CAR’s guide to cleaning leather seats

Give your leather seats a new lease of life with a top-quality leather cleaner

Red leather seats

by Ryan Gilmore |

Many today consider leather to be a luxurious option, reserved for expensive BMW 5-Series and Rolls-Royces, but that wasn't always the case. Not only has leather been included in some unexpected places (Renault Clio Baccara anyone?) but in the past, it wasn't even considered that luxurious. Early luxury cars would have soft fabrics for the rear occupants, leather was reserved for uncovered cockpits, only because it was so hard-wearing.

That much is true, leather is tough and dependable, but does need proper cleaning and maintenance. Sit in a classic car with original leather seats and the chances are they'll either be flakier than a sausage roll or scarred and sun-damaged.

Thankfully there is a huge market for leather cleaning, protection and even restoration. We've found the best leather cleaners available to get your seats looking Concours-spec in no time.

The best leather cleaners

Autoglym Leather Clean & Protect Kit

Best kit for a deep clean
Autoglym Leather Clean & Protect Kit
Amazon

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This kit will contain almost everything you could ever need to get your leather seats looking new. Autoglym is renowned for quality and this kit is no different; the leather cleaner will cut through dirt but won't damage the colour of your seats. It's also pH neutral so won't damage the leather. The care balm will offer a layer of protection but won't replace the natural matte leather look with a horrible shiny finish. Finally, the applicator and microfibre towel will make your life easier when you're cleaning your seats.

Meguiar's Ultimate Leather Balm

Great all-in-one solution
Meguiar's Ultimate Leather Balm

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If you're after top quality results without having to use a multitude of products, this option from Meguiar's is an excellent choice. Designed to clean, condition and protect, this leather balm includes cocoa butter and jojoba oil to nourish and clean leather surfaces. It also comes with an applicator.

Turtle Wax Leather Cleaner and Conditioner

Best budget option
Turtle Wax Leather Cleaner and Conditioner
Amazon

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If budget is a primary concern, this option from Turtle Wax will give you good results, but you'll need to scrub hard for them. The cleaner will protect, clean and condition your leather, but it's not as powerful as the more expensive options so you'll need to give it a very deep scrub to get the best results.

Simoniz Leather Wipes

Cleaning on the go
Simoniz Leather Wipes
Amazon

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Perfect for storing in your glovebox and using to clean on the go, these leather wipes are enriched with carnauba wax to nourish the leather while also removing dirt. Each pack comes with 20 wipes and is formulated specifically for car use.

Furniture Clinic Leather Care Kit

Best value cleaning kit
Furniture Clinic Leather Care Kit
Amazon

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All-in-one leather cleaners are like those 4-in-1 shampoos; good enough but you won't get the absolute best results. This kit from Furniture Clinic will give you a professional finish like the Autoglym kit but doesn't cost as much. This kit includes a cleaner and protection cream as well as a cleaning sponge and applicator sponge.

Colourlock Leather & Textile Cleaning Brush

Give your seats a deep scrub
Colourlock Leather & Textile Cleaning Brush
Amazon

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To get deep, embedded dirt out of leather, you'll need a proper cleaning brush that'll remove the dirt but won't damage the leather. This brush from Colourlock is ideal for use in the car thanks to the rigid bristles. It's also suitable for use on Alcantara and fabrics, too.

Car Detailing Brush Kit

A more complete interior brush set
Car Detailing Brush Kit
Amazon

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There are a load of car cleaning brushes on the market today and this set will allow you to clean more than just your leather surfaces. As well as the rigid brushes for removing embedded dirt, there are two softer brushes for cleaning hard-to-reach areas.

Meguiar's Microfibre Towels

Wipe away the cleaner for better results
Meguiar's Microfibre Towels
Amazon

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Microfibre towels are always great to have in your garage no matter what you're doing with your car. A microfibre towel will be needed to remove the leather cleaner and wipe down the surface. This triple pack from Meguiar's will mean you should always have one handy in the garage.

Leather seat cleaning FAQ:

How to clean leather car seats:

Cleaning your leather seats to a professional standard isn't too difficult if you use the correct equipment and don't mind rolling up your sleeves. Follow our guide below and your seats will look fresh.

  1. The first thing you should do it check to make sure the area you want to clean is suitable. Make sure it is leather (sounds silly, but some faux-leather is very convincing) and be wary of perforated leather, you'll need to be more cautious using cleaning products.
  1. Using a vacuum cleaner, remove larger bits of dirt/debris/biscuit crumbs while being careful not to scratch the leather. We recommend using a proper car vacuum cleaner for this because it's simply less of a hassle.
  1. Apply some of the leather cleaner to a microfibre towel and begin removing the surface dirt from the leather.
  1. Using a fairly rigid brush, begin to scrub more embedded dirt out from the leather. After this, wipe down with a clean microfibre cloth, you'll be able to see the dirt collected on this towel almost immediately.

If you're using an all-in-one cleaner then you're done, all you have to do is look at the awesome results. If, on the other hand, you're conditioning separately you'll need to keep on reading.

  1. Do a spot test on a relatively hidden area, make sure the conditioner doesn't discolour or mark the leather.
  1. If it's safe to use, use a microfibre towel and begin rub in the conditioner. Make sure not to use too much product, it'll leave you with a horrid, greasy texture.
  1. Leave the conditioner to settle overnight before buffing with another microfibre towel.

Why should I look after my seats?

A car seat is where you sit as you drive along so it's a good idea to look after the leather. Leather will crack and fade over time if you don't properly care for it which not only is unsightly but can lead to tears that are very costly to put right.

A properly maintained set of leather seats will not only be worth more when it comes to sale time but will just look nicer. Also, consider that to get a car properly re-trimmed in leather will more than likely be a four-figure job.

What if I don't have leather seats?

Don't worry, you can still buy products that will clean your seats, just use our guide here. Fabric and leather have different properties and as such will need different products to remove stains.

If you're wanting to upgrade to leather seats without using an upholsterer then you could try a nice set of leather seat covers.

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