Cleaning Leather Car Seats
Fact vs. Fiction

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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 your 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?"

  • Because you are using the wrong leather cleaners.
  • Your techniques are ineffective.
  • You are operating under outdated and bad information.

Understanding the Nature of the Beast

cleaning leather car seats ferrari

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 Unfortunately much of the information that dominate the world of car leather cleaners and conditioners is outdated at best, and completely wrong at worst!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.

Why Most of You are Frustrated with the Results when cleaning leather car seats

I can bet why most of you are here and it involves either one or both of the following:

  • You have car leather and it is dirty.
  • You have tried other leather cleaners and are disappointed with the results.

cleaning leather car seats porsche

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 soon experience if you follow the advice of mainstream opinion.

Most Dedicated Car Leather Cleaners Are, and Will Be Ineffective

Dedicated cleaners made for cleaning leather car seats as a rule will prove ineffective and frustrating on anything but the "cleanest" of dirt. (How is that for a contradiction: clean dirt?)

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!

You Are Using Ineffective Cleaning Techniques and Tools

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.

Cleaning Leather car seats:
Mild car leather cleaning for new car leather

Chemical Guys Car Leather Cleaner and Conditioner

Chemical Guys Leather Cleaner and Conditioner Complete Leather Care Kit (16 oz) (2 Items)

  • Kit comes with both leather cleaner and leather conditioner.
  • Effective for both car leather and any vinyl within your car. (despite it being labeled as a dedicated car leather cleaner)
  • Extremely popular within the world of professionals and car enthusiasts.

Meguiar's Leather Cleaner/Conditioner

Meguiar's G10916 Gold Class Rich Leather Cleaner & Conditioner - 15.2 oz.

  • Another well known industry leader in car care.
  • Suitable for any new car leather if you stay on-top of your leather cleaning and conditioning.
  • All-in-one cleaner and conditioner.
  • As simple and straight forward as you are going to find.

Cleaning Car Leather Seats:
Professional cleaning brushes

Now that you have discovered some products for cleaning leather car seats, now you must find appropriate and effective car leather scrub brushes.

Chemical Guys Horse Hair Leather Scrub Brush

Chemical Guys ACC_S95 Long Bristle Horse Hair Leather Cleaning Brush, , 1 Pack

  • Without the use of some form of scrub brush, you will never clean leather car seat with acceptable results unless of course your car leather isn't really dirty to begin with.
  • Most people think car leather is a very delicate and fragile. Trust me, your car leather can be scrubbed very aggressively with either of these brushes. If in doubt, simply go easy and work your way into it.
  • I prefer the bigger brush from Chemical Guys for that simple reason; it is bigger and you will appreciate using a bigger brush.

Car Leather and Upholstery Scrub Brush

COLOURLOCK Leather & Textile Cleaning Brush for car interiors, alcantara car seats and leather furniture upholstery

  • This is a smaller, more mild brush than the one above.
  • Too small for me personally, but for anyone cleaning leather car seats for the first time are usually rather timid and will likely appreciate this brush in particular.
  • As safe as safe is going to get.

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 the mild leather cleaners from above when cleaning leather car seats that lightly dirty or brand new car leather. If you have any substantial dirt on your car's leather, most retail cleaners used in cleaning leather car seats will prove ineffective.

Cleaning Leather Car Seats that are Actually Dirty!

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!

dirty car leather cleaning

Pictured Above: This shot is taken from a 10 year old Corvette in which the leather upholstery had never been 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!

The "Right" Leather Cleaning Product...

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.

Meguiar's D10101 Detailer All Purpose Cleaner Gallon

  • The only product most of you will ever need to do 98% of all your car interior cleaning.
  • A far more effective product to clean leather car seats than any off-the-shelf leather cleaner!
  • Concentrate formulation so you can custom blend to suit your cleaning requirements.
  • Suitable cleaner for virtually any material you will find within your car: upholstery, carpeting, vinyl seating, leather seating, etc., etc.
  • Always read product directions for use and mix ratios.

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.

  • Mix to desired strength as per product labeling instructions as a starting point.
  • Use in any trigger sprayer.
  • Get one of these scrub brushes to use in conjunction with the cleaner to scrub all the dirt from any of the leather grain or texture.
  • Better to use lighter, repeat applications to break down dirt until desired results are achieved rather than trying to get everything in a single, overly saturated application.
  • Remember, depending on the material and the level of dirt and how long the material has been allowed to remain in its filth, no cleaner exists that will clean everything, every time.
  • As a rule, I dilute the Meguiar's APC 4:1 when cleaning interiors (including car leather). This means for every one part of concentrate, you add four equal parts of water for your final cleaning solution.

Cleaning Leather Car Seats:
Darren's Take-Away

  • Modern day car leather is much more durable than most people realize.
  • Virtually all car leather from entry level to high-end luxury has been coated with a clear protective layer; this layer is what you are actually cleaning. (cleaning leather car seats should actually be called cleaning a clear coating)
  • Virtually any "off-the-shelf" leather cleaner will prove ineffective in cleaning car leather seats other than the cleanest of dirt. (There's that oxymoron again!)
  • Using more aggressive cleaners, tools, and techniques will deliver the welcomed results that have most likely eluded you up until this point.
  • Yes, a gallon might seem over-kill for most "driveway detailers", but because these products are so versatile, you will welcome the "too much of a good thing" in this case.
  • Prevention is always better than the cure. If you are the hyper-vigilant type, then the Lexol or Meguiar's leather cleaners from the start of this page will be your ticket. But for the rest of us, there are exceptional products like this APC and Super Degreaser from Meguiar's.
  • Cleaning leather car seats is not brain surgery; start easy and figure out what your particular situation requires for the results you are after!

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