This Is the Best Way to Clean Leather Car Seats

Lather your leather seats in love by giving them the cleaning they deserve. (And it’s easier than you might think.)
best way to clean leather car seats - leather car seat

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Let’s face it, no one likes getting into a dirty car, whether it’s their own or someone else’s. And if you’ve got nice leather seats, chances are you splurged a bit extra to sit in the lap of luxury on your daily commute.

When you take these factors into consideration, as well as the fact that the car is often the first or second most expensive item owned by Americans, it’s no wonder that having clean leather car seats is of interest. Plus, the cleaner you keep your car, the more likely it is to retain more of its original value when it comes time to trade in or resell it.

Still, leather can be a sensitive material, and the last thing you want to do is to stain or mar your leather in an attempt to protect it. If you’re wondering how to clean leather car seats, you are in the right place. We’ve researched the best way to clean leather car seats, so you can get it right the first time.

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Project Overview

Working Time: 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the car’s size
Total Time: 20 to 45 minutes
Skill Level: Beginner
Estimated Cost: $30 to $55


Before you begin learning how to clean leather seats, there are a few things you need to know. Whether it’s homemade or store-bought, make sure the cleaning solution you choose to clean your dirty leather car seats doesn’t include ammonia or bleach. These chemicals can be harmful to your leather car seats.

If you choose to make your own solution, we recommend using Castile soap, as it’s less abrasive on the leather. Combine your DIY ingredients after vacuuming so they don’t have an opportunity to evaporate and separate, and then test it out on the underside of the rear seat to minimize any risk to the leather.

Lastly, make sure to check the directions included with any manufactured products you use to ensure you have the required materials.

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STEP 1: Vacuum any dirt and debris.

best way to clean leather car seats - vacuum car seat

The best way to clean dirty car seats begins with vacuuming those crumbs and flecks-of-unknown-origin that you’ve been driving around. Aside from the fact that they’re unsightly, stale crumbs and other small-but-sharp tidbits can scratch and mar leather during the wiping stage. Also, make sure you don’t press too hard with the nozzle of the vacuum either. If you find some especially clingy dirt or dust, you can use an air compressor like this highly rated option available at Amazon to loosen pieces before vacuuming them up.

STEP 2: Prepare your solution and materials.

Regardless of what type of leather cleaner you use, take time to do a test in a less-visible spot on the leather, like the underside or backside of a back seat. Allow the solution to fully work before deciding to move on to the rest of the seats.

After your solution has been tested and you’re ready to apply it to your seats, make sure that you have your scrub brush as well as a few dry towels handy before getting started.

STEP 3: Apply the cleaner.

best way to clean leather car seats - soft brush seat cleaning

If you use a pre-made cleaning solution make sure to follow the directions provided on the bottle. Although there will likely be some leeway in regards to what you use to apply the solution, it’s important to follow the steps provided. For example, some cleaners require you apply it in circular motions, while others may need to be diluted with water.

Also, ask any seasoned professional and they’ll tell you that a little goes a long way with leather cleaner and conditioner. Even if you regularly clean leather furniture, be slow and deliberate if it’s your first time detailing your car seats.

STEP 4: Wash and buff with a microfiber cloth.

best way to clean leather car seats - wiping leather seat

Once the solution has been thoroughly applied and all surfaces covered, you can wipe off any excess residue. For the best results in this stage of the process, slightly dampen your microfiber cloth. Be careful not to get it too wet (try wringing it out; you shouldn’t see more than a droplet or two) as this may stain your newly cleaned leather.

After you remove the cleaning solution, return to the seats and lightly buff them with a soft dry microfiber cloth. Also, if you have any serious repairs to make to the leather, such as sewing or patching, now is the time to do it.

STEP 5: Apply leather conditioner if needed.

best way to clean leather car seats - cleaning leather seats

Leather conditioner is not strictly necessary. It helps keep leather supple, smooth, and healthy by seeping into the natural pores and preventing it from drying out. Don’t use leather conditioner too frequently or your seats will become slippery and greasy. We recommend using a quality leather conditioner up to two to three times per year.

Good leather conditioners often have natural UV blocking properties that can help to maintain your leather’s color saturation. Use soft, circular motions to apply the conditioner so you can spread a small amount over a large surface.

STEP 6: If you applied a conditioner, buff the seats a second time.

This may seem like overkill, but the final buff with a microfiber cloth gives your car seats a polished look that can’t be beat. Use the same type of soft, circular motion that you used to apply the conditioner to buff it out. In general, the more you buff, the higher the shine of the leather. As with all the previous steps in the process, being gentle and patient will get you farther than anything else.

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3 Alternative Solutions for Tough Stains

If you have some stains, marks, or discolorations that require some extra power to take care of, consider these powerful solutions:

  • Scuff or rough patches: If you have scuffs or rough patches on your leather, use a dab of non-gel toothpaste and a clean toothbrush to gently smooth out and shine the affected area. Once you’re done with the toothpaste, wipe off any excess, and buff to your desired shine level with a leather conditioner.
  • Deep stains: Deep stains are especially difficult to get out of leather. If you have a few stubborn splotches or dirt imprints you’re desperate to remove, try using a dab of rubbing alcohol followed by a mild solution of dish soap and water. The rubbing alcohol will help lift the stain from the leather, and the soapy follow-up solution helps wipe it away. However, alcohol can dry leather, so use it carefully.
  • Grease stains: Many people eat in their car from time to time, and it’s often easier to ignore the glaring grease stain left by a dropped fry. Thankfully, even set-in grease and oil stains can be removed from leather with a bit of luck and some baking soda. Simply sprinkle some baking soda onto the grease or oil stain, rub it in with a damp cloth, and let it sit for at least a few hours. Once the baking soda has absorbed the oil, wipe off the powder and remove any excess residue with a damp cloth.

Final Thoughts

Thankfully, unlike mechanical issues, keeping your leather car seats in good condition doesn’t require much time or money. To top it all off, by taking a half an hour or so a few times a year to condition your car’s leather seats, you can extend the lifetime of your leather.