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How to clean leather

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Leather is a natural product and needs to be cleaned just like any other type of surface, to maintain its look and its flexibility safely, it needs to be cleaned properly and safely.


What is leather

To put it in very basic words, leather is the skin of an animal. It is prepared and treated in such a way that it can be used to cover a seat or other objects, turn it into clothes, bags, suitcases, shoes and many more. It is a very versatile type of fabric. In most cases the material has been prepared and painted to achieve a certain look or achieve a certain flexibility. Most of that depends on the goal it will be used for.

how to clean leather

Leather is a very fragile material. Even though it looks strong, it is soft and has to endure a lot. A leather seat in a car needs to survive many hours of jeans rubbing over the surface, liquids spilled on it, low winter temperatures and hot summer temperatures. If the cleaning process is done to rough or with harsh chemicals, the leather won’t survive the punishment it has to endure. It might crack, fade, tear and even loose its color.

To clean leather there are several different approaches:

When the leather is only mildly dirty (like a (bi)weekly wash)

When the leather is only slightly dirty, it is enough to mist some water on a towel and wipe off the leather. This will be sufficient to clean off the dust and dirt on the surface. Don’t rub it, because you will rub it in the leather. Just wipe the surface. If needed you can mist a bit of leather cleaner on the towel (just a mist).

When the leather is fairly dirty (like a monthly wash)

If the leather is more dirty, or it has been a long time since the last clean. You might want to use a bit more cleaning power. Try to mist a bit more leather cleaner on a towel, and wipe off the surface. In some cases it might be helpful to wet the leather with a spray of water first. If this doesn’t help, spray some leather cleaner on the surface and leave it to soak for 30 seconds before wiping off.

When the leather is dirty (like a 3 months maintenance wash)

If the leather is dirty, spray some leather cleaner directly on the surface, leave it to soak for 30 seconds and agitate with a brush. After agitating, leave it for 10 seconds and then wipe it off with a damp cloth. Once ou are satisfied, wipe the surface off again with another clean, damp towel and then apply some leather protection.

When the leather is very dirty

If the leather is very dirty, it might be necessary to take a more aggressive approach. Even though the next approach is a bit rough and effective, it should NOT be done to often. Because you will literally damage the surface slightly. It can be necessary to clean the surface, but after that, this approach should be avoided by all costs.
Spray a mist of water and a mist of leather cleaner on the leather surface. Use a melanine sponge (sometimes called: magic sponge) and gently rub the surface. Don’t apply to much pressure or rub at a one place. When you are done, wipe off the area with a clean damp cloth and a mist of water. Be sure to apply some protection when you are done.

The downside with the last approach is that a melanine mimics the effect of a scouring pad. It will literally remove a very fine layer. Rubbing it to hard or too long will actually remove more of the surface layer, and might eventually even remove the painted layer of leather. This approach can be used once or twice in its lifetime, but not on regular basis. Since you will remove any form of protection, it is highly recommend to re-apply any form of protection when you are done. Regular maintenance will prevent you from ever needing to take this approach again.

Cleaning perforated leather

When having to clean perforated leather, it will be difficult to remove the cleaner out of those small holes. After agitating the cleaner with a brush, you can use an extractor to suck out the liquid from those tiny holes. Respray with water, and suck it up again to remove any residue. After you are done, wipe it off with a damp/dry cloth.

Tools for cleaning leather

Besides the products used, tools can also make a good difference. However, some products need to be used with caution. They might clean very good, but can also cause surface damage which will lead to imperfections in the future.

  • Melanine sponge
    Should only be used very rarely. Although it works great, it removes the protective layer and can actually scrub away a part of the painted surface
  • Brush
    Great to agitate a leather cleaner and to get into small holes
  • Extractor
    Can be used if you are worried about the level of wetness
  • Scrub brush attachment for DA
    Works great, but should be used with care. The rough hairs and fast movement can create serious damage to the material
  • Sponge
    A normal sponge can be used safely to rub in the product or to spread it out
  • Chamois
    Can be used to wipe off the leather cleaner before wiping it off with a damp cloth. This will prevent your damp cloth from becoming saturated with leather cleaner
  • Suede towel
    If you don’t have a MF towel available, you can use a suede towel, it will be more effective in spreading the product then in wiping it off
  • Tornador
    Although popular, this tool is not very suitable for working with leather. There is to much risk to do damage to the surface

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