How To Clean A Leather Couch [3 Steps]

Leather couches are a major staple of any luxury home, and it's easy to see why. They're elegant, durable, and work with almost any fashion sense you might have. If you are lucky enough to afford one, you already know that they can't always be cleaned the same way a fabric couch can. To help new couch owners extend their new seat's life, we researched how to best clean a leather couch.

To fully clean your couch, you will need to do the following:

  1. Vacuum your couch.
  2. Remove stains with the cleaning agent of your choice.
  3. Dry the leather.

A leather couch that isn't properly cared for is a couch that will not stay in shape for too long. This guide will help you make sure that your couch stays pristine; we're going to create a quick and easy guide for it.

A living room interior with brown leather couch and wooden floor, How To Clean A Leather Couch [3 Steps]

The Types Of Leather

Before we talk about cleaning leather couches, we'll briefly discuss the different types of leather used for couches. There are four main types of leather used for couches:

  • Aniline
  • Suede
  • Pigmented
  • Nubuck

The type of leather is determined by the tanning and treatment process. Each type, while they share characteristics, will age differently and react to wear and tear. Some may provide more resistance compared to others, too.

Aniline leather

Aniline leather is the purest form of leather, considered the most luxurious. Nothing except dye and/or wax is added to the hide. The original unique markings, grains, and scars are preserved in the process.

While it will absorb spills, natural body oils, and normal wear, it ages well. It will last for a long time, provided it's properly cared for. Interestingly enough, aniline leather absorbs moisture from the atmosphere, helping keep it properly moisturized and supple. 

Suede leather

Though suede is a thinner and weaker leather variation, it's still a popular choice. Its softness and appearance is sought after. Interestingly enough, sheepskin is the most popular animal hide used in the creation of suede leather. Do not use water on your suede leather. 

Pigmented leather

Pigmented leather is finished with pigmented dye. This dye coating creates good resistance to various liquids, increases durability, and adds color to the leather. This is the most stain-resistant type of leather. Since this type of leather is not as top of the line as other types, so it's cheaper. 

Nubuck Leather

Nubuck leather has a velvet-like appearance and texture. This leather is the top-grain layer of a hide, but it may show marks and scratches more easily. Many people draw comparisons to suede, but nubuck is more durable and costs more.

Cleaning Your Leather Couch: The Step-By-Step Guide

Professional cleaning of the upholstery on a sofa

Now that we've gone through the general logistics, let's get into the meat and potatoes of this process. When using this advice, always make sure to spot-test any products to ensure that they are actually safe for your couch. 

So, let's start discussing the important things you'll have to do for a clean leather couch.

1. Vacuum Your Couch

The first thing you're going to need to do is to grab a hand vacuum and use it to vacuum the surface of your couch. When vacuuming, make sure to get underneath the cushions and in the smaller crevices that your sofa has. This is where most of the debris congregates and often causes your sofa to smell badly. 

Click here to get a cordless hand vacuum from Amazon.

2. Remove Stains With The Cleaning Agent Of Your Choice

Once you've gotten all the debris out of the way, it's time to actually get started wiping down your sofa. This is done by mixing a cleaning agent of your choice. Most people choose to use saddle soap with water, a sprayable saddle soap, or a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water. It's up to you to determine which one you want to use. 

Click here to get sprayable saddle soap from Amazon.

Use a cloth dipped in the cleaning solvent to wipe away stains, spots, and patches. Try not to overwet the leather. Your sofa shouldn't be soaked; it should be damp. If you use saddle soap, you may need to rinse it off with a damp cloth afterward. When cleaning your leather, scrub in circular, buffing motions. It helps!

3. Dry The Leather

Drying your leather is not something that should be done by just walking away and waiting. It would be best if you were proactive. The best way to make sure that it gets dry is to take a dry microfiber cloth and wipe down your sofa. 

Click here to get microfiber cloths from Amazon.

How Often Should I Clean My Leather Couch?

