Cleaning leather car seats is one of the most commonly asked questions as a professional auto detailer. Due to misleading advertising and an over-abundance of bad information, most people are frozen with anxiety when it comes to what proper care and cleaning of car leather really includes.
Professional experience has also shown that most people want to skip the basics of proper car leather cleaning, and jump straight into leather conditioning and protecting. Many people also maintain the false opinion that they can magically transform bad leather into good leather, if they simply apply enough of the "right" car leather conditioner.
Pictured: This shot above is taken during the car leather cleaning process of this Lexus RX. You can see the before and after difference possible when using the right leather cleaner along with the right techniques.
"Darren, those are dramatic results, how come I find myself constantly frustrated by any leather cleaner I have ever used?"
Life rewards those that can produce results. Good intentions and wishful thinking will get you very little towards the results you seek. Unfortunately much of the information that dominate the world of car leather cleaners and conditioners is outdated at best, and completely wrong at worst!
For this reason it is important to not only start with the basic understanding of what I refer to as the nature of the beast, and the beast in this case is your dirty car leather, but to build upon that beginning foundation of information to become an educated and informed consumer and car owner.
It is important to understand that the car leather of today is not the car leathers of yesterday. I suggest you start at my car leather care page and build a solid foundation of insight into the world of modern day car leathers. This link will open up a new window so that you may return here and work your way towards the next critical step of cleaning leather car seats based on real world experience.
I can bet why most of you are here and it involves either one or both of the following:
Occasionally I get someone here who has just purchased a new car; this could be brand new, or just a used car that is new to them, and it has leather seating or leather car upholstery.
Regardless of your exact situation, we need to lay out the specifics of frustration that you have either experienced first hand, or will if you follow the advice of mainstream opinion.
While I would like to lay the entire blame of this problem on the industry itself, you as a consumer have a big part of the responsibility; it may not be under this topic of cleaning leather car seats, but you are likely guilty somewhere in your past:
"As people we fail to read simple instructions and product labeling. We think we know what we are doing and immediately start doing it. Unfortunately what we start doing is based on misguided opinion and strategy."
Because of this simple reality, along with a society that is driven by a bunch of ambulance chasing attorney's, the industry has to formulate car leather cleaners that have been dumbed-down to the point of being completely ineffective on anything but the cleanest of dirt.
Yes, that sounds like an oxymoron, but unless you car has anything more than the slightest of dirt, virtually any "off-the-shelf" car leather cleaners will FAIL!
Once again, due to the ignorance that dominates the area of proper care and cleaning of car leather upholstery, you are likely also using cleaning methods that are overly mild and prove ineffective at cleaning leather that has actually gotten truly dirty; like the picture from the Lexus at the very beginning of this page.
That leather was filthy, yet underneath all that dirt and filth remains leather in prime condition. Unfortunately, most people would lack the skills or experience on how to remove that heavy layer of dirt to reveal the soft, excellent leather that lies below all that dirt.
"As people, we have been lead to believe that car leather is some exotic material that is ever so delicate and fragile, and unless special cleaners and cleaning methods are used, your leather will be ruined."
Not so. And for this reason I strongly suggest once again you learn about the nature of the beast we are dealing with at my car leather care page first.
The leather car upholstery of today's modern cars are made much different than the leather upholstery found in cars of old. The good news is that not only is the leather much more durable and resistant to daily wear and tear, but much more aggressive cleaners and cleaning methods can be used if you find your leather has become excessively dirty.
As the title suggests, the following recommendations are for mild levels of dirty car leather or for use on brand new cars in which you have decided you are going to keep your car leather clean from the beginning.
Lexol Leather Kit
Meguiar's Leather Cleaner/Conditioner
Now that you have discovered some products for cleaning leather car seats, now you must find appropriate and effective car leather scrub brushes.
The use of either of the scrub brushes above will make your cleaning leather car seats even more effective with the ability to really scrub the tiny pores and texture of many of the car leathers out there. Use it in conjunction with the car leather cleaners from above if you choose that route.
Darren's Professional Tip: I only recommend the car leather cleaners from above on mild levels of dirty leather or brand new car leather. If you have any substantial dirt on your car's leather, the Lexol will just not be aggressive enough to do the job. The added scrub brush will provide better cleaning results if used in conjunction with the Lexol/Meguiar's cleaner(s), but you are still limited in the amount of dirt this product is able to remove.
O.K., we have finally gotten to the point in which most of you will find yourselves; the dirty leather in your car has finally gotten to the point where you want to take action!
Pictured Above: This shot is taken from a 10 year old Corvette in which the leather upholstery had never been touched...as if I had to point that out! As you can see, the leather is extremely dirty. With the right product and right techniques, the results can be very dramatic as can be seen!
Or at least one of a number of cleaners not labeled and sold as a dedicated leather cleaner, but a product that will actually get you want you want...clean leather car upholstery.
Darren's Professional Tip: This APC (All-Purpose Cleaner) from Meguiar's is one of my favorite's as it eliminates many other "dedicated use" products. Virtually every surface on the inside of your car can be cleaned with this concentrate. And with that said, concentrate means you dilute it down to the desired strength needed in the moment. This will be a judgement call you will have to make when mixing based on material being cleaned, how dirty, etc., etc. I use distilled water whenever diluting concentrates for a little more effectiveness. Just like soft water in your house, which means you can use less shampoos, detergents, etc. due to the "cleaner", or soft water.
If you have excessively dirty car leather and you really want to cut to the chase then I can also recommend an additional product from Meguiar's that has many all the same benefits of the All-Purpose cleaner from Meguiar's above, but on steroids.