How to Clean Leather: The Ultimate Guide of Methods, Tips and Tricks

Picture this: You come home from a long day to find an unsightly ink stain tarnishing your favourite leather sofa. It’s a heart-sinking moment – I know because I’ve been there. Leather items, whether they’re furniture or fashion, represent more than just material possessions. They’re an investment, a statement of style, and often, home to cherished memories.

Understanding the fear of inadvertently causing damage to your leather items in an attempt to clean them, I embarked on a journey to uncover the art of cleaning and caring for leather. Now, I bring to you this comprehensive guide, packed with tried and tested methods, tips, and the right tools to clean leather. Let’s conquer the fear and revive your leather items to their original grandeur, right from the comfort of your home.

how to clean leather

Understanding Leather

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of cleaning methods, it’s important to have a fundamental understanding of what leather is and why it requires specific cleaning methods.

What is Leather and Why Specific Cleaning Methods?

Leather is a natural, durable, and flexible material created by tanning animal rawhide and skins. It’s adored worldwide for its timeless elegance, comfort, and longevity. However, its porous nature means it can easily absorb oils and stains, leading to damage if not cleaned correctly. Regular cleaning and proper care ensure that your leather items retain their beauty and durability for years to come.

The Different Types of Leather

While leather may appear to be a homogenous material, there are various types, each requiring a slightly different approach when it comes to cleaning. Most leathers, such as aniline and semi-aniline, have a protective coating, which makes cleaning relatively straightforward. Unfinished leather, on the other hand, like nubuck or suede, lacks this protective layer, making it more susceptible to stains and requiring a gentler cleaning method.

The Breathable Material and Protective Coating of Leather Goods

Leather is a breathable material, allowing air to pass through and making it comfortable for use in a variety of applications. However, it’s susceptible to drying out and cracking, hence the need for a protective coating. This coating not only gives most leathers a beautiful sheen but also serves as a barrier against spills and stains.

Essential Tools for Leather Cleaning

Having the right tools at your disposal is crucial when it comes to effectively clean leather.

Importance of the Right Tools

Just as an artist needs the right brushes to create a masterpiece, the correct tools can make all the difference when you clean leather. They ensure a gentle yet effective clean, preventing potential damage.

The Common Tools

The following are some of the essential tools you’ll need when cleaning leather:

  • Damp cloth
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Dry cloth
  • Soft cloth
  • Clean cloth
  • Cotton swab
  • Spray bottle

Each of these tools has a role to play, from application of the cleaning solution to drying, and they work together to ensure your leather items are cleaned without causing any harm.

General Cleaning of Leather Furniture

Cleaning your leather furniture regularly can help maintain its look and prolong its life. Here’s how to clean leather furniture effectively:

Step-by-step Guide

  1. Use a dry microfiber cloth to dust the surface. This helps to remove any loose dirt or dust before you begin the deep cleaning process.
  2. Prepare a cleaning solution by mixing a few drops of mild soap or saddle soap with warm water in a spray bottle.
  3. Spray the solution onto a damp cloth and gently wipe the leather surface. Avoid soaking the leather.
  4. Always work in a circular motion to avoid streaking.
  5. After cleaning, use a dry cloth to wipe off any excess moisture. If you leave leather wet, it can cause spots or colour changes.

By following these steps, you can keep your leather sofa and leather couch looking their best and prolong their life.

Deep Cleaning and Stain Removal from Leather Items

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, stains find their way onto your leather items. In such cases, a deeper clean is necessary.

Defining Deep Cleaning and When it’s Necessary

Deep cleaning involves using specific cleaning solutions to treat stubborn stains on your leather. It’s necessary when general cleaning isn’t enough to restore your leather’s beauty, such as when you’re dealing with ink stains, grease stains, or liquid stains.

Types of Stains and Their Treatments

Different stains require different treatments. For example, ink stains can be lifted with a touch of rubbing alcohol, while grease stains can be tackled with baking soda, which absorbs the oil. For liquid stains, blotting them immediately with a clean, dry cloth can help prevent them from setting in.

Using Specific Cleaning Solutions

Certain household products can also serve as effective cleaning solutions. Lemon juice mixed with cream of tartar works well on lighter stains. For darker stains, a paste of equal parts white vinegar and baking soda can do the trick. Always remember to test any solution on an inconspicuous area first.

For precise application, dip a cotton swab into your cleaning solution and apply it to the stained area in a circular motion. This helps to gently lift the stain without spreading it.

Additional Tips for Specific Leather Items

Beyond furniture, leather is used in a variety of items, each with its own cleaning considerations. Let’s look at a few of these.

Leather Bags and Jackets

When it comes to items like leather bags and jackets, they’re often exposed to harsher conditions and thus require extra care. Always clean a leather bag or jacket using a specific leather cleaner. Leather cleaners are specially formulated to effectively and safely clean leather without damaging it.

If your leather bag or jacket has a tough stain, you may consider using a dab of nail polish remover. However, this should be your last resort and only be used on durable, finished leathers. Always do a spot test first, apply it gently with a cotton swab and rub the stained area very gently.

Using Dish Soap

Dish soap is a mild soap that’s generally safe to use on most leathers. It’s particularly useful when you need to clean a larger surface area, such as a leather jacket. Remember to dilute it with warm water before use, and always work it into the leather using a soft cloth.

Pre-made Leather Cleaners

While homemade solutions can work in a pinch, commercial leather cleaners are a reliable choice for their balanced PH and specialised formulas. They offer a quick and convenient way to clean leather and often come in easy-to-use formats like sprays and wipes.

Leather Conditioners and Creams

After cleaning your leather, conditioning is a necessary step to keep it looking its best.

The Need for Leather Conditioner

Leather conditioner serves to replenish the oils in the leather, preventing it from drying out and cracking after cleaning. It’s a critical step in the cleaning process, especially for leather furniture that’s regularly exposed to heat or sunlight.

Application of Leather Conditioner and Creams

To apply a leather conditioner or cream, use a soft cloth and work the conditioner into the leather in a circular motion. Let it sit for about 15-30 minutes, then buff off any excess with a clean, dry cloth.


Leather, with its classic elegance, deserves the best care. By understanding the nature of leather and the proper methods for cleaning it, you can help maintain the beauty and longevity of your leather items. It may seem daunting at first, but with the right knowledge and tools, you can easily tackle any stains or dirt, restoring the lustrous appeal of your leather pieces. So, here’s to a future where your leather remains as timeless as the day you brought it home.

Wondering what to read next? Check out our guide on removing biro from clothes here:

Or this one on how to clean silver jewellery: