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How to Clean Leather

The renowned luxury of leather is undeniable. When it’s not clean, that luxury fades and the experience of using it is greatly diminished. Soiled leather becomes clogged with contaminants that damage the structure and compromise the coatings, eventually leading to dry, greasy, peeling and ripped leather. Leather care is something you want to get right. It’s a relatively expensive material when compared to man-made options and using the wrong approach can have swift or delayed and disastrous results.

First, What Not To Use

Skip the ’clever hacks’ and the ‘all-natural’ home-made recipes you find on the internet. They are ill-informed and the risks are real. We’ve seen beautiful Italian leather destroyed when toothpaste was used to remove mould – as suggested by an online blog. Also, give a wide birth to household cleaners. We’ve seen many sofas ruined – rips, flaking coatings and stripped colour – from the use of the wrong type of cleaner such as cream cleansers, cleaning wipes, oils and other unsuitable chemicals. Your leather deserves better than supermarket grade leather care and although the kit you purchased with the sofa from the furniture store may do no harm, it might not have much cleaning grunt.

So, How Do You Clean Leather? Success lies in the use of the right products, accessories and method.

The Right Products

Good leather care involves 3 steps; cleaning, conditioning and a protective anti-soiling barrier.

Cleaner

Leather cleaning needs to balance short term results against long term effects. The ideal cleaner is strong enough to lift dirt (which minimises the need for scrubbing) yet mild enough to avoid damaging the coatings or the leather.

A professional-grade pH neutral general maintenance leather cleaner such as Leather Hero’s Cleanse (No.1) is ideal. It is formulated specifically for leather, is water-based, non-sudsing, non-toxic and easy to use. With regular use, soiling is controlled and the work is light.

Conditioner

After cleaning, prevent drying and stiffening by applying a non-greasy, non-shiny, breathable leather conditioner such as Leather Hero’s Nourish (No.2). This luxurious leather crème is absorbed into the structure of leather, lubricating and moisturising the fibres. It helps to promote suppleness and softness. Unlike heavy wax or oil-based conditioners, it won’t clog the pores, attract vermin or rot the fibres.

Note that nubuck, suede and aniline leathers are highly porous and require gentle care. Leather Hero offers a suitable light cleaner and conditioner for these unprotected leathers. Similarly, waxed leathers wear with use. Top up the original finish with Waxy Nourish (No.9) after cleaning with Cleanse (No.1). Buff the wax to a beautiful vintage glow and your waxed leather will age gracefully and safely.

Protect

se an anti-soiling, breathable shield such as Leather Hero’s Protect (No.3) to help keep your leather clean for longer. Helping to protect the leather from the uptake of spills, grease, transferred dye and stains, it’s a smart inclusion if you want to make light work of maintaining your leather.

The essential combo that makes leather look amazing and last longer

Recolouring

If you have decided to recolour your leather, a stronger cleaner is needed. Spot & Prep (No.4) by Leather Hero has the power to remove waxes, silicones, heavy soiling, marks and surface grease. A thoroughly clean and prepared surface is key to a lasting leather finish.

Out Damned Spot

Before selecting leather care products, it’s a good idea to know your leather type and the issue you want to resolve.

Dirty

Surface soiling can be cleaned as shown in this half and half pic

If the soiling and marks are on the surface of the leather or leather coatings, it’s dirty. This type of soiling cleans up well with a good leather cleaner such as Cleanse (No.1).

Mouldy

Mould can be cleaned and it’s best to catch it early

If mould has grown on your leather, it is both on the surface and in the structure. Leather Hero’s Mould Remover (No.21) kills mould and mould spores and helps to prevent them from reforming. Free of bleach, chlorine, triclosan and peroxide, it is non-caustic and kills 99.9% of germs, including staphylococcus, e-coli and pseudomonas. If mould inhabits leather long enough, it can ‘eat’ into the coatings causing cloudy marks. This can also be corrected via recolouring.

Stained

These stains are permanent. The lounge was recoloured to hide them

If the mark has penetrated the structure of the leather or leather coatings, it’s stained. Most stains are permanent and can usually only be minimised with cleaning rather than completely removed. Stained areas can be restored via recolouring using a Leather Repair Kit.

Greasy

Body and hair oil sinks into leather

If the leather has darkened with an oily appearance, it may be greasy with hair and body oil that has penetrated through the structure. These compromise both the strength and aesthetics of leather. Cleaning with Spot & Prep (No.4) by Leather Hero may remove grease from the surface but cannot fully reach the oils that are within the fibres.

The Right Accessories

To get a great result all you need is a scrubbing brush and a microfibre cloth. When it comes to leather cleaning, you want to strike a balance between using gear that makes light work of the job and not damaging your leather. Gentle is best. Look for a bristle brush similar to a nail scrubbing brush or a standard domestic cleaning brush. The bristles should not be too hard or inflexible.

Avoid magic erazers as they are deceivingly abrasive. They can quickly cut through the clear topcoat which rapidly advances the normal aging process and in time, rips and delamination occur.

Avoid the use of kitchen scourers unless you intend to refinish (recolour) the leather. They are usually less abrasive than magic sponges and can be more abrasive than a scrubbing brush.

Using steam to clean a leather sofa can be risky. To much heat and water can cause irrevocable damage. Whilst steam kills germs and can dislodge some soiling, nothing does as good or safe a job as hand detailing.

The Right Method

Test

  1. Test each product in an inconspicuous place to test for compatibility. If the finish changes or transfers onto a cloth it is not stable and may be removed by cleaning.

Clean

  1. Vacuum any dust and particles
  2. Spray the cleaner directly onto the leather one small section at a time
  3. Working quickly, agitate the cleaner into the grain using a scrubbing brush
  4. Wipe clean with a microfibre cloth. During cleaning, if the cloth becomes very wet or heavily soiled change to a fresh one
  5. Repeat until clean

Condition

  1. Apply a tablespoon-sized amount of conditioner to a just dampened microfibre cloth and squeeze to incorporate
  2. Wipe over the surface evenly

Protection

  1. Apply by spray to one small section at a time
  2. Wipe over the surface evenly

Technique: Scrubbing ‘v’ Rubbing

The leather care industry is unanimous in its advice: Do Not Rub! A standard bristle brush helps to gently agitate soiling from the grain of the leather. Start gently, watching for any unwanted change in the finish. On most leathers, moderate scrubbing is safe and effective. In contrast, rubbing with firm force using a cloth clad finger or fist is far more abrasive. A few seconds of determined rubbing to remove a mark can result in the finish being stripped and an unwanted ‘bald patch’.

The mark is gone and so is the finish

How Often To Clean

Consider how often do we wipe down our kitchen benches or how often do we wash our clothes… Imagine going a month without doing either. Lounges and car seats in regular use gather soiling, spills and ‘human grime’ at the same pace as everything else we use daily.

Regular is best. It’s easier, quicker and better for your leather than spring cleaning. General-purpose leather cleaners are calibrated for regular use. Leave it too long and more scrubbing will be needed and that’s not ideal for the leather.

A 1-3 monthly maintenance clean is recommended or more often in high traffic environments.