Tips are great because, for the most part, we all do things just a little bit differently. Whether that means washing indoors vs. outdoors, or using a paint sealant vs. a natural wax, detailing is pretty fluid in that you can achieve great results any number of ways. Cleaning leather is no exception. Rather than quick fixes, the following 5 tips are meant to aid you in proper leather care and yield better, longer lasting results whenever you have to clean your car’s leather seats, dashboard, steering wheel, or paneling.
Leather Cleaning Tips
1. Know what you’re cleaning.
One of the most important things to consider when cleaning your leather is the substance you want to remove. Is it dirt? A pen stain? It all matters, mostly because of the composition of the contaminant. For example, cleaning natural substances (dirt, salt stains, etc.) can be done with a relatively non-aggressive cleaner. Using a powerful cleaner for messes of the “organic” nature would only begin to dry out soft leather surface.
On the other hand, a pen stain and color transfer from clothing requires a bit more cleaning power because leather stains very easily. If you leave a pen stain on leather too long, it’ll become harder and harder to remove because the ink is actually being absorbed by the leather. In this case you’d want a targeted cleaner designed for removing these tougher problems.
2. Never clean without conditioning.
Whether you like it or not, cleaning leather does dry out the surface a bit. Leather is porous and absorbant, so the surfactants in the cleaning product aren’t only cleaning the surface, they are leaving it unprotected and malnourished, too. Always, always, always condition after you clean to restore vital nutrients to the surface to add to the leather’s soft, supple texture. The surface wont be as affected by stains, UVs will be blocked, and you won’t have to worry about drying, fading, or cracking anytime soon. No leather cleaning process is complete without conditioning.
3. You don’t always need a brush.
A lot of times dirt and scuffs can be removed with a cleaner and a microfiber towel. Since leather is a soft surface, you don’t want to attack with with a brush every time it gets dirty. Similarly to Tip #1, you’ve got to pick and choose your battles when it comes to leather care or else you might be over cleaning. Brushes are often overused, but when you have to, just make sure you’re using horsehair and not metal or plastic fibers.
4. The best seam cleaning tool is a small detail brush (or a tooth brush).
After you’ve vacuumed up all the cereal and Gold Fish crumbs from your car’s seats, spray the seams of the seat with an interior cleaner (or light leather cleaner), and scrub with an mini detailing brush. While you may not have noticed the their filth in the past, you should instantly see how this 5 minute tip can improve the look of your car’s leather.
5. Spot cleaning is better for the surface than a full detail.
Sure you may like the sound of cleaning all the seats at once, but truth is, in most cars, there’s only one or two seats that really need cleaning – the driver’s and the passenger’s. Unless you have kids, the back seats really wont need much cleaning. All too often I see cars with dry cracked leather and no ass impressions on the back seats (pardon my french). This means one of two things – the surface is being over cleaned for no apparent reason, or they’ve never conditioned. Don’t clean what you don’t have to, especially when it’s a delicate surface like leather.
If you couldn’t tell, an overarching concept with leather is that it’s meant to be cared for and nurtured, not beaten up. Cleaning does, to some extent, beat up leather. And if you over clean or forget to condition afterward, you’re going to be right back where you started, but this time you’ll have an even drier surface to deal with. It may sound funny, but the best cleaning advice I can give is to condition regularly. You’ll have to clean less, and every time you clean you won’t be doing as much potential harm since the surface is healthy. So take these tips for what they’re worth and use them to better your leather one cleaning at a time.
Let us know your leather care tips in the comments!