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How to Clean Leather Furniture and Décor, According to the Pros

Pair of brown leather chairs

Burchard Design Co.

Leather has a trendy yet timeless look that fits almost any interior design style. But despite it's broad appeal, some homeowners hesitate to splurge on a luscious leather sofa or a set of sleek caramel barstools.

"I have had many clients worry about leather in some way or another," says seasoned interior designer Chris Barrett. "Some say, 'What if it gets stained?' or 'How do we keep it clean?” My answer is always the same. Leather is a natural material. It will stain. But, if you can handle it, it only looks better over time."

According to Jack Prause, president of renowned leather manufacturer Cortina Leathers, a light cleaning every so often will keep your leather furniture and décor looking fresh and new. "Occasional dusting with a clean, dry cloth should be all that is necessary for cleaning and maintenance." And if your leather suffers an unfortunate spill and subsequent stain, there are plenty of tried-and-true methods you can use to address the mess.

Meet the Expert

  • Chris Barrett is an accomplished residential and commercial interior designer and the owner of Chris Barrett Design. Her work has been featured in well-known publications like Architectural Digest and House Beautiful, among others.
  • Jack Prause is the president of Cortina Leathers, a renowned leather manufacturer based in New York City. Founded in 1903, Cortina Leathers now serves interior design professionals all over the world.

Follow the tips below to keep your leather looking clean and classy. As the years pass and fads come and go, your leather goods will remain in vogue, only improving with age.

How Often Should You Clean Leather?

Living room with white leather chairs and ottoman

Chris Barrett Design

Believe it or not, leather is a fairly durable material that can withstand years of use. The trick to extending its lifespan is consistent cleaning and care. "I advise my clients to keep their leather clean by wiping away any excess dirt on a regular basis," says Barrett.

To help your leather age well, wipe away dust and debris with a dry cloth at least once every month, then apply a leather conditioner to moisturize and protect the material. If you're dealing with stains, a damp cloth with lukewarm water and a mild soap may do the trick. However, for tough stains from grease or ink, be sure to wipe the affected area immediately, using the tips below.

Things You'll Need:

  • Vacuum
  • Several clean, dry microfiber cloths
  • Leather conditioner
  • Mild soap (for minor stains)
  • Vinegar (for minor stains)
  • Baking soda (for grease stains)
  • Rubbing alcohol (for ink stains)
  • Cotton swabs (for ink stains)
  • Lemon juice and cream of tartar (for dark spots on light leather)

According to Prause, different leathers require different cleaning regimens, so be sure to spend a little time researching the type of leather you own before you start cleaning.

Step 1: Vacuum and Dust

Black leather armchair

Cathie Hong Interiors

Before you address any stains or scratches, rid your leather furniture and décor of any dust, dirt, and crumbs.

Start with a vacuum, using a brush attachment to gently clean the surface. Don't forget to clean between couch cushions and along any seams where dust can collect. Once you've finished, wipe down the furniture, pillow, or decorative piece with a dry microfiber cloth once more for good measure.

Step 2: Address Spots and Stains

Once you've tackled the layer of dust and leftover chip crumbs, it's time to focus on any remaining spots and stains.

The best way to get tough stains out of leather is to clean the spot before it has a chance to dry. "We advise immediate attention in the event of spills or soiling," says Prause. If your son wiped his fingers on your leather pillow after devouring a piece of bacon or your dog leaped on the sofa with paws caked in mud, stop what you're doing and tend to the stain.

Here are a few common stains you can clean with simple household products:

  • Minor stains: Before you break out the heavy-duty cleaners, Prause recommends tackling minor spots with water. "Should a spill occur, blot immediately using a clean, dry, absorbent cloth," he advises. "Should soiling remain, use lukewarm water to minimally dampen a clean white cloth and gently blot the affected area." If necessary, you can also use a mild soap with water or a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar, but use these liquids sparingly and remember to dab and never rub.
  • Grease stains: Grease can be tough to remove from leather, but it's not impossible. Once again, it's best to address spilt grease immediately, wiping it away with a clean, dry cloth. If, however, the grease has already soaked into the leather, sprinkle baking soda over the spot, allow it to sit for a few hours, then brush it away with a dry rag.
  • Ink stains: When dealing with an ink stain, homeowners have experienced some success erasing the stain with rubbing alcohol. Dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol (your swab should be damp and not dripping), then gently wipe away the stain.
  • Dark spots on white or beige leather: For darker stains left on light-colored leather, create a paste of equal parts lemon juice and cream of tartar. Spread the mixture over the stain, then allow it to sit for 10 minutes before wiping away with a damp cloth.

For each of the methods mentioned, remember not to "over-wet" your leather, as too much saturation can damage and even discolor the material. "Never ever use soap or spray directly on the leather," says Barrett.

Before you use any of these cleaning methods, test the cleaning agent on a small, inconspicuous area of your leather furniture or décor.

Step 3: Dry, Then Apply Conditioner

It's important to give your leather furniture or décor plenty of time to fully dry, so once you're finished addressing spots and stains, wipe the area with a dry, clean cloth, then allow it to sit overnight (or longer, if necessary) before moving on to the last step.

Finally, apply your leather conditioner to complete the cleaning process. Follow the instructions listed on your bottle of conditioner, and be sure to verify the conditioner is appropriate for the type of leather you own. A good leather conditioner will not only add a protective coating to your leather to prevent stains and even cracks, but it also gives the material a subtle shine.

After this final step, your leather goods will look as gorgeous as the day you brought them home.

Tips to Keep Leather Clean Longer

Living room with brown leather sofa

The House on Hillside Lane

Leather may require some regular maintenance, but proper care can keep your leather goods soft and luxurious. To keep your leather looking clean and fresh for years to come, follow these simple steps.

Homeowners can remove many spots and stains with simple household cleaners and ingredients, but if you're dealing with a rip or tear, contact a professional for help.

  • Make cleaning and care a monthly routine: Dust your leather furniture and décor with a clean, dry cloth once a month. After you've dusted, apply a light layer of leather conditioner.
  • Avoid areas with fluctuating temperatures: Leather is sensitive to heat, so make sure your leather goods aren't too close to a fireplace or large windows with excessive sunlight.
  • Keep pets off: It's difficult to resist cuddling with your furry friend on the couch, but if you want to prevent serious wear and tear, don't let your pets up on your lovely leather furniture.
  • Address stains immediately: The longer you let stains sit, the harder they will be to remove. If you notice a simple stain from your morning cup of coffee, put the mug down and grab a cloth right away.