Leather Cleaning

Damaged leather can be a result of incorrect cleaning; as can be seen in the following photographs –





Care advice given at point of sale is usually lacking in quality if indeed, any at all, is provided. People are often led to believe that leather only needs a quick ‘wipe over’; very occasionally; and that any thing to hand will suffice to do this.

Packs of internet ordered or high street purchased ‘leather wipes‘, are usually poor in cleaning ability, some can actually lead to damage as shown.

A professional cleaning and care of leather service is carried out throughout Staffordshire and the eastern side of Shropshire.

Ingrained dirt is often found in creases and hidden in folds.

Specialist products not available to the public and sourced worldwide are used to give premier cleaning results, without fear of damage.








Leather will suffer from several problems; the main ones being:

1) Body &  Hair – oil, grease and  fat both from human sources and pets.

2) Dye transfer from clothing, especially denim jeans.

3) Drying out from central heating and sunlight, also body heat.

4) Fading in sunlight.

5) Ink marks.

Tell-tale signs that you have a problem starting to develop are:

1) Body & Hair contact areas will begin to darken, DIY cleaning has no effect and may even make matters worse,  and the colour begins to go powdery and come off.

2) New clothing, as yet unwashed or even afterwards, especially denim on a pale coloured leather; will often leave dye stains on the leather surface. DIY cleaning is likely to have no effect and may well make matters worse.

3) Leather looks dull and lacks lustre, it starts to crease and eventually crack. Two tone finishes and Antique effect finishes suffer sooner than other types and dry out quickly losing their protective coatings and subsequently their top coat dye colour.

4) Aniline types of  leather are very prone to fading from the sun’s rays and is a sign of both drying out and loss of dye colour.

5) Ink marks are obvious to spot, but not so easy to get rid of. Many web sites give false remedies as do certain TV programs, forums, magazines etc. The most common false hoods involve use of baby wipes or hairspray.


The crucial thing in cleaning leather is to identify the type of leather to be cleaned.  Results can differ dramatically between the different types.

Products to clean leather should be water based and used as foam.  Foam is an active agent and does a lot of the work for you; it is also far safer than using a liquid.

Water based cleaners will re-hydrate your leather which is the ‘nourishment’ that it needs.  Under normal circumstances leather does not lose its natural oils so therefore does not need these replacing.

Saddle soap will actually do considerable damage to modern finishes on leather and therefore should not be used.  Some products (baby wipes are a prime example); will make the leather look fantastically clean but are actually stripping off the protective finish and then if continued to be used; the dye pigment, so therefore exposing the leather which will get dirty quickly and in the long term destroy it.

After cleaning leather needs ‘protecting’ not conditioning.

Please see my article below on this subject.


There is still a huge body of consumers out there (and a good percentage of cleaners/technicians/retailers) that still use the terms: to ‘feed’ or ‘condition’ leather. 

Usually this would consist of spreading some sort of oil or grease containing product onto the leather (milk, Vaseline, baby oil, musk oil being some of the more bizarre I have come across). What I ask is why?

When leather is manufactured a certain amount of oil and fat is introduced into the hide and, (with the exception of one or two complex situations) this is where it stays.  It does not evaporate or migrate or leave the leather by any other means.

What does leave the leather is moisture (water), and it is this that needs replacing.  Dry leather is more susceptible to a whole range of problems.  The most obvious is cracking, both of finish and fibres.

Next is raised absorbency levels which means body oils containing fats and acids will more readily soak into the leather (ever seen those dark areas on head rests and arm ends) eventually destroying finishes and the leather itself.

Dry leather will be a sponge for spills, tea, and coffee, red wine, ink, any product with colouring once soaked inside leather will leave a permanent stain, which depending on leather type may or may not be fixable— at a price.

Some hide foods and conditioners if properly formulated and used correctly with leather type taken into account will not damage the leather, others particularly if they contain waxes and silicones are likely to do more harm than good. The basis of a good type would be an emulsion of lanoline and water.  The water re-hydrates and the lanoline helps the leather to hold the moisture for a little longer, but it does not address the issue of protecting the leather.  But it is cheap to manufacture and therefore can be sold at a low price.

Leather Protectors on the other hand are a complex formulation and the ingredients are expensive, therefore the end product is more costly, often 2-3 times the price of a conditioner. BUT THEY DO WORK.  I always use the ‘Scotchgard’ analogy to explain how, without getting technical it is the easiest way. Its effectiveness can also be demonstrated.

Leather Protector performs all the good functions of a ‘conditioner’ or ‘food’ product but will leave a virtually invisible, breathable, non greasy coating on the surface.  This will be effective at helping to resist stains via spillages, dye transfer and day to day soiling, including body oils… It is not bullet proof and the leather still needs cleaning, but the dirt will be sitting in or on the protector and will clean off more effectively.  During the cleaning process the protective element will also be reduced and need replacing.

How often? This is the next question and a tricky one to answer.  Some leathers I recommend a light clean and protect once a month, others a good clean and protect 1-2 times per year.  There are so many finishes on the market at present that it is not wise to generalize.  Experience and knowledge is the best guide.

Ian Hare Soft Furnishing Care 2011.

Generally speaking leather does not require ‘conditioning’ with anything other than water but water alone is not enough to clean.
Adding ‘conditioners’ which generally contain oils and waxes will change the appearance of your leather over time as dirt will build up on the surface and cause a sheen.

Using the correct care methods and products will not alter the factory finish.

You must first clearly identify the type of leather you have so that the correct products and methods can be used. Using the wrong products on the wrong type of leather can prove very expensive as will using products that have not been fully tested for use on leather – always make sure that there is back up support from the supplier for any problems you have.

Essentially it is the top coating on leather that needs looking after; cleaning is vitally important as in some cases the top coat will wear away if allowed to become dirty but the wrong product can also affect the top coatings on some leathers. Dirt on the surface can also become ground into the finish by constant abrasion.

‘Conditioners’, balms, feeds etc (traditionally oil and wax based) cannot penetrate pigment coated leathers so are not worth applying – they can also leave behind residues on the finish which will only attract more dirt if allowed to remain.

‘Conditioners’ will not do any protecting on leather even if they say they do as there will not be enough active ingredient in them to do anything.

A protector will make the finish easier to clean and also inhibit dye transfer etc on pale coloured leathers.

Leather however finished has to remain breathable and it will allow the movement of moisture back and forth (transpiration) so the use of water based cleaners and protectors will keep the leather correctly hydrated which is essential to keeping it in the best condition.

Simple steps of cleaning & protecting will prolong the life of the finish on the leather without changing the look or feel and without leaving harmful residues on the surface of the leather.

If you identify scratches on leather furniture; call the leather restoration specialist for Staffordshire.

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