Protect Your Investment by Learning How To Clean Leather Furniture

A good quality leather sofa is definitely an investment and you’ll find it’s a long-lasting one if you take a little time and learn how to properly clean leather furniture. In fact, furniture upholstered in genuine leather can be one of the best choices for a busy household with children and pets because spills wipe up easily, cleaning isn’t difficult and the leather is quite durable. In fact, most types of leather only look better with age.

how to clean leather furnitureView in gallery

You probably chose leather furniture for the style, visual appeal and tactile luxury it provides; it’s easy to keep leather looking its best with a regular cleaning and a little maintenance. That said, dust, dirt, body oils, spills and environmental factors can take their toll on leather. Knowing how to clean leather furniture properly isn’t difficult and best of all, doesn’t usually require anything that you probably don’t already have at home.

Preventive Tips to Keep Leather Looking Great

Even before you need to know how to clean leather furniture, there are a number of tips for keeping leather in the best shape so that it’ll provide the longest life for your furniture.

  • Skip the sun – If possible, position leather furniture so that it’s not in direct sunlight, which can quickly fade leather that has been dyed. In fact, fading can occur in just four to six months much as it can with textiles that in the sun. Also, sunlight dries out the leather, sapping its natural oils, causing it to crack. The same goes for heat and hot air that comes from radiators and heat vents.

Related: Tan Leather Sofas Are Trending And Here’s What You Need To Know

  • Immediately wipe up spills – To prevent stains from happening, make sure to wipe up spills right away. This will minimize the need to worry about stain removal at a later date.
  • Vacuum or dust regularly – Keeping your leather furniture free of dust and debris will help preserve its good looks prevent scratching.
  • Spot test first – Before using any product on leather furniture, to a little spot test in an area that’s generally out of sight just to make sure that there isn’t any unexpected damage or adverse reaction. Some types of leather or dyes used on it may be more susceptible to color changes.
  • Read the directions – After reading this about how to clean leather furniture before you actually do it, check with the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations. It may be that certain conditioning or cleaning products are recommended for your particular piece of furniture.
  • Condition regularly – Just as your skin dries out and needs regular moisturizing to stay in good shape, so does your genuine leather furniture.

The supplies you’ll need

  • Vacuum and brush attachment
  • Cotton or microfiber cloth
  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Bucket
  • Cotton swab
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Leather conditioner

Check the Kind of Leather You HaveView in gallery

Check the Kind of Leather You Have

Before you break out the bucket and cloth, check to see what type or grade of genuine leather you have because it can affect how to clean leather furniture.

  • Aniline leather is most susceptible to damage from the sun, spills and harsh substances because it does not have any type of protective coating. Of course, it is also the highest quality and most expensive leather thanks to its softness, visual appeal and graceful aging.
  • Semi-Aniline leather is easier to clean because it comes finished with a thin protective coating that helps shield it from spills and substances that cause stains.
  • While pigmented leather is the least expensive, it’s also the easiest of all the types to clean: This is because it is manufactured with a heavy protective coating that can stand up to more vigorous cleaning and harsher cleaning products.

Check the Kind of Leather You HaveView in gallery

Ready to get started?

  1. Vacuum the furniture
    Although we listed vacuuming as preventive maintenance, it’s also the first step in knowing how to clean leather furniture. Even if you do this on a regular basis, you’ll want to do it just before you undertake a more involved cleaning. It’s easy to do especially using the brush attachment on the vacuum and is a great opportunity to get down in between and underneath any cushions to suck up any crumbs and bits that have fallen in there. After that, just give it all a wipe with a cloth.
  2. Give it a visual once-over
    Before you start cleaning, look over the furniture and assess where the dirtiest part are and if there are any spots or stains that you’ll need to tackle. Then you can start the cleaning – with a spot test first, of course!
  3. Make up Your Cleaning Solution
    When it comes to how to clean leather furniture, the household staple of vinegar and water is a simple, safe, effective and inexpensive option. Certainly, you can use a commercial cleaner but it’s better for your budget and the environment if you skip the chemicals and go the natural route. If you prefer, you can also use some type of saddle soap, which is intended for use on leather as well. All you have to do is mix equal parts of vinegar and water in a bucket. Dip in your cloth and wring it out thoroughly. Remember that while leather is durable, water is not its friend, so you want the cloth to be damp, not soaking wet. Use the damp rag to wipe down the leather sofa, chair or other piece of furniture, focusing on the dirtiest areas. Every so often, rinse out the cloth and wring it out again so that you don’t spread the dirt instead of cleaning it off.
  4. Dry it Thoroughly
    This is one of the very important steps in how to clean a leather sofa or chair. After you’ve thoroughly cleaned the piece, wipe it down well with a dry cloth. Make sure that you get all the folds, pleats, nooks and crannies, especially along any welting or piping. It bears repeating that water is not a friend to leather so it’s important to avoid getting soaking when figuring out how to clean leather furniture.
  5. Condition Leather Regularly
    As noted above, environmental conditions can dry out leather, so to keep it soft and supple, regular conditioning is necessary. Again, there are commercial leather creams and conditioners that you can use, but there are also low-cost chemical-free options. Mix 2 cups of warm water with a tablespoon of natural baby soap and a just splash of vinegar. Take your soft cloth and use it to gently apply it to the leather. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and allow the gentle oils in the baby soap to work on the leather. Buff the surface with a clean cloth to remove any remaining solution and to shine up the leather.A second option is using linseed oil as a conditioner. Just mix one part vinegar with two parts linseed oil in a jar. Shake it up, then grab a cloth and use it to apply the mixture to the leather. Rub it into the leather thoroughly using a circular motion. Let it sit and buff it as in the method that uses baby soap. If you use the linseed oil method, it might take a little extra buffing. If extra linseed oil mixture remains when you’re finished, you can save it for the next time.

cleaning a leather sofaView in gallery

Stain Specifics

Light or dark, leather can be stained by spills, pets and careless family members. When deciding how to clean a leather sofa or chair that has a stain, there are extra tips for specific types of stains.

