How to Clean Leather in Car
The industry has you chasing your tail!

Most of us exist with the understanding that leather of any kind requires special leather cleaners, special leather conditioners, and special leather cleaning brushes.

How to clean leather in your car is a topic the industry continues to exploit based on the massive amount of ignorance of most car owners. Likely, you are one of those people.

how to clean leather car

You needn't feel badly about this, as you are not alone.

Technology has improved life at every conceivable level and the world of cars is no exception. But the industry is far less concerned about keeping you informed as a car owner, and more interested in separating you from as much of your money as possible.

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!"

Likely this is not the first time you have heard that iconic quote. And this quote is as relevant when it comes to learning how to clean leather in your car as it is in every other area of life.

How to Clean Leather in Car:
What you need to know

leather honey car leather conditioner black car leather

My goal will be to catch you up to speed when it comes to the leather in your car so you will not only become an informed car owner, but also realize how much simpler it can be to take care of the leather in your car than you have likely been lead to believe.

Leather is Coated: Virtually all car leather is coated.

Not all leather is created or finished the same. From leather furniture, leather apparel, to leather accessories of all kinds, the are endless types of leather just as there are endless ways in which leather goods can be "finished".

The fact that your car leather is coated with a clear coating means that you are not actually cleaning or conditioning a natural material (leather), but are in fact cleaning and conditioning a synthetic layer.

And in the event you are not connecting dots here, this generally leads most people to question the effectiveness or the requirement to apply a leather conditioner that is made and packaged as a leather conditioner.

After all, isn't car leather cleaners and conditioners made to clean actual leather?

cleaning black coated car leather

How to Clean Leather in Car:
Cleaning car leather made simple

Since we are now working with the updated knowledge that the leather in your car is coated with a clear, synthetic coating, I can show you simpler ways to take care of your car leather than what the industry would want you to believe.

If you are a person that typical resists new ideas and concepts, then you can default to the industry standard of a dedicated car leather cleaner and conditioner like the one's below.

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

  • Simple way to clean and condition car leather 
  • Highly rated among Amazon shoppers
  • Extremely popular brand among car enthusiasts

Darren's Note: The clear coating used to finish car leather with is designed to make your life easier by adding this protective coating. This means your car leather holds up better, and also means that cleaning your car leather is easier.

This also means that you do not have to overthink the exact products that are labeled and packaged as dedicated car leather cleaners and conditioners. Despite my 30+ years of professional detail experience, many people still cling to old-world thinking and therefore will default to the "accepted" rule of thinking.

How to Clean Car Leather:
Car Leather Cleaning Brushes

Upholstery Cleaner Scrub Brush Set Cleaning Brush and Horsehair Detailing Brush for Car Interior, Seats, Boat, Couch, Sofa and Carpet

  • A cleaning brush set that give you options
  • Nylon brush for more aggressive cleaning
  • Horse hair brush for more gentle cleaning

Darren's Note: While this cleaning brush set is labeled as a boat brush set, it really should be labeled as a car interior cleaning brush set since these are the very brushes that are sold within the car upholstery cleaning world.

If you have a brand new car and are attempting to keep your car leather clean on a regular basis, then the horse hair brush will most likely prove effective for you.

Most people come searching on how to clean leather in their car only after their car leather has become excessively dirty and might find that a more aggressive cleaning brush, like the nylon brush will prove more effective.

As an added note, these brushes are effective at cleaning all the materials found within your cars interior. I am a fan of finding products and tools that offer the most versatility.

How to Clean Leather in Car:
What Would Darren Do (WWDD)

Anyone who knows my industry experience often asks me what I would do. Most people don't really want to learn all the "technical" information, but simply want to know the methods that will deliver the results they are looking for.

If you are reading this I think it safe to assume you too are less concerned with the technical how to clean leather in your car, and more concerned with knowing the products and tools I use professionally do achieve these desired results.

Simple, effective, and easy.

I am a big fan of making any cleaning and detailing process simpler. One way to do this is to find products and tools that can serve many purposes, not isolated to a single use.

Since the clear coating on any car leather was intentionally designed to be durable and easier to clean and maintain, you don't actually have to shop among all the dedicated car leather cleaners and conditioners.

