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Leather is a precious and expensive commodity that develops a rich, luxurious patina over time. If treated well all things made from leather lasts more than one lifetime. It is not only durable but actually looks better with age. The style and color of specific leather furniture might at times go out of fashion, but its enduring quality and rich beauty will ensure that it remains popular and respected among connoisseurs of fine objects.
Before we delve into the different ways of cleaning your leather furniture, allow me to mention that prevention is better than cure as far as caring for your precious leather objects goes. This includes the position in which it stands, the lighting to which it is subjected and so on. We will mention this again further on in this article.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF LEATHER
The many different kinds of leather used in the production of furniture varies from source to types of preparation and treatment, right through the tanning process and beyond. Cleaning instructions can vary substantially for different types of leather. Check for information on the retailer or manufacturer’s labels, or websites. The following descriptions may be able to assist you with the identification if no papers are available.
Aniline leather is soft Napa leather, made from the most durable and strongest part of the animal hide. The section of the hide that is used also has a very tight grain structure. It is an unprotected leather and may be identified by its soft luxurious feel, and natural surface grains and marks. The dye is usually not uniformly spread either, as it is a process done in vats and by hand at the tannery. It is usually the most expensive type of leather. Pure aniline leather stains easily because there is no protective layer or “top coat” dye, only the dye that is spread through the leather.
Semi-aniline is a better choice for furniture as it takes the process a step further by adding a protective pigment coating making the color more uniform, whilst retaining the authenticity and beauty of natural leather. Other protected leathers are coated with thicker layers of pigment and polymer. Most have a stiffer feel and stand up to more wear and tear.
Before cleaning or removing stains make sure that you know the correct care procedures for your type of leather or else stick to gentle harmless cleaning methods, using a cloth dampened in distilled water. Use only water and mild, neutral pH nondetergent liquid soap, such as Neutrogena or Dove for heavier cleaning jobs. The safest commercial cleaning products to use are those endorsed by the tanneries.
READ THE LABELS
W = Only use water-based cleaners and conditioners
S = Only use solvents, or Dry Clean Only
P = Only use solvents or Dry Clean Only
SW or WS = Both water based, and solvents may be used. Steam Cleaning is approved.
X = Only Professional Leather Cleaners may clean your furniture.
Ignoring the instructions on a label will void your guarantee. If, however, you do not have an official guarantee, you may try your own solutions if you always test it first!
CLEANING MATERIALS AND PROCEDURES
The best advice I ever got was from somebody that said they had read somewhere that one should think of leather furniture like your own skin and even treat it similarly. It is after all exactly what it is – animal hide! Let your goal always be to treat the leather gently, massaging it rather than rubbing it, and using harmless, non-chemical products to keep your leather supple and to allow it to develop its own patina over time.
Your furniture should be wiped with a soft, clean undyed dry cloth a few times a week to remove the dust and surface dirt of normal daily use.
Some manufacturers recommend dusting unprotected or pure aniline leather with a clean, dry cloth and vacuuming it regularly using a soft brush attachment. Others advise gently wiping the surfaces with a soft undyed cloth dampened with distilled water only.
Protected leather such as Semi-aniline and especially pigmented leather can tolerate heavier use and cleaning, but most tanneries and manufacturers still advise that owners should stay away from products containing ammonia, harsh soaps, detergents, oils, furniture polishes, abrasive materials, and any cleaners with caustic or alkaline ingredients.
By testing any cleaning products on a small hidden section, you can always make sure that homemade or commercially available products and cleaning equipment (cloths, brushes, etc.) are safe before using it all over your precious leather furniture. Through trial and error, I have found that many organic home-made products are safe and harmless if used in the correct manner and quantities, even when not recommended or endorsed. A good example is Baking Soda which is my “go to” product for odor removal in any situation. The key is to apply a light sprinkle, leave it for a few hours or overnight, and then remove it with a vacuum cleaner or gently wiping it off with a slightly damp cloth, taking extra care not to cause any abrasion. Repeat the procedure if the smell that you are trying to get rid of is still pronounced, rather than using too much in one go.
My essentials for a fortnightly cleaning of most commercially manufactured leather furniture, include the following:
Two clean soft dry cloths, preferably microfiber, but a soft flannel cloth, a facecloth, a chamois or other soft material also works fine.
