How to Clean, Condition and Protect Leather

Learn tips and homemade solutions for cleaning leather, including white leather. Plus, find out how to remove water stains, oil, mold, ink and road salt from leather.

January 13, 2021
Leather chair

How to Clean Leather

You can clean your leather furniture using a simple cleaning solution of 50/50 vinegar and water. Use a microfiber cloth to apply the solution, rubbing the leather in a circular motion to lift the dirt out of the natural fibers.

Photo by: Jalynn Baker

Jalynn Baker

Leather is an incredibly durable material for furniture, car interiors, clothes and accessories, but it does require some maintenance to keep it in top condition. Use these tips to regularly clean and protect your leather, ensuring it’ll look its best for years to come.

Before cleaning any leather item, test the solution in an inconspicuous area to make sure it doesn’t damage or discolor the surface.

General Cleaner for All Leather

Leather furniture can be cleaned using simple household products. First, use a soft cloth to dust the surface. Mix a 50/50 vinegar and water solution in a bowl (Image 1) and use a microfiber cloth to apply it to your furniture (Image 2). Rub the leather in a circular motion to lift the dirt out of the natural fibers. Return your cloth to the bowl often, wringing it out and rewetting it. You’ll notice as the dirt is lifted from the leather and left in the bowl. If needed, replace your cleaning solution as it becomes too dirty. Don’t fully soak the leather; simply use the damp cloth to loosen the dirt and remove it.

To Clean White Leather

Try one of these two methods:

  • Oil + Vinegar: Mix 1/2 cup olive oil with 1/4 cup of vinegar in a spray bottle. Spritz on the stain, let sit for five minutes and wipe. Whatever you do, avoid bleach or ammonia-based cleaners as they can damage the leather.
  • Toothpaste: Wet the stained area with a damp cloth. Don’t soak the area, just dampen it. Dab a bit of non-gel toothpaste on the stain. Use a soft toothbrush to scrub away the stain. Wipe the area with a clean cloth when finished, then dry with a towel. Toothpaste will also remove scuffs.
Large White Leather Sectional in Living Room

Custom Sectional With Chevron Pillows in Living Room

Even though leather is sturdy, it’s a porous surface that can absorb oils from skin and hands, causing stains. White leather is especially susceptible to stains.

Even though leather is sturdy, it’s a porous surface that can absorb oils from skin and hands, causing stains. White leather is especially susceptible to stains.

How to Remove Stains From Leather

  • Dark Stains: Remove dark stains from light-colored leather by mixing a paste of one part lemon juice with one part cream of tartar. Rub the paste on the stain and leave in place for about 10 minutes. Apply another layer of the paste, work it in, then remove with either a damp sponge or a damp sponge topped with moisturizing soap.
  • Water Stains: Water spots can be removed from leather by moistening the area again with a little water, then letting it dry or gently blowing dry. Never place leather in the sun to dry.
  • Oil Stains: To remove oil or grease, sprinkle baking soda or cornstarch on the spot. Rub it in, gently. Let sit for a few hours or overnight. The soda or starch will absorb the oil. Wipe off the powder with a soft cloth.
  • Ink Stains: Remove ink spots from leather by dipping a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and gently blotting the stain. Dry the area with a blow dryer. If the stain remains after drying, apply a thick coat of non-gel, non-oily cuticle remover. Leave on overnight, then wipe off with a damp cloth.
  • Mold: Mix one part rubbing alcohol with one part water. Dampen a cloth with the alcohol solution and wipe on the affected area. Wipe clean with another damp cloth. This will also remove mildew.
  • Road Salt: In winter, salt stains on shoes and boots is common in snowy areas. To get rid of these stains, mix one part water and one part white vinegar. Dip a cloth into the solution, then blot over the shoes or coat lightly to remove the salt. This may have to be repeated several times to clean the entire surface. When you finish they should look almost like new. Be sure to wipe leather shoes with a damp cloth frequently, and keep them well polished with a conditioner.

How to Clean Suede, Leather and Upholstery 03:32

Follow these easy tips to clean and protect suede, leather and upholstery.

How to Condition Leather

Leather, like your own skin, needs to be protected and moisturized over time. You can create a simple and inexpensive leather conditioner using natural baby soap, vinegar and water. Mix 2 cups of warm water, a tablespoon of natural baby soap and a splash of vinegar in a bowl (Image 1). Use a microfiber cloth to rub the conditioning mixture into the leather, making sure not to soak the area (Image 2). Moisten the leather and leave the conditioner on the furniture. The baby soap contains gentle oils that will help to both clean and condition your leather.

You can also condition leather with a mixture of one part vinegar and two parts linseed oil. Pour the solution into a jar with a lid, shake well and apply to the leather using a soft cloth. Work in a circular motion, covering the entire surface. Rub in thoroughly, let it sit for about 10 minutes, then buff with a soft cloth to bring a shine to the leather surface. You may need to buff once more before sitting on the furniture. Store the leftover solution for future usage.

Always keep leather furniture out of direct sunlight to prevent drying and cracking.

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