How to Care for Your Leather Furniture

(Printable version available on request.)

Purpose:  Fight aging; maintain beauty, strength, and suppleness as long as possible.

Care Basics

  • Place at least 2 feet from heat sources (radiators, vents, etc.) and out of direct sun.
  • Clean and moisturize / condition routinely (see below).
  • Protect from body oils, which slowly rot leather (esp. hands, head, sleep spots). Love to feel leather on your skin? Enjoy! Watch for fine cracks and call a pro to extract oils early.
  • Contact us when problems are new / minor, to advise. Many problems can be prevented or repaired / recolored; worn parts may be replaced with custom colored leather to match.

How to clean: Vacuum w/ soft brush or dust w/ dry soft cloth.

  • Liquid leather cleaners can ONLY be used on water-resistant leather (has a protective coating) and never on absorbent leathers. Test with a water droplet on an inconspicuous area. If a dark spot occurs after 30 seconds, it is absorbent and can e cleaned by dry dusting and vacuuming only.
  • Use only products labeled for cleaning upholstery leather (Why important? See below).

How to moisturize / condition: 

1.     Begin after 1st year: Apply 3 to 4 x / year (mark your calendar).

2.     Only use products labeled for use on upholstery leather (Why important? See below)

3.     Use a soft cloth (old T-shirt, non-shedding paper towel). Work product into cloth.

4.     Apply a light coating all over in 1- 2 sq ft areas; rub very gently in small circles. Be sure to get into seams, creases, cracks, dull / worn areas. Wipe off excess, buff lightly.

What is in a moisturizer / conditioner? Water + a leather-compatible synthetic oil with the pH (acidity) corrected to match leather’s pH. Pure water is pH 7, but leather needs pH 4.5 to 5, a huge difference. Some contain a cleaning agent or shine agent, but only the very best contain protective resins that refresh water-resistance.  As you might expect, you get what you pay for. Low cost products are watered down and are less effective at fighting aging.

Why synthetic oils? They are stable, last longer, don’t darken or transform into harmful chemicals with age, like older type conditioners / dressings do: neatsfoot oil, mink oil, or lanolin, for example.

Why only use products labeled for upholstery leather care?

Care products for other leather types may contain ingredients that will break down and cause harm over time, or interfere with absorption of the routine care products. Upholstery leather is specifically tanned to be soft and flexible, compared to leathers tanned to be denser / stronger for other uses (sling seats, baseball mitts, saddles, bike seats, belts, straps, boots, shoes, etc). Repeated exposure to wrong products can reduce upholstery leather life significantly.

  • Every liquid, oil or grease that touches leather is absorbed at least a little. Even leather w/ a water-resistant coating absorbs through micro-pores in the coating, plus stitch holes, thread (acts as a wick), cracks and worn areas, which admit much more inside.
  • Once absorbed,  damage continues forever. Damaging substances accumulate w/ repeat contact, accelerating deterioration. As a result, exposure to 10 yrs of body oils accumulated in an armrest can = 1 minute of oven cleaner!
  • Why does correct pH matter so much? Any pH difference (higher or lower), causes a chemical reaction that rots leather. The bigger the pH difference, and/or the more concentrated the solution is, the faster damage occurs. “Gentle” or "Natural" cleaners for your skin or home are harsh for leather!  A difference of 1 on the  pH scale is10x the difference in impact, a difference of 2 is 100x, etc.. 

 - Leather pH 4.5 to 5, same as tomatoes or coffee.

-  Human body oils pH 5 to 6 (approx 25% of population matches leather pH = harmless, but 75% do not match = destructive). Destructive power 0 to 75x.  

 - Dove soap pH 6 = Destructive power 75x.

 - Baby shampoo, Simple Green, dog's body oils pH 7, and white vinegar, lemon juice pH 2 = Destructive power 100 to 500x.

