How do I… Maintain and clean leather seats?

Once solely the domain of luxury vehicles, leather seats are now even available in some compact cars. Often included in the top trim levels of a product’s range, leather interiors offer not only a visual upgrade, but can make it easier for less mobile occupants to slide in and out of a vehicle and, in most cases, are more resistant to stains than fabric seats. Leather is also a good choice for people with young children or pets

By Brian Early

Aug 22, 2021 2 min. read

Article was updated 9 months ago

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However, being easier to clean doesn’t mean leather seats don’t benefit from regular care and maintenance. But just any old cleaning method won’t do. Maxwell Smith, owner of Maximum Detailing in Whitby, Ont., said the best practice is a seasonal — as in four times per year — treatment of the leather seating and trim with a product intended for that purpose, such as Meguiar’s leather care.

For most vehicles with leather seats, the vehicle’s fine print usually states that they have “leather seating surfaces.” While the primary touch points — for example the seat cushions, bolsters and backrest surfaces — might be covered in genuine leather, the sides, backs and any matching console or door trim panels are often look-alike vinyl. Smith points out that this is also often the case with leather furniture, and that the faux surfaces will still benefit from the same care and cleaning precautions as the real thing.

Despite the best intentions, spills and stains do happen, but there are a few ways to deal with them. Obviously, liquid spills should be soaked up as quickly as possible. For light marks and stains, Clorox anti-septic wipes are an effective, often readily available, solution.

When tackling heavier stains, including colour transfer from jeans (not uncommon on lightly coloured seats from darkly dyed jeans), Smith has what he calls “his secret weapon”: Spray Nine cleaner. Depending on the severity and how set-in the stain is, he applies it either diluted or straight from the spray bottle onto the upholstery, wetting it to the point just before it would run off a vertical surface. Don’t let it soak in, though. Wipe it off gently with a clean cotton towel. “I say that the ‘Nine’ is how many seconds it should be there, at most,” Smith said.

After any cleaning is done, he recommends that the area be re-treated with a conditioner to restore the leather’s natural moisture and prevent cracking.