Leather is a durable, soft, and luxurious material. To maintain its beauty over time, leather requires regular cleaning and care. In this post we’ll showcase the proper steps for deep cleaning your leather car seats.
To deep clean your leather car seats, follow these steps: remove large debris, check for perforations and holes, conduct a spot-test, apply your cleaner, spot clean hard-to-get material, do a final wipe down, and apply additional protectant and conditioner as needed.
Materials & Tools Needed
Here’s a list of tools and supplies you’ll need to deep clean your leather:
- Vacuum cleaner
- Leather cleaner (preferably three-in-one)
- Microfiber towel
- Soft-bristled brush
- Leather protectant/conditioner (if they aren’t already added into the cleaner)
- Inter-dental brushes
- Dry-vapor steamer
Remove large debris
Remove large debris that can cause damage to your seats. Deep cleaning leather requires extensive scrubbing, and that can lead to scratches or tears on your seat if there are things like dirt or pebbles leftover on the surface.
We recommend utilizing a vacuum cleaner for this step. Handheld vacuum cleaners are useful as they’re compact and mobile – which might be more important if you’re detailing a smaller car. Household vacuums usually have small hose attachments that are great for getting in hard-to-reach cracks and areas. If you don’t have a vacuum around a simple dustpan and brush will work great. These can be found at most stores for a very affordable price.
Check for perforations and holes
Most modern leather seats are designed with perforations or holes in them. These holes help to regulate seat temperature, allowing heat or cool air to circulate. While venting holes make heating and cooling convenient, they can make cleaning more challenging. These small holes require special care when cleaning.
You may have some common household items that can be used to clean perforations or venting holes. Toothpicks, inter-dental brushes, or similar items that feature small, flexible tips are useful in prying debris out of your seat's small holes. Take your time and use caution with any objects you are using to remove stubborn dirt.
Whether you are a detailing pro or someone who loves cleaning the car on the weekends, you will find that an air compressor is the perfect tool for detailing perforated leather. Compressors provide a non-abrasive way to blow out almost any type of dirt, dust, and debris. A shop vacuum is a great alternative because you can use it to either blow or vacuum up debris.
Whether perforated or not, all leather upholstery will experience wear and tear over time. Before you clean, take note of any damage, punctures, or wear in your leather seats. Be especially gentle with any worn areas. Keep any areas of concern in mind throughout the cleaning process.
Conduct a spot-test
We always recommend conducting a spot-test if you are using a new product or if you are deep cleaning your seats for the first time. To conduct a spot test, use a small sample of your cleaning product on a section of your seat that is unnoticeable – this could be the side or back of the seat. Apply a small amount of cleaning solution to the seat and wait a few moments to ensure the solution does not negatively affect the leather.
* You can skip this step if you have an established cleaning process and a product you used with prior success.
Apply your cleaner
We recommend microfiber towels for most detailing jobs. Microfiber towels are perfect for detailing all things auto. Microfiber cloths are relatively cheap and easily cleaned for reuse. With regular washing, these cloths last for hundreds of uses. The towel's tiny fibers readily attach themselves to microscopic dirt for gentle removal. Microfiber cloths make any cleaning job easier and more effective – so pick up some if you haven’t done so already.
Apply your cleaning solution to your cloth rather than directly to the seat. Spraying solution onto the cleaning cloth will help you avoid potential overspray on other surfaces. Too much solution may soak in to or damage the seat if it’s left on for long enough. To avoid damage, apply your solution with the towel, and work to clean one small area at a time.
Use a circular cleaning motion when cleaning, reapplying cleaning solution to the cloth as needed. Once you get the desired result in one small area, move on, repeating the process.
Spot clean hard-to-get material
Your microfiber cloth should remove most of the soil, but a soft-bristled brush is the perfect tool to remove any pesky areas of stubborn dirt. Use a brush with soft bristles rather than a hard or wired brush, as they could scratch or tear your leather. Soft bristles are great for scrubbing without the risk of damage to your seats.
To remove more stubborn dirt, apply product to your brush then scrub gently in a circular motion. Carefully clean any stubborn areas until you achieve the desired result.
Do a final wipe down
It is time for the final wipe down. Chemical residue left on the seat from the cleaning process should be removed by wiping your seats with a slightly damp cloth. This ensures that chemicals will not remain on your leather over time, as they could cause discoloration or weakening of the material. A quick wipe down is all you need to prevent potential damage.
Add leather protectant and conditioners as needed
Cleaners are meant to remove dirt. While they do an excellent job of keeping your leather soil-free, cleaners by their nature can strip leather of natural oils and hydration. Lack of nutrients and oils cause leather to weaken, become rougher, or even crack over time; therefore, we recommend that you hydrate your leather seats after cleaning with standard cleaners.
Similar techniques mentioned in previous steps can apply here as well. Put the protectant or hydration liquid onto a microfiber cloth and wipe in a circular motion. Focus on hydrating the areas that get extensive use, such as an arm rest, steering wheel, or center console.
There are also two- or three-in-one leather cleaners that contain leather protectants and hydrants within the cleaner – allowing you to save time and extra steps. These cleaners feature products that hydrate, condition, and protect the leather as you clean the surface.
Hydration products will ensure that your leather stays soft, durable, and well-protected over time. It’s never too late to start hydrating your leather, even if you haven’t done so in the past. These products are great at revitalizing older materials.
The favorite leather cleaning tool of all professional detailers: The dry-vapor steamer. These are industry favorites when it comes to cleaning leather upholstery in a car. These steamers generate vapor that brings dirt to the surface of the leather in a more natural method. After steaming, gently wipe down your seats with a dry microfiber cloth.
The only downside with using a dry-vapor steamer is its cost. Steamers will typically run you over $1,000 to purchase. There are ways to get around the cost, however, as you can purchase a used steamer, or rent one from a professional detailer.
Wrapping it all up
We all love the beauty and feel of leather. These simple steps will ensure that your luxurious leather is properly maintained over time. Each time you routinely clean your seats, be sure to remove large debris, check for perforations and holes, conduct a spot-test, apply your cleaner, spot clean hard-to-get material, do a final wipe down, and apply additional protectant and conditioner as needed. Enjoy your beautiful leather, and your ride!