How to Clean Leather Car Seats

How to Clean Leather Car Seats: A Beginner’s Guide

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Leather car seats are fast becoming synonymous with luxury cars. That’s because of the unfailing beauty they offer to your car’s interior. But, regardless of the amount of elegance, comfort, and great smell they offer, leather seats can be an embarrassment if not cleaned properly. So, in this guide, we’re going to discuss how to clean leather car seats to keep them looking young and fresh.

You see, unlike vinyl, carpet, or any other ordinary cloth, leather is a high-class material the demands high maintenance. The cleaning process is more specialized to avoid damaging the fabric and leaving it in a sad state.

Since most people are totally unaware of the right techniques to use when cleaning their leather seats, this guide has done all the hard work for you by discussing a well-detailed step-by-step process on how to clean and condition your leather seats.

So, in our discussion, we’ll be discussing the different types of leather seats and how to clean them using commercial processes. We’ll also discuss some common types of stains and how to clean them using DIY methods.

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Understanding Your Car’s Leather Seats


Before we get to the actual cleaning of your car’s leather seats, I think it’s important if you can take some time to understand the type of leather your car seats are wearing. This way, you’ll know the right technique to employ when cleaning them without running their luster.

So, in the automotive world, four types of leather fabrics are used. These include aniline, semi-aniline, full-grain, and corrected grain leather.

  • Aniline:

Aniline leather is made using the finest hides and is hailed for its rich colors and soft touch. What makes it different, however, is that it lacks the protective coating leaving it susceptible to spills and other liquid stains. Luckily, production was discontinued a few decades ago making it very difficult to find in modern cars.

  • Semi-Aniline:

Semi-aniline leather, on the other hand, follows the same manufacturing process only that a protective coating is added in the last stage. This protective layer is what gives semi-aniline leather an extra advantage in fighting spills, stains, scratches, and regular wear and tear.

Due to these outstanding qualities, semi-aniline leather is used in most luxury and highly-priced vehicles as it has a neat and smooth touch.

  • Full-Grain/Napa:

Also known as Napa leather, full-grain leather is a finely finished type of leather that has a thick coating and pigmentation. Since it’s able to retain the original markings of real leather, it’s considered the best for use in most luxurious vehicles. It’s also long-lasting and highly resistant to wear and tear.

  • Corrected Leather:

With corrected leather, the leather fabric is polished to smooth it and to remove any imperfections. This type of leather is not as exaggerated as the rest of the leather types we’ve discussed thus making it the best suggestion for family vehicles.


Cleaning Leather Car Seats Using Commercial Process


Having discussed everything you need to know about leather car seats, our next step is to commence the actual cleaning of the seats. Here, we will be very detailed with the cleaning process to ensure that you don’t screw up. So, if you’re ready, then let’s begin.

Gather Your Supplies

  • Scrub brush: A scrub brush made from natural horsehair is the best option, as it won’t hurt your delicate leather seats.
  • Scrub Pads: Non-abrasive scrub pads are also a necessity when cleaning leather seats, as they’re both safe and effective.
  • Microfiber Towels: These towels are highly considered due to their ultra-soft fibers. They’re also excellent in trapping dirt meaning you won’t scratch your leather seats when wiping.
  • Leather Wipes: Just like microfiber towels, leather wipes perform a perfect job of picking up dirt and muck from your seats.
  • Car Leather Cleaner
  • Car Leather Conditioner


  1. Step One: Identify the Type of Leather on Your Seats

Before you touch your leather seats with any water or cleaning agent, you need to first identify the type of leather you’ll be working on. To do this, you can either confirm with your car’s manual or simply log in to the manufacturer’s website to find out.

In case there’s limited information available, then you can conduct this simple test to find out. So, simply pour some water on the seat and observe the reaction. If the water gets absorbed immediately, then you’re dealing with aniline leather. If it takes some time to get absorbed, then it’s semi-aniline. Lastly, if the water slides off the seat instead of getting absorbed, then it’s full-grain leather.


  1. Step Two: Inspect the Condition of the Seats

The first process of cleaning your leather seats is to inspect the severity of the condition. To do this, you’ll need to vacuum the seats thoroughly to remove any surface dirt, grime, and sand particles. When vacuuming the seats, make sure you use the right attachments that will get to those tight nooks and crannies to suck out as much dirt, sand, and grit as possible.

Once you’re through vacuuming, check the condition of the seats to determine the severity of the situation. This will help you to decide the best method to employ when cleaning the seats.


  1. Step Three: Spot-Test the Seats

Since leather seats are very delicate, spot testing your specific leather cleaner before proceeding with the actual cleaning is very important. Remember, different leather cleaners have different additives that can react differently when used.

Since you don’t want to ruin your seats, you must test the leather cleaner you’ll be using by rubbing it on a hidden area on the seat. Make sure the spot is no more than an inch. Leave it for about 15 minutes then check the results. In case there’s no discoloration or a rough touch on the area, then you can proceed to use that specific leather cleaner.


