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 that is 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 Unfortunately much of the information that dominate the world of car leather cleaners and conditioners is outdated at best, and completely wrong at worst!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, but to build upon that beginning foundation of information to become an educated and informed consumer and car owner.
"Due to endless hype and misinformation, cleaning and conditioning car leather is a beast!"
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.
Regardless of what you think or have been taught, one of he most critical things you need to know is that car leather found in virtually any car built today, regardless of cost, is what is called coated leather.
This means the car leather has been coated with a clear protective coating.This also means that when you are cleaning leather car seats or conditioning your leather seating, you are working on a synthetic coating, not the natural leather you think you are touching.
While you might find this frustrating at first, the reality is that the care and maintenance of your leather car seats is easier than ever!
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 soon experience if you follow the advice of mainstream opinion.
"Most dedicated car leather cleaners sold within the detailing world will prove less than effective on anything other than already clean leather"
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?)
Most of the blame can be assigned to a hyped-up industry that is bent on doing one thing:
Separating you from as much of your money as possible!
"The industry has you believing that car leather is an overly sensitive and fragile material that requires special cleaners and conditioners"
While this may hold true to other industries that use leather to make their products, the automotive industry is the exception to this rule.
The single biggest thing you need to know is that car leather is coated with a clear protective coating.
This means you are cleaning and conditioning car leather that is a natural material coated by a synthetic coating. If you think you are going to find that magic leather conditioner and rub and message it into your car leather to transform your car leather into leather that is as soft and supple as a baby's butt, you will be sorely disappointed.
Because the detail industry like most industries operate in the CYA mode (cover your ass), along with a society that is filled with a bunch of ambulance chasing attorney's, the industry has to formulate car leather cleaners that have been "watered-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!
Now that you know when cleaning leather car seats you are no longer working on a natural material, but a synthetic coating, there are new options that has allowed me as a professional to become more efficient and more profitable, that can also prove the same for you:
Darren's Note: I am going to lay out the very products I use at a professional level that many of you may instinctively want to dismiss at first. But if you stay with me here I promise I will begin to open your eyes to a reality that can prove to be much more simple, effective, and economical for you.
Simple Green 13005CT Industrial Cleaner and Degreaser, Concentrated, 127.8 Fl Oz, Pack of 1
Commercial-Grade Non-Abrasive White Cleaning Pad 5 Pack By Mop Mob. Large, Multi-Purpose 10 in x 4 1/2 in Scouring Pad Fits Universal Holders. Great For Scrubbing Sinks, Tile, Windows and Fine China
Rubbermaid Professional Plus Scrub Brush, Scrubbing Brush (FGG23712)
Kirkland Signature Ultra High Pile Premium Microfiber Towels (36-Pack)
At this point you will likely want to know what I recommend to use on your car leather to finish and condition.
I have answers for that also...
CSI Q-7 Detailer Quart 62-205-Q
CSI Nu Tyre Lotion Quart 62-208-Q
Many cars whether they have are true leather, or vinyl made to look like leather, will have perforated leather seats. Cleaning these tiny perfs in the leather seating can represent a challenge if you are really trying to nail the details.
Use the following tools perfectly suited to handle this situation if you are faced with this problem.
Tepe Angle Brush Mixed Sample Pack (6 Brushes Per Pack)
GUM Go-Betweens Proxabrush Cleaners Tight - 8 ct, Pack of 3
GUM Stimulator 1 Each (Pack of 4)
If you consider yourself overly cautious and have a healthy amount of anxiety about using my techniques from above, you might lean towards one of the following brushes that are more gentle and softer when cleaning leather car seats of your own car.
Just known everything comes with trade-off's and you might find these brushes TOO soft and gentle if you have car leather with a healthy layer of dirt.
Chemical Guys ACC_S95 Long Bristle Horse Hair Leather Cleaning Brush, , 1 Pack
TAKAVU Leather & Textile Cleaning Brush, Durable Soft Nylon Bristles, Free Detailing Brush, Unique Concave Design Wood Handle for Car Interior Seat Carpet Upholstery Couch Furniture Boots Shoes
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!
For this type of dirt on your car leather, you will likely need to increase the strength of your cleaning solution. You will also need to accept that you will have to do repeated cleanings as you will not be able to clean a leather car seat this dirty in a single application/cleaning.
If you have made it this far into this page, consider yourself among the elite! When it comes to cleaning leather car seats you now know more than the majority of "professional detailers" you will come across.
I hope I have helped.