Cleaning products: There are many excellent commercially available and manufacturer recommended leather cleaning solutions and soaps. Preferred alternatives in my view, though, include eco-friendly, organic, natural homemade solutions and mixtures of one part vinegar and two parts of a natural oil, such as coconut or lemon oil, or a solution of warm water, a teaspoon of soft natural soap and a scant few drops of vinegar. There is a school of thought that believes that any acidic contents, as well as many other household products, such as baking soda is too harsh for delicate leathers, but I have not yet personally experienced this. Please test any products or mixtures on a small hidden patch before use!
NORMAL LEATHER CLEANING PROCEDURE
The cleaning process is safe and easy if you follow this sequence:
1) Check the label for special guidelines.
2) Remove all dust and surface dirt.
3) Prepare cleaning materials.
4) Dampen cleaning cloth. Wring out well.
5) Test on hidden spot.
6) Wipe surfaces gently with this dampened cloth.
7) Wipe down with separate cloth, dampened in clean water to rinse the surface.
8) Wipe with soft dry cloth.
9) Let furniture dry out naturally – no sun or heat.
Replace cushions and throws only when leather is completely dry. Only now is the piece ready again for use.
My personal routine once a week is as follows:
- Vacuum or gently wipe all dust and loose surface dirt from the furniture, opening all creases and folds.
- Dip a soft cloth or face washcloth in your prepared solution, already tested with first time use.
- Wring the cloth well – it must be damp, not wet!
- Wipe all the surfaces of each piece gently, concentrating on those spots that are subject to daily use.
- Then wipe down with a soap free damp cloth.
- Follow with a dry cloth.
- Leave the furniture to dry naturally, away from sunlight or any direct heat.
- Do not put any cushions or objects back on the furniture until it is completely dry.
Remember, it is always a wise idea to test any cleaning product or stain removal procedure first in an obscure spot!
HOW TO CARE FOR, AND PROTECT YOUR LEATHER FURNITURE
Heat and direct sunlight harm leather objects. It dries the leather out and can cause it to crack or damage the color or patina.
- Position leather furniture away from direct sunlight.
- Allow at least two to three feet between leather furniture and any source of heat, such as vents, fan heaters, radiators, or a fireplace.
- Condition every 3 to 6 months. Leather furniture can look better with age as mentioned earlier in this article if it is properly cared for. Use a leather conditioner to keep the leather from drying out and cracking.
- Keep your leather furniture dry, although it can be wiped with a damp cloth, followed by a dry wipe. Never soak or leave watery residue on leather.
- Always let leather dry naturally, even if it takes days.
- You may apply a leather cream, a water-based emulsion also called leather cream weekly. Use sparingly though, as too much will result in water damage.
- Leather should be wiped down with a damp cloth about once a week, but some people find a bi-weekly wipe adequate. It naturally depends on the frequency of use of your leather furniture!
- Always use a circular massage movement rather than vigorously rubbing your leather furniture.
- To clean and sanitize and lightly condition you can gently wipe the surfaces with a soft cloth dampened in a solution of one part vinegar and two parts natural oil, such as lemon oil, coconut oil, or flaxseed oil. Wipe the surface again with a soft dry cloth to finish the process.
- You may choose the modern option of applying a leather protector product. It will prolong the life of your leather furniture. It will also reduce the amount of intense cleaning needed and minimize the amount of dirt that sinks into the upholstery. It comes at a cost though, because the leather does not age naturally to develop that luxurious yet comfortable ambiance. Some tanneries work dyes into the leather by hand, and this method definitely looks better and better as it ages. This is the process used for aniline, semi aniline, and some other leathers. It develops that rich patina and lived-in look so sought after by leather lovers.
- Be aware that “less is more” when it comes to any products that you use on your leather furniture. Apply even the 6 monthly or annually conditioning products sparingly.
HOW TO REMOVE STAINS AND LIGHT SCRATCHES FROM LEATHER FURNITURE
There are many ways to remove stains from leather furniture. Remove stains as soon as they happen, or at least as soon as you notice them. Keep in mind that you should always try to dry leather surfaces as quickly as possible. Clean up spills as soon as they happen, using a dry cloth to soak up liquids.
- Do not wipe a stain. Rather blot it so that it can be absorbed into a clean dry porous cloth rather than wiping, to avoid it being spread into the fibers or over a larger area.
- Oily stains can be removed by sprinkling baking soda over it. Let it sit until the oiliness is absorbed, then wipe away the remains with a soft damp cloth. Make sure the cloth is well wrung out. Vacuum left over grains to finish off.
- Ink stains can be dabbed away gently – no rubbing – with a cotton ball or Q-tip, dampened with rubbing alcohol, being careful to only touch the actual stain and not to spread the stain. Repeat until the stain is gone. Pat dry with a soft, dry cloth.
