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Proper Leather Upholstery Care

If you don’t want cracked leather seats in your vehicle, regular care is needed. Here are the Do’s and Don’ts of maintaining your leather upholstery.

You Already Paid for It …

2022 Kia Telluride - kiamedia.com
2022 Kia Telluride - kiamedia.com

Taking care of leather is important, whether it’s leather shoes, leather furniture, or leather car seats. Yes, there are some extra steps required to properly take care of your vehicle’s leather upholstery. You likely paid more for the leather upholstery, so you may as well make it last as long as possible, right? Leather is durable and since the late 1990s, more modern car leather upholstery has a thin vinyl coating. This improves durability even more, but the leather still needs to be maintained.

Where exactly do you start though? What, specifically, should you do to keep the leather in that 2022 Nissan Pathfinder SL or 2022 Kia Telluride EX clean?

We did the research so that you can read this and start maintaining your leather upholstery.

Pick Your Cleaning Solution

Leather Honey - amazon.com
Leather Honey - amazon.com

First things first. Before getting to the cleaning, supplies are needed. Number one on that list is a cleaning solution. Some people make their own solutions using warm water and a variety of other options, including: vinegar, dishwashing soap, or olive oil. Other people suggest toothpaste, lemon juice, nail polish remover, or baking soda to remove specific stains.

I’ve always used a commercial cleaner. When buying a cleaner (or making any other kind of purchase these days), it’s important to look at the reviews, ask friends or coworkers what they use, and compare prices. That old saying, ‘you get what you pay for,’ can sometimes be true, so springing for the higher quality solution can result in leather upholstery with a little more luster.

Meguiar's - amazon.com
Meguiar's - amazon.com

Whether making a solution or buying one, avoiding non-toxic ingredients, ammonia, and bleach is important. Those things can discolor and damage leather.

There are any number of cleaning products available to purchase for a little bit of leather seat care. Leather Honey is a brand that has received a lot of positive reviews. It has a 4.5 star rating with over 13,700 on Amazon. This one costs about $17 for an 8 oz. bottle. A combined cleaner and conditioner pack from the Chemical Guys runs about $20 on Amazon. Meguiar’s is on the cheaper end, with a 16 oz. bottle selling for just under $7. Meguiar’s has a Gold Class option as well, which goes for $12.46. An Armor All spray is probably the lowest you’ll find at $5.79 for 16 oz. on Amazon.

Vacuum Up the Dirt

Person vacuuming their vehicle
Person vacuuming their vehicle

Don’t go applying that solution just yet! Instead, turn on the vacuum, thoroughly removing dirt and debris from the crevices. The dirt, sand and other loose grime can scratch the upholstery during the cleaning process if it isn’t removed first.

Of course, using some of the tools on a vacuum may scratch the leather as well, so a soft brush head attachment is ideal for this purpose. With a soft brush, the vacuum nozzle can be shoved directly into the crevices. This step should be repeated before applying any kind of solution to your car leather.

Spot Test the Solution

Person scrubbing leather upholstery
Person scrubbing leather upholstery

Just as someone checks the color of paint on a wall before painting the entire thing, spot testing should be done when caring for leather seats. Before covering all of the vehicle’s leather upholstery in any kind of product, dab a little of the solution onto a cloth and apply it to a small, hidden area. If it doesn’t bleach the leather or discolor it, then it’s suitable for the rest of the upholstery. If it’s bleached, then that solution obviously won’t work. At least that spot is in a small, hidden area and not covering your entire interior.

Microfiber Towels Avoid Scratches

Detailing a car using a microfiber cloth
Detailing a car using a microfiber cloth

Nothing should be sprayed or poured directly onto the seats, especially with perforated leather. Tiny holes in perforated leather can attract moisture. Instead, use a dampened microfiber cloth to scrub the leather seats. The microfiber is soft enough that it won’t scratch the leather surface. Other fabrics could create tiny scratches that increase over time.

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Keep in mind that using too much liquid can damage the seat or soak through the leather, causing mildew or mold, so it’s best to use the solution little-by-little, dampening the cloth every so often, when needed. Using the cloth, massage the solution into the leather until it has been absorbed.

Work in Small Sections

Cleaning leather upholstery
Cleaning leather upholstery

Scrub any spots or stains until they are gone, but go slowly and work in small sections. This minimizes the chance of discoloration. Build up to the aggressive cleaning if the seat needs it. The same solution can be used on leather dash or other leather linings as well. Again, work in small sections until the job is completed.

Dry With a Microfiber Cloth, Too

Wiping down car seats
Wiping down car seats

Don’t leave your seats wet or let them air dry. Like I’d mentioned earlier, if too much solution soaks in, then there’s a risk for mold or mildew. That’s why, when the seats are coated, it’s important to take another dry microfiber cloth to gently wipe the seats down again. The seats don’t have to be bone dry, but wiping them with a dry cloth will prevent warped leather on the surface and the conditions for mold underneath.

Clean Regularly

Car owner cleaning his car interior
Car owner cleaning his car interior

When it comes to stains, don’t leave it for your next routine cleaning! The damage may already be done, but the sooner you clean it, the better the chances are that it hasn’t settled into the leather.

Alright, that’s one round done! But that is just one round. To keep leather upholstery in the best condition possible, it’s best to clean it about once a month, even if there aren’t any significant stains. Sometimes life’s other time constraints make that tough, but cleaning the seats once a month is a good rule of thumb.

Vacuuming car seats
Vacuuming car seats

Conditioning doesn’t hurt either. A conditioner essentially acts as a wax, creating a seal over the top of the leather. It prevents moisture and dirt from becoming a permanent part of the material. Just like with the cleaning solution, there are different types of conditioners. Those with petroleum or waxes should be avoided to prevent it from dulling the leather. Conditioning can be done a few times a year. Once every four months is probably plenty.

Be Prepared for Spills

Child sitting in a vehicle
Child sitting in a vehicle

The absolute best way to keep leather car seats clean is to prevent stains from happening in the first place. Unfortunately, accidents happen, especially if kids, dogs, or passengers are added to the mix, so wipe up any spills as soon as you can. With a pack of leather cleaning wipes in the glovebox, you should be able to at least temporarily take care of the stain until you have a chance to do a more thorough cleaning.

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Jesse Batson

Jesse Batson earned his journalism degree from South Dakota State University. No stranger to newsgathering and reporting, Jesse spent 13 years in TV news. 10 of those years were spent working in Charlotte, NC, home of NASCAR. A highlight of his time there was being able to take a lap around the Charlotte Motor Speedway. His interest in vehicles, starting with Matchbox cars, a Big Wheel, and the Transformers, evolved into taking photos of motocross events. Now, he puts his research skills to use on car culture, reviews, and comparisons.

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