How to Care for Your Leather Furniture

Benefits: Slow aging / Increase years of beauty, strength, and supple feel.

Care Basics

  • Place items at least 2 feet from heat sources (radiators, vents, etc.); shield from direct sun.
  • Apply a moisturizer / conditioner 3 to 4 x / year
  • Protect from body oils: Drape a cloth over the headrest, put a towel under your feet bare or stocking feet, place a sheet or blanket where you, or your pet, naps.
  • Use a leather cleaner every week or 2 on high-contact areas, especially armrests. Especially to maintain light colors and prevent greying from ground-in dirt and dye transfer.
  • 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:

  • Dust / dry soil: Vacuum w/ soft brush or dust w/ dry soft cloth, or a wipe made for leather.
  • Liquid cleaner: Only a water-resistant protective coating can be cleaned with a liquid, NOT the leather itself. Liquid leather cleaners are ONLY safe for water-resistant leather.
  • TEST Absorbancy: Place a water droplet in a location away from view. If it soaks in or a dark spot appears within 1 to 2 minutes, it is absorbent and not safe for liquid cleaners. If water remains beaded up and no dark spot occurs, then liquid cleaner is safe.
  • Use only leather cleaners labeled for cleaning upholstery leather (explained below). Wipe the  surface dry promptly.
  • If cleaning needs to be repeated immediately, allow a few minutes for thorough drying in seams and below the surface. Or dry with a blow dryer directed across, not straight at the surface.
  • Gentle rubbing with a terry cloth or an exfoliating glove can help lift soil out of the grain texture.
  • Leather is a powerful sponge, easily absorbing 3 to 4 times it's weight in water. If liquid cleaner is used on absorbent leather, the liquefied soil is sucked deep into the leather and remains there forever. If a cleaner not made for leather is used, deteriorating chemicals would then be embedded in the leather as well, and harm becomes ongoing, accelerating aging.

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 mix of resins, oils, and /or waxes (fat liquor). Importantly, the acidity is controlled to pH 4.5 to 5. A mismatch, too high or too low, will damage leather (further explained below). Most have a shine agent and a mild cleaning agent. A few also contain protective resins that refresh water-resistance.  You get what you pay for. Low cost products are watered down, so, of course, are less effective.

Be wise, be cautious: Contact a leather care professional for advice. 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. Vinegar? Baking soda? Lemon juice? Mayonnaise? Coconut oil? Hair spray? Shoe polish? Woolite? Dove soap? Windex? No, no, no and NO!

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, food oils, household or automotive lubricants, hair or laundry conditioners, WD-40, bicycle oil or lubricant.
  • Saddle soap can destroy leather upholstery. Can eat holes, esp. if cracked/dry. Made to soften (digest!) dense, stiff “vegetable-tanned” leather, like 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, all shampoo, all soaps, Goop, Gojo, Pink Stuff, pencil or other erasers, enzyme cleaner, Nature’s Miracle, deodorizers, citrus cleaners, limonene.
  • Edibles: baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice or oil, mayonnaise, coffee, coca-cola,  food oils (peanut, canola, oilve, coconut,etc), cooking spray (PAM) etc.
  • Alcohol / acetone will dissolve the clear protective coating and color coating. Found in waterless hand cleaner, window cleaners, alcoholic drinks, rubbing alcohol, nail polish and some stain removers, etc. When cleaning succeeds with these, it's actually stripping color and protection off, not releasing soil.

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.

    Do Not Steam Clean Leather - Many car detailers and carpet / upholstery cleaners will steam clean leather. This works great on the protective coating, but can cook the collagen proteins (= 98% of the leather) below,  permanently shrinking and/or weakening. The high heat detaches water molecules "bridges" within the long collagen protein strands, breaking them into fragments. Replacing the lost water allows some to reconnect into long strands again, but not all mend, so high heat always permanently weakens leather. 



    Why only use products labeled for upholstery leather care?

    Care products for other leather types often contain ingredients that break down and cause harm over time; some even interfere with absorption of the moisturizer / conditioner! Upholstery leather is specifically tanned to be soft and flexible, yet very durable. Repeated exposure to wrong products can reduce upholstery leather life significantly. Other leathers are tanned to be denser / stronger for other uses (belts, straps, boots, shoes, sling seats, baseball mitts, saddles, bike seats, etc).

    • EVERY LIQUID or grease that touches leather IS ABSORBED, at least a little. Even leather w/ a water-resistant coating absorbs water through microscopic pores all across the coating, as well as through the stitch holes, thread (acts as a wick), cracks and worn areas, which allow quite a bit inside, and speeds deterioration at these more vulnerable areas.
    • Once absorbed,  damage continues forever. Damaging substances accumulate w/ repeat contact, accelerating deterioration. As a result, 10 yrs of body oils accumulated in an armrest can = destruction of 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, or 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.

    Why are synthetic oils / resins better? They are stable, last longer, don’t darken or transform into harmful chemicals with age, like animal or plant oils / dressings do, like neatsfoot oil, mink oil, or lanolin.

    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!)