Mystery Stains

If your white or light-colored leather furniture has a dark stain of indeterminate origin, try removing it by using a paste consisting of one part lemon juice with two parts cream of tartar. Apply the paste to the stain and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Then, add another layer, gently rub it in, and remove it with a damp sponge.

Water Stains

Remove water spots can be removed from leather with…water. All you need to do is lightly moisten the area again and let it dry.

Ink Spots

The right method or how to clean leather furniture that has an ink spot is by a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. If you don’t have rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover is another option. Use the swab to gently blot the stain and let it dry. If a stain remains, you can repeat the process using a clean swab each time.

Red Wine

When a wine spill happens, blot up the wine immediately. Mix together some mild soap and warm water and froth it up until it’s sudsy. Put some of the soapy foam on the stain using a sponge and let it sit for a few minutes. Wipe it clean and then dry. If the stain is stubborn, repeat the process until you can’t see it anymore.


Grease stains on leather furniture are usually by body lotions, sunscreens and other things that we humans use on our bodies. If you have one of these stains – or a grease stain from food – knowing how to clean a leather sofa or chair is important. It’s actually a method that requires very little extra effort: Sprinkle some baking soda over the stain and wait. You can leave it for a few hours or overnight. The baking soda absorbs the grease and then all you have to do is wipe it away and clean it as usual.


Admittedly, this is not a type of stain, but it can be a common issue with leather furniture. In fact, you don’t need to have a pet to get a scratch on your leather. A rough edge on jewelry, a fingernail or any other pointy element can mar the surface of the leather. As long as it’s a minor scratch, you can make it disappear or at least minimize its appearance: Take a cotton ball and apply some flaxseed, coconut or other mild oil. Rub the oil into the scratch using a circular motion until it disappears. Less is more, so use just a little oil because you can always add a touch more if necessary.

The Great Magic Eraser Debate

With the rising popularity of the Magic Eraser and its amazing cleaning power, the pros and cons of using it on leather are debatable. Pros will tell you it’s a hard “No,” but others, including many DIYers say otherwise. Overall, it’s best to use the methods listed above as experts say that the Magic Eraser may clean leather easily, but it will also strip off any protective coating that was on the leather. And, aniline leather has no such coating. The abrasiveness can damage the surface of leather, although a good deal of success has been reported using the Magic Eraser on stubborn stains or dirt that does not come off with regular cleaning. Using the eraser should be limited to just the area of the stain. If you choose to go this route, you’ll want to spot test first and then proceed with caution and at your own risk.

Old vintage brown leather armchairs. Cracked and worn skin from time and frequent use.View in gallery

Know When To Call in the Pros

If your furniture has significant damage that cannot be taken care of through regular cleaning and conditioning, it’s time to call the professionals. Problems like cracks, tears, cuts and major discoloration are best left to the professionals because you might make the problem worse with a quick amateur fix. They have the special tools and materials and know-how to clean a leather sofa or chair without damaging the leather. They can also restore or repair the piece if necessary. Don’t try to make repairs yourself: Any pro will tell that it’s not a DIY project to repair torn or damaged leather.

View in gallery


Prevent Problems Before They Happen

Learning how to care for leather furniture is just is important as knowing how to clean leather furniture. To get the best longevity out of your investment, make sure that you position your leather furniture away from direct sunlight and heat source. Take care to wipe up messes as soon as they happen and keep up with regular dusting of your leather furniture. When it; time to clean it, spot test first and then clean it as outline in your owners manual or in the directions provided here. Finally, be sure to condition the leather regularly.

Check the Type of Leather

The best quality furniture leather is Aniline, but it is also most susceptible to damage because it does not have any type of protective coating. Nonetheless, it is also the highest quality and most expensive type.  Semi-Aniline leather is easier to clean because has a thin protective coating. Finally, pigmented leather is the least expensive, but it generally has a heavy protective coating. 

View in gallery

Dry Naturally

After you’ve cleaned it and wiped up all the residual water or cleaning solution, let the leather air dry. Never use a hair dryer or anything else that generates heat to speed the process because you’ll be damaging the leather.

Don’t Use Harsh Cleaners

It’s best to use a commercial leather cleaner or the vinegar and water method. Harsh cleaners or those not intended for leather can discolor, dry out or otherwise damage the leather, such as by changing the coloring or the surface texture of leather in negative ways.

Water is Not Your Friend

The proper way for how to clean your leather sofa does not involve a lot of water. In fact, water is not a friend to leather. It’s also not enough for cleaning. It’s fin to use a damp cloth if all you’re doing is wiping down the surface, but it won’t take care of dirt or stains. For that, follow the specific instructions for how to clean leather or for cleaning different types of stains.

Condition Leather Regularly

To keep leather furniture in good shape and looking attractive, it must be conditioned regularly. This can be done with a commercial leather cream or conditioner, or with a homemade mixture. The DIY versions can be made with water, baby soap and vinegar, or with a combination of vinegar and linseed oil.

So there you have it. None of these steps is overwhelming, especially if you take care of your leather furniture and condition it regularly. Knowing how to clean a leather sofa or chair is a handy and cost-saving skill that will let you enjoy your furniture for a long time.