Leather Care

Baby your leather and it will baby you back

If you want your car’s leather seats to cradle you in softness for the life of your vehicle, you have to take care of it. Preservatives are added to leather when it’s tanned, but they deplete as the leather ages. Just like human skin, leather loses its flexibility and softness as it ages. Not surprisingly, some of the same ingredients found in skin creams are also found in leather conditioners.


Leather is a natural, porous material. It breathes, it dries out, it absorbs moisture, it flexes. It requires regular care to keep it looking great but, if you do your part, leather upholstery is very rewarding. Proper leather care requires cleaning and conditioning. First, remove contaminants to open up clogged pores. Then apply conditioner to moisturize and protect the leather.

Step 1: Clean leather

The single worst enemy of leather upholstery is oil from the skin of you and your passengers. These oils absorb into the leather and discolor it, especially in high contact places like the door arm rest. If you wear shorts and tank tops, more of your body is coming into contact with the leather, creating more potential stains on the leather. You don’t have to cover up – you just have to stick with a regular cleaning regimen.


Choose a water-based, pH-neutral leather cleaner. For years, leather industry professionals recommended saddle soap, which is fine if you’re actually using it on a saddle! Saddle soap is alkaline, which means it can dry out leather. You know how your skin feels after showering with a regular ol’ bar of soap? It’s tight and kind of itchy. That’s the effect of saddle soap on leather. It’s fine for rugged leathers used by equestrians, but automotive leather is meant to have a softer, more refined look to it. Use a leather cleaner designed for automotive leather, like Pinnacle Leather & Vinyl Cleaner or Lexol Leather Cleaner.


AutoDetail.org - Automotive Leather CareSpray the leather cleaner on one section at a time and work the cleaner into the leather with a soft terry cloth applicator, towel, or a very soft brush. The point of the brush isn’t really to scrub; use it to work the cleaner into the leather. A good cleaner will actually draw impurities out of the leather so there’s no need to scrub hard.

Use a damp towel to wipe the area. You don’t want to leave the contaminants on the surface of the leather. They’ll just work their way back into the leather. Repeat this process of cleaning and wiping until you’re finished cleaning all leather surfaces.Leather should be cleaned quarterly. You can clean dark leathers less often if you prefer. After cleaning, be sure to follow with a quality leather conditioner to replenish oils and preservatives that are naturally lost over the life of the leather.

Step 2: Leather Conditioning

AutoDetail.org - Pinnacle Leather careThe purpose of a leather conditioner is to moisturize and protect the leather. Look for one with moisturizers, like lanolin, and a strong UV protectant. Overexposure to the sun will dry out leather and cause it to turn brittle. UV protection is the best thing you can do for your leather seats.


Again, look for a water-based and pH-neutral leather conditioner. You don’t want a leather “dressing”. Most detailers will agree that the natural finish of leather is far more appealing than a slick, oily-looking seat. Avoid shiny, silicone leather products. Instead look for a leather conditioner that utilizes natural ingredients. After all, leather is a natural material. Pinnacle Leather Conditioner is an example of a conditioner that contains lanolin, a natural moisturizer. Lexol Leather Conditioner is another excellent choice for regular leather conditioning.


Shake the leather conditioner before you apply it. Wipe the conditioner on one section at a time with a foam or microfiber applicator pad. Work the conditioner in well and allow it to sit for 1-2 minutes. The leather will only absorb so much conditioner, so be sure to remove the excess with a microfiber or terry cloth towel.


Some car care fanatics like to apply leather conditioner by hand. The idea behind this is that the warmth of your hands will open up the leather’s pores and allow it to more readily accept the conditioner. The same thing can be accomplished by turning on the car’s heater for a few minutes at a warm setting. Since your hands are full of your own oils, we don’t suggest rubbing them on the leather. If you do use the heater method, avoid turning it on hot because, just like your own skin, hot, dry air dries out leather.


Between these quarterly cleaning and conditioning sessions, use 303 Aerospace Protectant to maintain a high level of SPF protection. This product is perfectly safe on leather and it looks and feels like there’s nothing on the leather at all.


Leather Restoration

Leather that has already become dry will benefit from heavier moisturizing. Leatherique products were developed to restore the softness to rugged equestrian leathers and they've become a popular choice for aged leather upholstery. The products work to saturate the leather in moisture in order to purge the leather of contaminants and restore its suppleness.