For this reason I default to all-purpose cleaners to perform most of the cleaning duties with a car:

  • Leather
  • Fabric
  • Carpeting
  • Vinyl
  • Rubber
  • Plastic

Simple Green 73434010 14010 Industrial Cleaner & Degreaser, Concentrated, Lemon, 1 gal Bottle

  • Simplify your world with an effective and safe multi-purpose cleaner
  • The exact all-purpose cleaner I use professionally
  • Safe for the materials in your car and safe for your health
  • Safe for your coated car leather

Darren's Note: I love this all-purpose cleaner for many reasons. After using the endless harsh cleaners that a found myself gagging on when I would clean a car, I decided to go in search of a cleaner that was both very versatile and safe.

No longer did I have to tolerate harsh cleaners when detailing.

The other huge benefits to this cleaner is the fact that it is also a concentrate and it serves countless cleaning abilities. When I use it to clean leather in cars, I dilute it down to a 10:1 ratio (one part cleaning concentrate to 10 equal parts water)

Colourlock Leather & Textile Cleaning Brush | Clean Leather, Textile and Alcantara | for Cars, Furniture, Apparel, Shoes, Bags and Accessories | Brown

  • Ideal brush for cleaning car leather
  • Use with any car leather cleaner/all-purpose cleaner of your choice
  • Small enough to maintain control and
  • Perfect when cleaning tighter areas of car

Darren's Note: If you are the proud owner of a new car and plan on cleaning your car leather regularly to prevent excessive dirt build-up, then this brush will be ideal of you.

But if you are like most people and have allowed your car leather to become excessively dirty then I would go with the Better Boat cleaning brush set towards the top of this page.

How to Clean Leather in Car

The following is the exact steps I use to clean the leather in any car:

  1. Vacuum if appropriate (this will generally refer to seating areas where dirt can accumulate within crevices of seating)
  2. Follow directions of your choice in cleaner and spray onto small section of area to be cleaned
  3. Agitate area with scrub brush using circular, and back and forth pattern
  4. Mop up dirty cleaning solution with micro-fiber cloth
  5. Check results and repeat as necessary

Darren's Note: Most of you reading this will be dealing with car leather that is moderately to heavily soiled. This means that you must maintain realistic expectations and apply the following when attempting to clean the leather in your car:

  • If you are dealing with heavily soiled car leather you can mix an all-purpose cleaner to a stronger dilution ratio for better cleaning results
  • Always test your cleaner in a small, inconspicuous area first to verify results
  • If your car leather is excessively dirty, you will need to be careful in determining if you are removing dirt, or your seat has begun to deteriorate due to excessive dirt build-up (often it becomes a fine line between cleaning the finish from your car leather if the dirt has been around long enough to completely deteriorate the clear coat finish and the leather beneath)
dirty car leather before and afterBefore and after of a typical car leather seat I come across in my professional world of detailing. It is common to clean car leather 3-4 times per section in order to achieve desired results.

The above picture illustrated what I call a typical example taken from my world as a professional detailer. Most people would not consider this seat excessively dirty unless they see the dramatic results of cleaning.

I get these kinds of results using the all-purpose cleaner concentrate I recommend on this page diluted down 10:1. As a rule, unless you are cleaning leather that is brand new and not actually very dirty, you will need to scrub each section of your car leather seating multiple times in order to achieve these level results.

Darren's Note: It is important to keep the following in mind when learning how to clean leather in car:

  • Most people do not realize how quickly car leather becomes (especially light colored car leather that shows dirt more easily)
  • Most people think car leather is more sensitive than it really is 
  • Most people do not realize how "aggressive" they will need to scrub in order to achieve desired results
  • For any leather in car that has become significantly dirty, you will need to follow my car leather cleaning steps above, and do so with repeat applications ( I am often required to clean each section of the car leather seats 3-5 times before I am satisfied with the results)

That is often the trade-off with any cleaning chore in life: use a more mild cleaner but be required to apply repeat applications to achieve desire results, rather than use aggressive cleaners that can be unsafe to you and your car leather but deliver more immediate results.

How to Clean Leather in Car Summary

I am a huge fan of what I call preventative maintenance. When it comes to the leather in your car, regular and consistent cleanings of your cars leather will prevent you from ever having to learn how to deep clean your car leather.

Everything in life is better if you just maintain things and don't allow them to ever get out of hand. I know you already know that, but until you are faced with excessively dirty car leather, you may not fully appreciate it.

If that ship has already sailed and it is too late to simply perform a light cleaning on the leather in your car, then follow my leather cleaning steps here, and then apply regular cleaning maintenance moving forward.

I hope you have learned a thing or two and have much better understanding on how to clean leather in your car!


Darren Priest

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