- Many stains are actually an accumulation of unseen dirt, dust, sweat, body oils, and more such naturally developing occurrences. This build up can usually be prevented and or removed before it becomes clearly visible by dusting your furniture regularly and wiping with a damp cloth and the solution of vinegar and oil mentioned above once a week, or once every fortnight.
- Small scratches that did not tear the leather can sometimes be removed by gentle rubbing with a chamois or other soft cloth. If that does not do the trick, try gently rubbing with a few drops of mild oil such as coconut oil on a soft cloth.
- For protein-based leather stains like food and blood, try a paste of 2 parts corn-starch to 1 parts lemon juice as you learn how to clean a leather couch and leather furniture.
- To treat specific distressed areas, you may have to find a treatment made specifically for your type of leather. This usually applies to the delicate unprotected leathers. Such treatment methods and products are mostly products that can be applied with a soft white cloth. It should keep the softness and suppleness of the leather intact while smoothing away small scratches. There are several commercial options on the market. Use any product sparingly and be aware that many can darken the color of the leather. Again, it is a wise plan to test it first on a small hidden area.
- For more stubborn stains, you should first try wetting a soft white cloth with plain water and blotting it on the spot. If the stain persists, try blotting it with a cloth dipped in a mixture of water and a mild dish soap such as Castile, Palmolive, or Dawn. Carry on blotting gently until the stain is absorbed into your cloth. Do not rub vigorously, as this can cause permanent damage to the leather. Follow this procedure by buffing gently with a fresh soft cloth to dry the area.
- If the stain is grease-based, you may be able to remove it by sprinkling baking soda over the spot, letting it sit for a few hours, and then wiping it clean (baking soda is absorbent and will pull the grease out of the leather).
- Water-based spills such as soda and juice on protected leather can be wiped off with a clean white cloth lightly dampened in distilled water, and then left to air-dry.
- Oil-based stains, such as butter or body oil, should be blotted with a clean, dry white cloth. Do not use any water. The stain will dissipate into the leather over time.
- If your leather sofa has any mould or mildew stains, you can try to clean and sanitize it by filling a spray bottle with equal parts of vinegar and water, then spray the mixture lightly onto the area, and wipe off quickly. Do not allow the leather to get wet.
- A handy hint for protein-based stains such as food and blood, is to use a paste made of 2 parts corn-starch to 1 part lemon juice. Remember to test first in a hidden spot!
- Another suggestion for surface scratches is to use a Q-tip dipped in olive, coconut, or other mild oil. Gently work it into the scratches, let it sit for 5 – 7 minutes, then gently buff over it with a clean, dry, undyed cloth until absorbed.
GENERAL TIPS AND HINTS FOR CLEANING AND CONDITIONING LEATHER FURNITURE
It is generally recommended that one should always use a white or undyed cloth for cleaning leather furniture to avoid staining the leather with any dye from the cloth loosened by your cleaning products.
A few drops of Castile or other soft liquid soap in a bowl of warm water will clean away basic dirt and dust. Always vacuum or wipe furniture first to remove any loose dry debris. Dip a soft white cloth into the soapy water. Wring the cloth thoroughly before using it to wipe the leather down. Finish off by wiping again with a damp, soap-free undyed or white cloth to remove the soap. Buff it so it dries immediately afterwards with a soft, undyed cloth.
For heavily soiled areas, you can apply a drop of mild soap directly onto the damp cloth before rubbing the stain with it. Wipe the soap off with a damp cloth, and gently buff the area dry with a clean dry cloth.
Beeswax repels water and keeps leather soft and supple. Rub on sparingly and gently. Too much will cause stickiness. Lightly buff any excess off the leather with a clean, soft, undyed cloth, allowing a very thin coating of the beeswax to remain on the surface. This will build up over time to form a natural protective barrier. Too much will cause a horrible sticky residue.
Never use shoe polish on leather furniture. Many expert leather cleaning specialists can tell many tales of their experiences to save leather furniture ruined by well-meaning owners treating it like leather shoes!
Apply a good leather conditioner every six to 12 months to help your leather furniture maintain its own natural oils, retaining its soft, supple feel. Avoid conditioning oils that contain silicone or wax as it may cause the surface to become sticky. In arid geographical areas and climates where it is very dry, your treasured leather furniture may require more conditioning.
For extra conditioning try massaging the pieces every now and then with coconut oil, working in a gentle circular motion, then allowing it to draw in for a few minutes before buffing away all excess with a clean, dry, undyed, soft cloth.
Finally, love your leather furniture, treat it gently, but use it to your heart’s content!