How To Clean Leather

July 18, 2008 by  
Filed under Home & Garden

how to clean leatherOne of the first fabrics that man fashioned to wear or use, leather has been a popular material from its beginnings. Leather is a beautiful, longwearing, breathable, natural fabric that has multiple uses, i.e., clothing, shoes, furniture, luggage, and vehicle interiors. This valuable fabric is an investment that will last for years if it is treated with care. Owners want to know how to correctly clean leather products because leather can be quickly ruined if handled incorrectly.

Leather hides can be categorized as belonging to several types, depending on the process to preserve the hides. The piece of leather can be smooth, suede, dyed in a variety of ways, coated, or tanned naturally. The dye used to color the fabric can be of different types that demand different handling. A product that works beautifully on one type of leather can permanently stain a different type. It is important to read any manufacturer’s instructions to understand what type of finish was used to create the item.


There are general rules for how to clean leather, however. These rules apply to how to clean car upholstery, belts, purses, jackets or other clothing, as well as furniture, luggage, and leather shoes. All leather needs an environment that is not too wet, not too dry, not too hot, or not too cold. Any extremes in the atmosphere can cause irreparable harm to the hides.

Let’s start off by identifying two types of leather. There is finished leather and there is unfinished leather. It is very good to know what type of leather you have so that you may treat it properly. Finished leather consists of the finer leather on coats or purses. Luggage and leather furniture is usually finished as well.

On the other hand, you have unfinished leather items as well. Unfinished leather consists of work gloves, garden gloves, boots that you use for work, biker bandannas, horse saddles, any type of saddle, basketballs and footballs.

Let’s start with cleaning finished leather. To clean finished leather, you must get a lightly dampened cloth with a dab of moisturizing bath soap (dove) on the cloth. Rub the leather in a circular motion and make sure that there is not too much water on the cloth. You don’t want to stain the leather more because of an access of water. After wiping the leather until the stain is gone, you can then take another dampened cloth to wipe off any soap residue. Remember, DO NOT us water to wipe the leather clean. After cleaning the leather with the second dampened cloth, you can now wipe it clean with a dry cloth and hang the leather product to air dry. It’s a good idea to apply a leather conditioner to the leather once it is dry.


To clean unfinished leather, you will follow the same steps stated above. However, you must use “Saddle soap” instead of moisturizing soap.

Remember when removing spots from leather, always test any cleaning method on an out-of-the-way spot first.

One tip for removing spots from leather is to dip a cotton swab into rubbing alcohol and rub the spot. This can work for removing ink spots (figure B) as well. If this doesn’t work, you can use non-oily cuticle remover. (Note: That is "cuticle" remover, not nail-polish remover.) Leave it on overnight and wipe it off with a damp cloth.

To remove normal spots from leather, use the following Royal homemade recipe:

1 part lemon juice
1 part cream of tartar

Simply work the paste into the spot with a soft cloth, and if soils remain after working it in, let it sit for a few hours. Come back and apply a little more paste, work it in and wipe clean.

Instructions for more targeted stains

Grass Stain:

1. Mix 1 cup of water with moisturizing soap.

2. Moisten a cloth with the mixture.

3. Apply cloth with a circular motion on the stained area

4. Wipe clean with another cloth dampened by water only

5. Let air dry

Mildew stain:

1. Mix 1 cup rubbing alcohol with 1 cup water.

2. Moisten a cloth with the mixture and wipe the affected area.

3. Let air dry.

Ink stain:

1. Spray the affected area with hair spray.

2. Then wipe it off with a clean cloth.

3. If a leather garment has been soaked in water, let it air dry

slowly and naturally.

4. Keep it away from heat sources.

5. Once it is dry, restore its softness with a leather conditioner.

6. If leather shoes have been soaked, insert shoe trees to restore their shape and let them air dry.

Grease stains:

1. These can be removed by blotting the excess grease with a clean cloth.

2. Second, sprinkle talcum powder or cornstarch on the affected area.

3. Let the item sit for at least 4 hours before wiping off the powder.

Blood and urine spills:

These can be removed by blotting off excess moisture with a clean, damp cloth. Let the item dry slowly away from heat.

Gum that has become stuck to the leather:

1. You can remove it by rubbing a plastic bag full of ice cubes over it to harden the gum. The gum will then be easy to pull off.

2. If there is any residual, heat the area with a hair dryer and rub off the gum with a clean cloth.

Salt stain:

1. Make a solution of 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water.

2. Moisten a cloth with the vinegar solution and dab it on the affected area.

We have outlined how to properly take care of your leather possessions in this article. Leather is a delicate item and can last forever if taken care of properly. We understand that some stains might entail more than just a cleaning. Do not hesitate to hire professional leather cleaner to help you. Remember to ask that professional for a guarantee that your leather will come back that way that you would like it. They need to be legit. They need to return your article back with the same color that the item was in the beginning. If they cannot help with these simple items, then you might need to get a second opinion.

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5 Responses to “How To Clean Leather”
  1. These are actually really good tips, lots of people tend to think chemical cleaners are good but they can actually really damage the leather. mild soap and water is always the best option, always try this first before anything else as this is safe on all types of leather! Different leather needs different care so make sure you do your research on the specific leather you have. Ciao!

  2. Keith says:

    We do not clean leather furniture but after readfing your article we just might start. Your information was useful and accurate. Thanks.

  3. Jonnny says:

    thanks so much

  4. admin says:

    Good question Brenda,

    You might want to call a few other dry cleaners before you give up. Just because one won’t take your cushion covers does not mean some place else won’t. Something else you might try is using a dishwasher on the steam dry setting only. You’ll want to keep a close eye on it if you try this, only leaving it in the washer for a few minutes at a time. (try at your own risk ) lol.

  5. Brenda says:

    The above sounds great but I would love to know how I can clean light coloured, fabric cushion covers that have leather strips sewn onto them. The tag inside the covers say they are dry cleanable but when I took them to the cleaners they wouldn’t touch them. Any suggestions

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