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*
- 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.
- 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.
- Mix a few drops of liquid soap with about a quart of distilled water, mixing until suds form.
- Test a small, inconspicuous area of the furniture first.
- Dip one of the rags in the soapy water and wring out thoroughly.
- Working one section at a time, wipe the surface of the furniture with the damp rag.
- Dip a separate rag in clean distilled water (no soap), wring thoroughly, and wipe away the soap residue.
- Dry thoroughly with the third rag.
- Buff the surface with the fourth clean rag to restore luster.
- 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.
If you need to sanitize the leather if a family member is sick or if someone drops a raw steak on the couch accidentally, moisten a soft cloth with rubbing alcohol and use it to wipe down a hidden area of the leather, such as under the edge of the base, to ensure that it does not remove any color from the leather. If safe, wipe the leather down with rubbing alcohol. Clean the area afterward with a leather cleaner to remove any residue from the alcohol. Alcohol can have a drying effect on leather, so you may want to use a leather conditioner as well, or a leather cleaner/conditioner mix, such as 1 part white vinegar mixed with 2 parts boiled linseed oil.
If the rubbing alcohol does remove some of the leather color, you can try using white vinegar instead, but again, be sure to test it first. White vinegar is not quite as effective as rubbing alcohol, but it does kill 99% of bacteria and 90% of germs. Let it sit on the leather for 10 minutes, then wipe the area with a damp cloth to rinse. You can consider adding essential oils to the white vinegar to make it more effective if needed.
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. The only exception is boiled linseed oil, which will not leave the leather sticky; do not use raw linseed oil.
- 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.
- Vinegar by Vicki Lansky