There aren’t many things as warm and cozy as high quality leather furniture. And while it’s prized for being durable, leather furniture requires upkeep if you want to prolong the life of your piece.
However, even though leather is durable, it’s also absorbent in nature, so cleaning is not as easy as wiping down with a wet cloth. Couches and chairs are used day in and day out, with hardly a thought to the grime that builds up on them. Over time, dirt settles into leather furniture and causes it to lose it's distinctive scent.
If you don’t clean your leather correctly, the leather could be stripped of its natural oils and left cracked and dry.
Let’s take a look at 5 steps to caring for your leather furniture. Then we’ll give some stain-specific cleaning hacks and general must-know leather care tips.
Caring For Your Leather Furniture
Choose High Quality Leather Furniture
A leather piece of furniture lasts a lot longer than a fabric piece. Take this into account when judging cost. This is an investment, not an area to try to pinch pennies.
The softer the leather, the higher quality. Cold leather is not higher-end. As noted here, leather should match your body temperature after 12 seconds of contact.
Leather with zippered cushions allows you to change out the seat filling even if the leather lasts decades.
Follow The Manufacturer's Instructions
Before concocting a homemade cleaning solution, look at the manufacturer’s tags on your piece of furniture. Not all leather is the same, and this is key in making sure there’s not a specific cleaner to use or avoid with your piece.
Follow any tips outlined on the tags before trying the care tips provided here.
Vacuum The Entire Piece
Over time, debris not only gathers in the cracks and crevices, but also on the leather itself. By using a vacuum cleaner attachment with soft bristles, you will remove debris and dirt without harming the finish of the leather.
It is important not to skip this step. If you leave the dust on the piece, when you wipe it down the dust will be abrasive and damage the leather.
Use Homemade Cleaner
Make a homemade cleaner by mixing equal parts water and and white vinegar. Add 10 drops of tea tree oil to 2 cups of solution. This is something you can pick up at your local pharmacy or health food store.
Wipe Down The Furniture
First test this solution on an inconspicuous portion of the couch to be sure it will not harm the finish.
When it comes to moisture and you leather furniture, less is more. If there are just a few soiled areas, focus on those.
Dip a microfiber cloth into the solution to moisten the cloth, not drench it. Scrub the soiled spots lightly in circular motions.
For Stubborn Dirt
If this doesn’t do the trick, you may need to use saddle soap to clean more heavily soiled areas. Dampen a microfiber cloth and wipe a saddle soap on it. Start from the top and work your way down the piece.
Never dry the surface with a blow dryer. This will dry the leather and cause it to crack. Use a microfiber cloth to dry when you are finished cleaning it.
Buff The Leather
The day after you clean the furniture, buff it with a dry microfiber cloth. This final step will restore the luster your piece originally had and make it look like new.
With any stain treatment, test on an inconspicuous area before using on the spot that is in plain sight.
Grease Stains: Sprinkle stain with baking soda or cornstarch. Let it set for a few hours and then dust it off. Do not apply water.
Permanent Marker and Newspaper Print: Spray stain lightly with aerosol hairspray and then wipe it away with a microfiber cloth.
Mold and Mildew: Mix equal parts water and rubbing alcohol and rub on affected area.
Ink Stains: Dip a q-tip in rubbing alcohol, and apply it to the ink stain.
Dark Stains (food, blood, etc): Make a paste of one part cream of tartar and one part lemon juice. Spread the paste on the stain. Let stand for 10 minutes. Then use a microfiber cloth dampened with cleaning solution listed above (water and vinegar solution) to wipe it off.
Life happens. People get sick on leather furniture, raw meat comes into contact with leather, and a host of other unsanitary predicaments arise.
If you have already tested rubbing alcohol and have found that it does not remove the finish of your leather, rub the infected area with rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol has a drying effect, so once you’ve disinfected it, rub off the residue of alcohol with a mixture of two parts linseed oil and one part vinegar.
If you have cats or children, this is not a foreign concept to you: scratches. They’re inevitable. Luckily, you’ve chosen leather, which is four times more durable than fabric.
But still, there will be signs of wear and tear. These can be reversed and repaired, however.
The first step is always to call the manufacturer. You will most likely find the representatives know what will best treat the scratches on your furniture.
If it is a minor scratch (i.e. the fabric is not torn or frayed) this means only the coating is scratched. If there is no way to contact the manufacturer, here’s how to proceed.
Using a cotton ball or Q-tip, rub baby oil, olive oil, or saddle oil into the scratch in a circular motion. Let this sit for an hour. Remove with a clean cloth. If scratch is not fully repaired, follow the same steps, except allow the oil to sit for a few hours.
You can also try rubbing lanolin oil over the scratch or covering it with shoe polish. While the latter won’t remove the scratch, it will allow it to blend in if the scratch is an eye sore.
If the scratch has gone all the way through the leather, it may be irreparable. If it appears as though the fabric is torn and frayed, but not the entire way through, follow these steps to repair it.
- Clean the area with alcohol. After 10 minutes it should be dry.
- Smooth the lines of the scratch by either trimming them with scissors or sanding away frays with a fine-grit sandpaper.
- Apply leather heavy filler to the scratched area. After allowing it to dry for 30 minutes, sand this down with sandpaper again.
- Now that the area is covered and sealed, you will need to go to a leather-goods store to find a colorant that matches your piece. You’ll follow the instructions on this colorant, which generally will instruct you to add as many layers of colorant as you need to achieve a matched color.
- Finally seal the area with a leather finish. This is another item you’ll want to purchase at a leather-goods store or a hardware store.
Follow the steps to clean the leather 3-4 times per year.
- Dust off your furniture more regularly. This will prohibit the abrasive dust from marking the leather and will allow the leather to breathe, extending its life.
- When arranging your furniture, place your leather furniture out of the sun. This will prevent drying, discoloration, and wrinkling.
- Also keep your leather furniture away from heating vents to prevent drying, discoloration, and wrinkling.
- Clean up any spill immediately. Blot, do not wipe. Wiping will spread the stain. Leather is porous in nature, so the quicker you attend to the spill the better.
- If you simply cannot remove a stain, call a professional, rather than risk ruining your piece of furniture.
- Stick to the cleaners listed above. Do not use harsh, abrasive cleaners.
There’s a lot of information packed in here. Caring for high-quality leather furniture is not as overwhelming as it seems. At most, you will be keeping up your furniture every few months, and perhaps you now have a handy go-to for life’s unpredictable stains.