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How to clean leather

Melanie Whitehouse / 19 May 2016

Leather is easy to keep clean but like any fabric, it still needs a bit of attention now and again to keep it looking its best and to remove dust, grime and dirty spots. Find out how to keep leather sofas and other furniture in top condition.

Cleaning a leather sofa
Vacuum your leather sofa in the crevices and behind sofas

Cleaning a leather sofa

Dust the whole sofa regularly with a soft cloth or lint-free duster.

Pull out the sofa cushions, then vacuum behind them and in all the crevices using the appropriate nozzle.

Wipe everything with a clean, soft, damp cloth.

If there is any mould or mildew, lightly spray the leather with a mild solution of vinegar (which is a disinfectant) and water.

For general leather cleaning, use a moisturising soap. Lather on with a soft, damp cloth to remove dirt and grime. Make sure you don’t wet the leather too much. Don’t rinse after washing, just buff with a soft cloth. This will allow the soap to condition the leather. Then polish as usual.

Cleaning products that are not designed specifically for leather can strip away the leather’s natural oils, causing it to dry out and crack, so buy a proprietary leather cleaner for heavily soiled areas. Wax-based products are best such as saddle soap or one that contains beeswax (but not too many solvents or chemicals), because they allow the leather to breathe.

Remember that leather comes from a variety of animals and every piece is a little bit different. You may have to try several different cleaners before finding one that works for your particular furniture.

Dip the damp cloth into the cleaning product and, applying medium pressure, rub the surface of the leather with a circular motion.

Start with the least dirty areas, then work your way over to grubbier areas. This will keep the dirt from spreading.

Keep reapplying cleaner, with a fresh cloth if necessary, until all that dirty parts are clean.

Related: How to clean a sofa

Suede or nubuck furniture

If your sofa is new, apply a protective spray (although some items of furniture will come already-protected, so consult your manufacturer’s handbook). Make sure you open windows, as these sprays emit fumes.

Dust and vacuum as above, then brush the nap, including cushions, with a special suede brush (from shoe shops). This should be done regularly – at least once a month – to keep the nap looking good.

Removing spots and stains

When removing spots from leather, first test out your cleaner on a spot that can’t be seen. Make sure the leather has dried out and that no stains or discolorations are left behind before using the product on the entire sofa. Many leather cleaners contain solvents that can fade or discolour leather.

Don’t rub too hard, as this will push the dirt further into the leather; just use a damp cloth lightly and rinse it often. Alternate with a clean dry cloth.

For ink stains, dip a cotton Q-tip into pure (rubbing) alcohol and rub over the spot.

If that doesn’t work, try a non-oily cuticle remover (not nail-polish remover). Leave on overnight and wipe off with a damp cloth.

To remove dark stains from light-coloured leather upholstery, mix together one part lemon juice and one part cream of tartar. Work the paste into the spot with a soft cloth, and leave for about an hour. Then apply a bit more paste, work it in and wipe clean with a damp sponge.

Remove water spots from leather by moistening the area with a little water. Let it dry out of direct sunlight or apply gentle heat with a hairdryer.

Remove ballpoint pen marks by dabbing marks with cotton wool dipped in milk. Wipe with a soapy solution and dry. If that doesn’t work, spray with a little hairspray and rub gently with a soft cloth.

Related: How to clean a mattress

Keep it looking good

Condition your leather sofa or chairs at least once a year to keep the leather supple and protected.

Put one part white vinegar and two parts linseed oil into a jar, pop the lid on and shake well to combine. Apply to the leather with a soft cloth using a circular motion, then leave for an hour or so before buffing to a shine. - Disguise scuffs with shoe polish or leather dye.

Keep leather furniture away from sunlight and heat.

Clean up any spills or stains when they happen - it’s easier to remove new stains than those that have dried.

When you buy a new sofa, have it professionally treated with stain-repellent before delivery.

Related: How to breathe new life into tired decor

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.