Vintage furniture and decoration, dark blue wall with part of vintage leather armchair and vase with flowers on side table

The good news about leather sofas is that they're low maintenance. Light-colored couches need to be cleaned twice a year, while darker couches can be cleaned only once a year. Of course, if you have a stain or a spill that just happened, it's best to do a spot treatment as soon as possible.

Two important components of maintaining your leather couch are routine cleaning and conditioning. Doing these two things will increase the longevity of your leather couch. 

Over time, your leather couch naturally collects dust, which dulls the leather and makes it more prone to damage. To help increase its lifespan, wipe the couch down every week or so with a microfiber cloth. This alone will pay dividends toward prolonging the life of your leather couch and keeping it pristine.

How To Condition Your Leather, Including A Homemade Solution

Cleaning your leather is only half the battle. To keep your sofa pristine, you will need to condition it too. This can be done by using a specialty product. Spray the conditioner on a rag, then wipe down the sofa with the rag. Then, use another dry microfiber cloth to pick up any residue.

Click here to get a leather conditioner spray from Amazon.

How Often Should I Condition My Leather Couch?

Conditioning your leather couch should be done whenever it's cleaned, but there's more to it than just that. If you have a sofa that's placed near a fireplace, a heater, or in a room that's very dry, you may need to condition it once every three months. This is because conditioning can help lock in your leather's moisture---something that often dries out in hotter conditions.

Homemade Leather Conditioner 

If you're like many folks out there, then you prefer to make your own cleaning products. Thankfully, making a high-quality leather conditioner is a cinch. To create your own homemade leather conditioner, mix the following in a spray bottle:

  • 1 quart warm tapwater
  • 1 tablespoon dish soap
  • Several drops vinegar

Unlike most commercial leather conditioners, you can just spritz it on, wipe this into your leather, and let it air dry. So, it's extra convenient too!

Saddleback Leather is an industry-leader in the world of leather products. See how they clean and condition a leather couch below:

Chamberlain has a full range of leather conditioning products, so we recommend browsing their selection to find one that's best for your specific type of leather.

Check it out on Amazon here. 

Special Cleaning Situations

Though a general cleaning method tends to be useful with most stains, some stains require specialized care. To ensure that you get the best results while cleaning, we're going to address some of the most difficult stains to deal with on leather.

How To Remove An Ink Stain From A Leather Couch

Ink stains are tough to get rid of, regardless of the material. With leather, you need to address the stain as soon as you see it happen. Here's what to do:

  1. Start by taking a rag and using it to blot up the stain. Do not scrub. Rather, try to get as much of the ink absorbed as possible. 
  2. Get a small bowl and make a mixture of warm water and a teaspoon of dish soap. 
  3. Dip another rag in the dish soap and blot it away. If you notice the stain lifting up, then keep doing it until you can no longer see it. 
  4. If you do not see any progress, take a cotton swab and dip it in rubbing alcohol. Then, dab the ink stain in the alcohol. It should lift up on its own. 

It's worth noting that it's often better to use a commercial cleaner that's been rated for ink stain removal on leather if you have antique leather. These cleaners are gentler than rubbing alcohol. 

Click here to get ink remover from Amazon.

How To Remove A Grease Stain From A Leather Couch

Grease stains, though not as aggravating as ink stains, are still painful to remove. They also happen to be more common. So, let's talk about how you can get rid of those grease stains.

  1. Start by using a microfiber towel to blot at the grease stain. Try to get any excess grease into the rag.
  2. Sprinkle some corn starch on the grease stain, pressing it in gently with your hands.
  3. Wait for 30 minutes to an hour, then vacuum the corn starch away. 
  4. Add a new batch of cornstarch to the stain, and leave it on for 24 hours. 
  5. Wet a cloth with white vinegar, then use the cloth to wipe away the rest of the cornstarch. You should have a grease-free sofa now.

Click here to get corn starch from Amazon.