  1. Step Four: Buffing the Seats

Now that you’ve identified the right cleaner you’ll be using, the next step is to commence the buffing process. So, here you’ll need to ready your microfiber cloth, scrub pads and scrub brush as this is where the actual cleaning begins.

Now, if your leather seats are not perforated, then you can spray the cleaner directly. However, if they’re perforated or torn, then you’ll need to spray the cleaner either on the microfiber cloth or the scrub brush depending on the severity of the stains.

Scrub the seats gently while switching between the microfiber towel and the scrub pads/scrub brush. As you scrub, the leather cleaner will foam up to agitate the dirt, dust, and stains and bring them to the surface.

If you’re dealing with stubborn stains, avoid applying too much pressure on the scrub brush as this can damage the leather upholstery or else leave scratch marks on your delicate seats.


  1. Step Five: Wipe the Seats Dry

Once you’re confident all the stubborn stains have been removed from your seats, wipe the foamy solution using a clean microfiber cloth. When wiping the seats, you’ll notice that the microfiber cloth will be covered with dirt, oil, grime, and other stains.

Once you’re through wiping the seats, inspect them carefully for any signs of stain leftovers. In case there are any stains, repeat step four until you’re satisfied with the results. Otherwise, if the results are pleasant, then you can proceed to the final step, which is conditioning the seats.


  1. Step Six: Condition the Leather Seats

Now that you’ve deep cleaned your leather seats, the job is done, right? Almost! Just like waxing your car’s exterior to protect the shiny paint job, your leather seats will demand some conditioning to shield them from heat and abrasion.

Just like in our third step above, you’ll need to be very keen on the type of conditioner you pick. First, avoid using conditioners that have waxes, silicone, and petroleum distillates. Secondly, spot-test the conditioner you’ll be using to ensure that it doesn’t discolor your leather seats.

So, if you’re satisfied with the conditioner you’ve picked, apply it to your seats then use a clean microfiber cloth or a sponge to massage it on your seats in a circular motion. Leave your car for about 10 to 15 minutes to allow the conditioner to get soaked up in the leather.

Finally, pick another clean microfiber cloth and buff the seats in a circular motion. This will wipe off any excess conditioner on the seats to make them clean and shiny.


Common Types of Car Seat Stains


When it comes to stain removal, most people make the mistake of considering all stains as the same. In the process, they usually end up employing the wrong cleaning techniques, which leads to wrong results due to chemical reactions.

In this section, we’re going to highlight some of the most common car seat stains and which DIY method you can employ to remove them effectively. At least this will serve as a quick reference if you need to clean a specific strain quickly.

  • Water Stains (Blotting Method):

If water stain is left to dry naturally, it can form a thick water stain on the seat that can appear untidy. So, to remove this type of stain, simply put a clean microfiber cloth on the affected area to absorb the moisture.

  • Grease Stain (Cornstarch/Talcum Powder Method):

If your kids are eating fried chicken, pizza, or oily takeaway meals while in the car, there’s a great chance they might stain the seats with grease. If this happens, simply pick a soft cloth and try to blot as much oil/grease as you can from the seats.

Next, apply some cornstarch or unscented talcum powder on the affected areas. Let it stay overnight or for a few hours before vacuuming the seats.

  • Coffee (Lemon Juice/Vinegar Method):

In case your coffee spills while driving, then you don’t have to worry as there’s a surefire way to remove the stain. Here, you can rinse the stain using cold water or you can try using lemon juice or vinegar.

  • Vomit (Baking Soda Method):

In case of vomit, all you need is to sprinkle some baking soda on the vomit to soak up the liquid. Leave it for about 20 minutes before scraping up the vomit. Next, add more baking soda to the remainder of the stain to remove both the stain and the odor.

  • Ink Stain (Leather Cleaner Method):

The worst thing about ink stain is that it’s very stubborn to remove. First, you must avoid using acetone or alcohol-based cleaners as they can ruin your leather seats. This leaves you with the option of using a high-quality leather cleaner.

So, what you’ll need is to apply the leather cleaner on a clean cotton swab then gently clean the affected area. Replace the cotton swabs once they get soaked with ink until your leather seat is entirely clean.



As you can see, cleaning your car’s leather seats is not only easy but also a necessity if you want to prolong their life. In this guide, we’ve taken our time to discuss everything you need to know when it comes to cleaning and conditioning your leather car seats.

Regardless of the color coating of your leather seats, the steps we’ve discussed here are ideal in maintaining the former beauty of your seats. In addition, we’ve highlighted some common types of stains you’re likely to come across and some DIY methods you can employ.

However, if you feel too overwhelmed to accomplish the cleaning process by yourself, then you can consider seeking help from an expert detailer or an auto expert.

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