A beautiful leather couch is luxurious—and knowing how to clean leather is essential if you want it to stay that way. Of course, wear and tear is unavoidable—we’d never tell you to quit binge-watching Netflix—but if you clean and care for leather properly, it will only get better with age. As though it were a great wine.
“The easiest way to think about leather is to compare it to your skin. Timothy Oulton, a furniture designer, says good-quality aniline leather as a natural, breathable material that transforms over time. Leather, like skin, requires frequent care to maintain its appearance. Leather couches and other leather furniture should be dusted with a dry cloth and rubbed with a leather cream once a month to keep the material supple and moisturized—and leather cream is also what you use to clean up any dirt or stains.
We contacted Oulton and Christophe Pourny, a restoration expert based in New York and author of The Furniture Bible, for their best tips on how to clean leather sofas and other furniture, as well as the secrets to bringing those seen-better-days pieces back to life.
1. Gather your resources
To clean your leather surfaces, you’ll need the following cleaning supplies:
- Soap for saddles
- Cream for leather
- a gentle cloth
- Alcohol rubbing
- Cotton swab is a type of swab that is used
2. Begin with some soap and water.
To remove light stains from your leather, soak a clean, damp washcloth in warm soapy water and wipe the stain away. Master Cleaners says that “specific leather soaps exist, typically referred to as saddle soaps.” Darker stains, such as those caused by an ink pen, are a different issue. “A cotton swab bathed in rubbing alcohol can do the trick,” says Master Cleaners. Just make sure you apply it directly to the stain to prevent the alcohol from spreading the stain to other parts of the leather.
3. Thoroughly dry the leather
Pourny recommends properly drying the leather with another clean, dry cloth to avoid mildew. Leave the area alone overnight for optimal results.
4. Apply Leather Cream to the leather.
Apply leather cream to the material with a clean towel to rehydrate it. Allow it to soak in before buffing to a sheen if desired.
Leather Care tips
Here are a few additional tips on how to care for leather furniture so that it lasts a lifetime now that you know how to clean leather like a pro.
Be aware that some leather is designed to appear more worn-in.
According to Oulton, aniline-dyed leather furniture is not only durable but also supposed to seem lived-in because the color penetrates the entire material. “Rather than applying a colored coating to the surface and sealing it, we work dyes and waxes into the leather by hand. As a result, we have the impression that the furniture wears in rather than out. It’s simple to live with and acquires a lovely patina with time.”
Design your furniture layout in such a way that the leather is protected.
“In most cases, it’s the environment that causes leather to crack—extreme temperatures and a lack of moisture,” says Master Cleaners. “Putting a sofa directly next to your air conditioner, next to a radiator, or right in front of a raging fire will dry up the leather.” According to Pourney, direct sunlight can have the same impact, so avoid placing furniture right close to a window or glass door, or use light-blocking curtains.
Pets should not be allowed on leather furniture.
Cats and dogs will scratch leather as a (very expensive) scratching post, so keep them off the sofa. “I believe this is the most common cause of damage we hear about from clients who phone the studio,” Master Cleaners says.
Regularly moisturize the leather.
Find a treatment suited for your type of leather to treat specific distressed spots. Oulton advises Leather Masters, while Pourny sells an Old World–inspired leather serum and cream that may be used with a cloth to soften the leather and smooth scratches. Use a mild touch in any case. “When it comes to applying any product to leather, less is more. Master Cleaners says starting with a modest area. “Be extremely careful with colored leather and be aware that any product will most likely discolor the leather.”
If the leather is sliced or ripped, get professional assistance.
Don’t risk further harming the leather by attempting to repair it—cleaning leather is a do-it-yourself project, but repairing it is not. “For large cuts, we recommend calling a professional who can apply heat to combine color and texture and restore the leather,” Master Cleaners says.
Instead of going to a dry cleaner, take any leather furniture or items to a shoe repair shop or a leather care expert.
If that doesn’t work, get assistance from a reputable shoe repair business or a leather care expert. “Avoid bringing your clothing to your local cleaner, especially if they advertise suede and leather care,” Master Cleaners says, even if it’s a touch contentious. “I don’t know anyone who has had good results with them, and the damage will be permanent.”