How to Clean Leather Car Seats in 4 Simple Steps

Leather Car Seat Detailing Service - RICarSalon

When it comes to car interiors, few things rival the elegance and comfort of leather seats. From the soft feel and the rich smell, leather upholstery adds a touch of sophistication to every car.

However, with great luxury comes great responsibility—keeping your leather seats clean and shiny requires care and attention. Over time, dirt, oils, and daily wear can leave your new leather looking tired and neglected.

But fear not, because in this guide, we’re going to show you how to clean your leather car seats with the expertise of a seasoned detailer, Neil Ednacot, founder of River Islands Car Salon

You will learn about the 3 types of most commonly used leathers in cars, their deterioration factors, and the benefits of cleaning your car leather.

Make sure you read till the end to catch some special tips on maintaining your leather upholstery. Let’s get started!

Most Commonly Used Leather in Cars

Did you know that automotive leather comes in various styles and types? Generally, they have to be durable enough to resist heat, stains and fading. They should also be able to withstand the friction and pressure of being sat and leaned on daily.

Here are the three most common types.


Nappa leather is a top-quality full-grain leather that is commonly used by expensive and luxurious car brands like BMW, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, and such. 

It undergoes a meticulous and unique tanning process, improving its softness and increasing its durability. However, since Nappa leather is full-grain leather, it can stain if not properly taken care of.

Nappa is made from the prime cut of animal hide, mostly from cows, calves, lambs, or goats, which makes it one of the most expensive types of leather.

Despite its natural, high-end look, luxury car brands have been offering synthetic leathers over the issue of the animal treatment from which the leather is derived.


✔️ Aesthetic. Nappa leather looks great in any color and helps improve the look of car interiors.

✔️ Durable. It lasts much longer than other types of leather.

✔️ Ultimate Comfort. It is soft, pliable, and breathable. Perfect for long drives.


❌ Made from animal skin and not environmentally friendly.

❌ More expensive than other types of leather.

❌ It is not waterproof but it is possible to waterproof it with a wax protectant.


Semi-aniline leather is a high-quality leather that can be found in luxury car brands like Audi, BMW, and Lexus. It’s made with a semi-aniline dye that contains a small amount of pigment which gives it a more uniform coloring compared to aniline leather.

Though not as soft as aniline, it’s more resistant to staining and spilling because of its thin protective layer.


✔️ Has a thin protective coating which makes it more durable than full aniline leather

✔️ Feels soft and supple for ultimate comfort

✔️ Resistant to scratches and damages, and easier to clean and maintain



❌ Contains a small amount of pigment

❌ Develops patina over time because of its protective coating

❌ Leaves a mark behind when scratched

Faux Leather/Synthetic

Faux leather is what you call an artificial or synthetic leather. Simply put, it’s made to look like leather but it’s actually made from polyurethane (“PU”), polyvinyl chloride (PVC – “Vinyl”), and silicone. You can easily spot synthetic leather since it doesn’t look as luxurious as natural leather.

On the other hand, even though it’s artificial, it can withstand scratches and scrapes. Its synthetic composition makes it resistant to cracks, peels, and even the sun’s harmful rays. Plus, you can easily remove stains, ink, and liquid spills with a wet cloth.


✔️ Much cheaper than real leather

✔️ Withstands scratches and scrapes, resistant to cracking and peeling

✔️ Easy to clean with a towel and warm water


❌ Not breathable; gets uncomfortable over time

❌ Easily torn or punctured when not properly maintained

❌ Not environmentally friendly

What Causes Leather Deterioration?

Without proper care and attention, your car leather seats – no matter how expensive or high quality they are – will deteriorate over time. Knowing what causes their deterioration will help prevent it and you’ll know how to care for it correctly. These are the top 5 reasons car leather seats might deteriorate:

UV rays

When leather is exposed to sunlight for a long time, it may cause the color to fade and damage its surface. It can dry out and ruin the leather and eventually, it will dry, stiffen and crack. It’s best to keep your car away from direct sunlight.

Food and drink spill

Constant food and drink spills, like juice or coffee, that aren’t immediately remedied can cause staining on your leather seat. It can leave streaks and spots, which can be difficult to remove.

That’s why it’s important to immediately blot out any spills on the leather, because once they are absorbed, getting rid of them will be challenging.

Body oils, sweat, and dirt

On their own, body oils, sweat, and dirt do no harm to leather car seats. But with regular contact over a long period of time, deterioration happens.

The sweat and body grease penetrate the surface of the leather, begin to oxidize and lessen the effect of tannins on the leather. It then loses its structure and starts to degenerate.

Blue jeans

You might want to avoid wearing blue jeans, especially when it’s hot and humid, because they can stain your leather car seats. What happens is that the dye in blue jeans can easily transfer its color to your leather seats.

This can happen if the blue jeans are new, the leather seat is bare and dry, and it’s hot and humid inside.

Sunscreen, lotion, or other fragrances that can discolor

Wearing sunscreen, lotion, or other fragrances with a high oil content can rub off on your leather and cause its discoloration.

