked heavily and I cant get rid of the smell. Please help me!

  27. Tracey says:

    Help! I have a synthetic leather couch, that I got for free on craigslist, that has worn areas that the color has come off. So I took kiwi shoe polish to a cushion, and while it does look a little better, now it feels a little sticky and I have blotches of shoe polish that are darker in some places. What can I use to dissolve it? Its a great couch I do not want to have to give it up!

  28. Dona says:

    A thick coating of baking soda will remove smells. Shake it on heavily, cover it if possible, and let it work. Be patient, and repeat if necessary. Good luck, y’all.

  29. Karen says:

    I have a butterscotch sofa that has been darkened by the natural oils from my husband’s head. What can I do to remove the dark stain? Thank you.

  30. Kay says:

    I need to give my leather sofa a good cleaning. Is Armor All safe to use? If not, what works best to clean and restore the shine?

  31. Teresa says:

    Help; I have paint on my leather couch. How do I get it off without ruining my new sofa? Any help would be great.

  32. CC says:

    For Mary Ann,
    Urethane Foam refers to the cushions. It’s one of the most common types of stuffing. Look for “100% genuine/whole cut leather” or “Bonded Leather” with %’s following of elements like vinyl, cotton, leather.

    This is what my couches are: 60% vinyl, 22% cotton and 18% leather. We bought them from a friend who was moving and only had them for about a year. Therefore, I do not have any care instructions for them.
    With the bonded leather, do I still need to condition? What’s the best way to clean? Should I worry about oils, like natural body oils, and preventing spots? I want to maintain my nice-looking couches. :)

  33. Janet says:

    I have a synthetic leather chair and it has gotten sticky. What can I use to clean it? It is 80% urethane foam and 20% blended cotton.

  34. Ezequiel says:

    To remove grease oil from any kind of leather, use baby oil. Not baby wipes – baby oil. It worked like a charm!

  35. Kylie says:

    I have spilled nail polish remover on my mum’s sofa and it’s taken the color away from the wood and the leather. Any ideas of what I can use and were I can get it?

  36. William says:

    Hi there. My leather headboard is damaged from Sunlight dish detergent. It has one spot of discoloration now. Are there any ways to fix the problem?
    Thank you.

  37. Ms. K says:

    I need advice on cleaning a leather coffee table and end tables. Newspaper and magazine stains. Paper stuck.

  38. Jackie says:

    I have a Natuzzi leather recliner. The head part had a dark stain, from the husbands head; how do I remove it? Someone says creame of tartar??? Help… Thanks.

  39. Ann says:

    How do I clean mildew off leather? Please.

  40. Melanie says:

    Ann,
    These are the articles that you need:
    The How to Clean Mold and Mildew from Leather Furniture article says to use the same methods described in the How to Remove Mold/Mildew from Leather Shoes article. For smooth leather furniture, just a 1:1 solution of white vinegar and water can be used to wipe the mildew away. Wipe the area with water afterward to remove any vinegar residue and then consider using a leather conditioner or linseed oil.

  41. Sherry says:

    Hello. I hope someone can give me some advice. I bought a leather headboard and it is a cream color and it is worn. I want to spray paint it. Has anyone done this and if so, what were the results and what kind of paint should I use?

  42. Sylvia says:

    My husband’s leather recliner smells in the head area from the oils in his hair. I’ve cleaned it with two leather cleaners, but can still smell it. What next?

  43. Melanie says:

    Sylvia,
    Since you’ve already cleaned, I would recommend that you move on to step three or four of this article: How to Remove Cigarette Smell from Leather. In your case, just drape the stocking of coffee grounds over the head of the recliner or tape the dryer sheet over the area (or if you want to avoid tape residue, tape the dryer sheet to a T-shirt and drape the shirt over the area).

  44. Borghild says:

    My husband’s recliner smells of dirty clothes. How can I get the smell off? The chair is only 10 months old.

  45. Melanie says:
  46. Rozena says:

    How do I get rust stains off of my pleather chairs?

  47. Melanie says:

    Rozena,
    This is the article that you need: How to Remove Rust Stains from Fabrics.

  48. Welda says:

    How do I clean and keep white genuine leather white?

  49. Barb says:

    Leather is from a cow hide – the cow’s skin. It won’t be mixed with anything else.
    When you see urethane, this refers to the foam inside the cushions. Cotton may also refer to the inside of the cushions – the urethane may have a cotton cover.
    You can try a vinegar and water mix on a damp cloth to reduce the oil stains, but the stain is not likely to come out, though it may fade over time. To prevent oil stains from your hair keep the head area of the sofa or chair covered with a throw or towel.

  50. Bern says:

    How can I remove body lotion from my leather couch? It contains aloe.

  51. Melanie says:

    Bern,
    You may be able to remove the lotion with the method in this article: How to Remove Grease Stains from Leather. If that doesn’t work, you can try using this article: How to Clean an Oil Spill from Leather Upholstery.

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