 - Woolite, shampoo, sea water pH 8 = Destructive power 1,000 to 5,000x.

 - Baking soda, hand soap, saddle soap pH 9 to 10 = Destructive power 10,000 to 50,000x

 - Fantastik pH 11.5 to 12.5 = Destructive power 50 to 500 millionx.

  - Bleach pH 12 = 100 to 500 millionx

 - Oven cleaner pH 13 = Destructive effect 1 to 50 billionx.

How do body oils rot leather? Acidity (pH). On skin, body oils create an “acid mantle” with pH of 5 to 6, to kill bacteria. But inside, the body is mostly near neutral pH of 7.

  • Source: skin and hair, people and pets (esp dogs). Oils are quickly absorbed below the surface where cleaners cannot reach, even though a protective color coating.
  • Some medications (esp. heart) change body oil pH, suddenly accelerating damage.
  • Problems caused: stains, color peeling / flaking, cracking, tearing, disintegration.
  • Damage is gradual, but accelerates as oils accumulate. Visible damage means the area has become permanently weakened, but cosmetic repair may be possible.
  • Where: armrests, headrest, wherever skin / hair touches (people and furry pets). Oils spread slowly under the surface in all directions, and can migrate several inches beyond areas touched.
  • ·Oil removal is possible, but it’s repair, not cleaning: process lightens color, must be restored.
  • Hair products may also stain, bleach or stiffen leather. Cover headrest to prevent contact.
  • Protect by covering with an absorbent material: blanket, cloth, throw, etc. especially for furry pets (their body oils are 5x as damaging as yours!) 

Be wise, be cautious: Consult a leather care professional. Unprofessional, incorrect advice is everywhere, and most will harm your leather, esp. the “quick fix,” or “home remedy.” Seriously harmful advice has been given by Martha Stewart Magazine, the Unilever cleaning advice website, salespeople at the best furniture stores, upholsterers, furniture cleaners and, of course, almost every "how to" post on YouTube.

Do not use these products on leather (even if Martha Stewart tells you to):

  • Products for cleaning / caring for vinyl or products for cars: Silicones in these may shine nicely, but don’t nourish leather. Instead, they can repel moisturizers / conditioners and seal in the dryness! Chemicals in some can cause stiffness, stickiness, fading and cracking.
  • Oils / Lubricants not labeled for leather: Furniture polish, shoe polish (rubs off, stains clothing), Vaseline/petroleum jelly, cocoa butter, hand lotion, mineral oil, baby oil or baby wipes, vegetable oil, household or automotive lubricants, hair or laundry conditioners, WD-40, bicycle oil or lubricant.
  • Saddle soap will destroy leather upholstery. Can eat holes, esp. if cracked/dry. Made to soften (digest!) dense, stiff “vegetable tanned” leather: saddles, belts, etc.
  • ALL household cleaners / cleaning wipes: bleach, ammonia, Febreeze, Windex, Endust, Swiffers, Fantastic, Lysol, Simple Green, stain pens or sponges, Mr Clean Magic Eraser, Murphy’s Oil Soap, Shout, Oxyclean, Woolite, laundry detergent, spot lifters, organic or ”green” cleaners, fabric cleaners, shampoo, all soaps, Goop, Gojo, Pink Stuff, pencil or other erasers, enzyme cleaner, Nature’s Miracle, deodorizers, baking soda  etc.
  • Alcohol / acetone dissolve the color coating. Found in waterless hand cleaner, window cleaners, alcoholic drinks, rubbing alcohol, nail polish and some removers, etc.

Avoid Direct Contact With:

Flea collars, liquid, spray or powdered flea treatment (let liquid soak into pet’s skin a few hours before contact), moth balls, tanning products, sunscreen, hand or body moisturizers / creams / lotions / oils, exfoliating products, bath oils, perfumes, cologne, air freshener, paint, ink (Sharpie, ballpoint), hair dye, chlorinated swimming pool water.