When going on summer road trips, it’s best to close the windows and turn the AC on so as not to cause yourself to sweat as this will eventually dry out your leather over time.

Sunscreen and lotion stains can be hard to remove when neglected.

Why is Car Leather Cleaning Important?

No matter how durable and tough they may look, leather car seats need a good TLC (Tender Loving Care) from time to time. In fact, it’s the most delicate surface of your car’s interior and it’s vital to protect, preserve, and maintain its good quality. Besides, nothing beats the smell of clean leather. 

Here are some of the many reasons why cleaning your car leather seats is essential:

1. It looks better

What other reasons do you need? Driving a car that looks good and clean will do wonders for your mental and physical well-being. Plus, it makes your driving experience a hundred times better.

2. It preserves color and quality

Letting stains cling onto your leather car seats will take a toll on their color and quality. If you want to continue driving a car with high-quality leather seats and not some old, cracked, dry leather, a little cleaning won’t hurt.

3. It lasts longer

Replacing your car leather seats can cost thousands of dollars. Cleaning them to preserve their durability is the cheapest and most cost-effective option.

4. It helps minimize the risk of getting bacteria/illness

Dirty leather seats can easily become a home to many disease-carrying germs and bacteria. If not cleaned regularly, it can cause harm to your health. Cleaning your leather car seats can help prevent this from happening.

Now that you understand the benefits of the upkeep of your leather seats, let’s delve right into the best method of cleaning them. 

How to Clean Car Leather Seats Properly

Step 1: Prepare the cleaner

All purpose cleaner

Dilute an all-purpose cleaner with 4 drops of mild hand soap or liquid dishwashing soap, and distilled water in a spray bottle.

You can also try these other homemade leather cleaning solutions:

  • Castile Soap – Castile soap is a great natural cleaner for leather car seats. However, it is best to conduct a patch test first before applying the solution to avoid discoloring the leather. Just mix one part Castile soap with five parts water and apply the mixture to a clean towel or spray bottle. Spray and wipe to clean.
  • Coconut Oil – This natural oil is an excellent conditioner for crinkly, dull, and scratched leather and faux leather seats. Just apply a thin layer of coconut oil to a soft, clean cloth and slowly rub and buff the oil onto the surface. 
  • Olive Oil and Vinegar – Olive oil mixed with vinegar is a great cleaning solution to treat more resistant stains, restore the leather’s color, and repair some minor scratches. Just mix 1/2 cup of olive oil with 1/4 cup of vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray the solution on the seat, let sit for five minutes and wipe.
Test spot clean on car seat

Step 2: Do a test spot in an inconspicuous area first

Always do a patch test first before applying the solution directly to your leather car seat. This is an important step to see if the chemical of your choice is safe and won’t discolor your leather, else it can cause damage to your leather.

Step 3: Spray the solution onto the leather seat and scrub with a leather brush.

Scrubbing car leather seat with leather brush

Make sure the brush is leather-friendly so as not to scratch or leave marks on it.

Cleaning car leather seat with microfiber towel

Step 4: Wipe and clean the seat with a microfiber towel and you’re done!

There are a lot of dedicated car leather cleaners out there that are widely available in any automotive store or your nearby Walmart or Target.

How to Maintain Car Leather Seats

It’s not enough to clean your car leather seats, you must do preventive maintenance as well.

Protecting it from anything that can cause its deterioration is a job every car owner should take seriously. Here are some tips on how you can maintain your car leather seats:

Tip #1 - Apply leather conditioner.

Leather conditioner lubricates the fibers of the leather and keeps its pores free from dirt, grease, and dust buildup. This can help protect the surface of the leather from stains while making it look smooth and hydrated.

Tip #2 - Clean and wipe every week or as soon as you see a mess.

Don’t let food stains or liquid spills stay in your leather overnight. The moment liquid is spilled or food splatters all over your leather seat, clean the mess right away to prevent worsening the damage.

Tip #3 - Apply a seat cover.

Other than improving one’s comfort, installing leather seat covers can help protect your leather from stains and spills. Instead of having direct contact with your leather seat, the cover receives all the stains and spills, which can be easily washed and used again.

Tip #4 - Park in a shaded area as much as possible.

Don’t let your car get exposed to too much heat for a long period of time. If possible, park in a shaded area or purchase a shade for your windows and windshield to lessen the effect of the sun’s heat inside your car’s interior.


Did you make it till the end? Awesome! Now you know how to care for your leather car seats.

Remember, no matter what type of leather is used in your car – be it Nappa, Semi-Aniline, or Synthetic – it needs to be cleaned and maintained regularly.

Things like UV rays, spills, sweat, sunscreen, and even a brand-new pair of blue jeans can cause your leather seat to deteriorate without proper attention.

Now that you know how important cleaning your car leather seat is, you should be able to follow the 4 simple steps we shared in this article easily. And don’t forget the maintenance tips!

If you have no time to do all these by yourself, let River Islands Car Salon handle it for you. Don’t look elsewhere, because you’re at the right place!

We do leather seat cleaning as a part of our basic interior detailing service, and if you need deep stain removal, look into our car stain removal services.

Contact us now to get a quote.

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