How To Remove A Red Wine Stain From A Leather Couch

Red wine can be pretty difficult, too, especially if you have a white leather sofa. Thankfully, there is a way to fix this stain fairly reliably:

  1. Soak up any excess red wine you can with a dry cloth. Dabbing works well since you don't want to spread the stain with a scrub. 
  2. Dip another rag in leather conditioner, and blot the affected area gently. You should see the stain start to lift. 
  3. Use a clean rag to wipe up the wine. 
  4. Repeat steps two and three until the red wine stain is fully lifted. 
  5. Once the stain has been fully lifted, condition the affected part of your couch from seam to seam. Do not skip this step since alcohol can dry out and permanently stain the leather. 
  6. After the couch has been conditioned, clean your throw pillows and dry off the couch. 

Important Questions About Leather Cleaning Products

Loft interior with leather sofa and skull wall decor

Leather, while durable, cannot be cleaned through the use of just any item. You need to use the right tools, and unfortunately, there is often a lot of misunderstanding as to what you should use. Over the years, people have started to get imaginative when it comes to their sofa cleaning solutions. Let's take a look at some of the most common questions relating to tools.

Can You Use Magic Eraser On Leather?

This is actually a fairly common point of contention among cleaning fans. For the most part, the consensus seems to be that Mr. Clean's Magic Eraser can be used on leather safely. However, it's important to remember that there's a right way and a wrong way to use it. If you want to use a Magic Eraser, it's best to use it on lighter leathers. 

Magic Erasers can be pretty abrasive, so if you want to use this popular sponge on your leather, don't get heavy-handed with it. 

Click here to get Magic Erasers from Amazon.

Can You Use Baby Wipes To Clean A Leather Sofa?

For most types of spills and cleaning projects, baby wipes will be an okay substitute though they're not ideal. However, if you have very delicate leather or dyed leather, they're probably not a good pick. A better option would be to get leather-centric wipes that condition and clean, like the ones from Miracle Wipes.

Click here to get Miracle Wipes from Amazon.

Is Windex Safe For Leather?

Windex may seem like it's pretty light compared to other cleaners, but it's not gentle enough to work with leather. At best, you could end up with leather that's dried out. At worst, the Windex will end up staining your leather permanently with an obnoxious blue hue. The moral of the story? Don't use Windex or other harsh cleaners.

Can I Use Murphy's Oil Soap On Leather?

Believe it or not, this has been a go-to for leather cleaners for ages. Murphy's Oil Soap is so popular with leather products because it's an oil-based cleanser. Since it uses oils to remove stains, you don't have to worry about it being too harsh or worse, causing your leather to dry out. 

If you want to use Murphy's Oil Soap on your leather sofa, just follow the instructions on the bottle. It's really that easy to use, and yes, the wood instructions work with leather, too. The only time when you should not use this soap is when you have a suede couch. Suede and oil-based soaps don't mix!

Click here to get Murphy's Oil Soap from Amazon.

Will Water Stain A Leather Couch?

A common misconception that people have is that water will permanently stain a leather couch. This is only half true. Water will only stain your couch if it's left to sit there, soaks through the leather, or affects a type of leather that is not water-resistant or repellant.

Preventing this from happening is a cinch. All you have to do to prevent a water stain is wipe down the couch as soon as it's wet. 

How Do You Clean A Faux Leather Couch?

Faux leather is a trend on the rise. Whether you have or are searching for a faux leather couch for financial or economical reasons, you want to ensure that it stays clean and well maintained. While you may be able to use similar methods to leather care, there are some unique caveats and methods. 

For example, not all leather cleaners or conditioners can be used on faux leather. Keep this in mind before you try to use it on your faux leather couch.

In Closing

Leather couches are not like fabric, and trying to treat them as if they are will not work out well for you. You need to pay attention to the special needs of leather when you are cleaning the couch. Using gentle cleansers, like oil soap, saddle soap, or even a 50/50 white vinegar mixture can all make it easier for you to keep your leather looking great. 

If you are unlucky and happen to get a stain on your couch, the best way to make sure it gets lifted out is to act as soon as it happens. As long as you clean the stain meticulously, you should be able to enjoy a pristine, stain-free couch for years to come. 

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