How to Clean Leather Furniture

How to Clean Leather Furniture

Leather furniture is often a purchase of extravagance. Maybe it’s your first grown-up purchase for the house, or perhaps it’s a practical purchase for longevity. Either way, leather furniture is undoubtedly a hefty investment that needs special care. Things like heat, water, animals and even having a favorite couch spot can take a toll on furniture in ways that could permanently damage the leather over time, if not properly cared for. But lucky for you, leather is not like other fabrics such as suede or cotton. By this, we mean it’s more durable when it comes to wear and tear. Plus, it doesn’t absorb odors! With a few pieces of advice, you’ll become a leather-cleaning superstar who won’t break a sweat over anything that gets thrown your way and be pH balanced for use on leather.

Cleaning a Leather Couch

When it comes to maintaining a clean leather couch, there is a specific approach you must take. In addition, the chemical makeup of the cleaner you use must exclude bleach and ammonia.

To start, use a soft brush vacuum attachment to get the dirt and dust out of those nooks and crannies. With this step, we’re trying to pick up any particles that could become abrasive once mixed with the liquid makeup of the cleaning solution you want to use. Then, you can either use leather cleaner or equal parts water and white vinegar to clean the couch. This should be applied with a soft cloth that is dampened by the cleaning solution, not soaked with it. Starting from the top, wipe the solution-filled cloth over the surface of the couch. Once clean, wipe any excess moisture off with a clean towel. While leather may seem water resistant, it can still absorb molecules, which will ultimately damage the material.

After cleaning the couch, you’ll want to condition it to bring back that leathery shine. To do so, mix one part of white vinegar with two parts of flaxseed oil. This should be applied, with a soft cloth in a circular motion. Leave on overnight then wipe off in the morning with a clean rag. Voila! Your couch is clean again. In order to ensure getting the most bang for your buck out of the couch, we suggest doing a deep clean like this once every few months, but at least twice a year.

In addition to cleaning your couch, make sure to apply a stain guard or protective cream formulated for leather upholstery. This will help protect the leather against any stains that might occur down the road and lessen their impact.

white leather couch

Cleaning a White Leather Couch

If maintaining a piece of leather furniture didn’t seem daunting, picture the idea of keeping a white leather couch clean. Stress-inducing, right? Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be. While all leather is prone to water, food and ink stains, white leather is at a higher risk since, well, it’s obviously more visible than it would be on brown leather.

In addition to the normal stains and odors, we want to avoid on furniture, white leather can yellow over time. When white leather yellows, it’s because the leather is going through the oxidation process. Environmental factors like weather, light, natural oils and temperature changes cause the fibers in the leather to break down, changing the color over time. This process also explains why a regular colored leather couch gets darker over the years, and why the straps of a Louis Vuitton bag change from light beige to dark brown. Though you won’t be able to fully prevent this process from occurring, there are definitely ways to slow down the process — mainly through properly cleaning your furniture.

Using a leather cleaner/preserver is one of the best ways to slow down oxidation. Fibers will break down at a slower rate if the leather is kept both clean and moisturized. Before applying any cleaner to leather, always make sure to check the manufacturing label in case there are specific cleaning instructions.

First, use a cloth to wipe down the couch and remove loose dust and dirt. If you’re using a brand of leather cleaner you’ve never used on your couch before, make sure to test the chemical on a sample area before applying it to a large portion of the furniture. Some cleaners have harsh chemicals that could harm your leather. Once you wipe down the couch with the cleaner, make sure to let it dry before letting anyone sit on it.

Removing Specific Stains from Leather Couches


Ink can become your worst enemy in terms of its relationship with leather. Naturally, we would hope to avoid permanent marker, pen or printed ink stains on the couch. Sometimes, however, it’s inevitable. There are definitely some tricks you can try before calling in professionals or giving up all hope!

If the stain is fresh, try wiping it up with a dry paper towel, being careful not to spread the ink. Then use mild soap and water to pick up the remaining marks. There are also leather-cleaning products specifically made to remove ink stains. Of course, follow the instructions on the bottle when applying it to the furniture and make sure to use some leather protector after to restore the finish. If neither of these methods works, there’s still one thing left to try: rub a little bit of rubbing alcohol on the spot. This is the least ideal method to use since you’ll need to apply direct heat (from a blow dryer) onto the rubbing alcohol to help it evaporate. Direct heat on leather can make it dry out and even crack, so let’s try to avoid this technique except in times of despair. Of course, there is one other approach; you can always give the experienced professionals at Guardsman a call!

Leather peeling

Grease and Oil

Similar to ink, grease and oil are no friends of leather. This is a shame, seeing as how eating fries, pizza and wings on a couch are a great American pastime. If you catch the stain quickly, you should only need an absorbent powder to do the trick. Before applying something like baking soda or talcum powder, use a cloth to absorb as much of the grease as possible. Then apply the powder and let it sit overnight. The powder should ultimately help lift the grease from the leather. In the morning, simply brush off the powder.

If the stain is a little bit more gnarly, there are leather degreasers that use chemicals to get rid of the grease mark. These products should be applied according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Mold and Mildew

If you notice that your couch smells mildew-y, you could have mold spores growing somewhere on your furniture. For anyone who has allergies, this can become a nightmare if not properly, and quickly, handled. Whenever removing mold and mildew from something, it’s best to do it outside where the spores can’t spread to other parts of the house. Though it’s a pain to carry a leather couch outside, your allergies will thank you in the long run.

First, use a soft brush to scrub away any visible mold on the couch. Work from the top down, removing each couch cushion to individually rub it down. Once you’ve scrubbed it, follow with a vacuum to make sure any remaining particles are removed from cracks in the couch. Make sure to clean the brush and vacuum thoroughly after collecting the mold from your couch. Once clean, let it sit in the sun for a bit. Since mold and mildew grow in damp, dark environments, the sun should help dry out your couch, thus killing any remaining spores that might be deeper beneath the surface.

After this point, the couch is okay to bring back inside. However, if you want to make sure the spores are completely killed, mix a solution of equal parts white-wine vinegar and water. Apply using a soft cloth and allow to dry in the sun.

Red Wine

Ah, the infamous red wine — so nice to have at the end of the day, yet oh so dangerous to drink while sitting or standing on any absorbent surface. Will today be the day the glass spills? Will the dog’s tail knock over the wine? It’s tough to say. But what we can say is that if a spill occurs on your leather, it’s pretty easy to clean it up.
As with any stain, red wine stains have the best chance of fully disappearing if they are attended to immediately. First, grab a paper towel and blot up as much of the wine as you can. Then, mix a frothy solution of mild soap and warm water. You want to have enough soap so that foam forms on top of the solution (like a bubble bath!). We want that foam because it is what you’ll be applying to the leather. With a sponge, apply the foam to the stain. Once the stain goes away, clean the area with a damp cloth and wipe it dry. And as usual, make sure to condition the area with a leather cleaner once the spot is fully dry.

If that doesn’t work, there is a more… unusual way to try to get rid of that stain. You’ll need a sock (we know you have a loner sock somewhere in your closet!). Fill the sock with a good amount of salt and knot it at the top so the salt doesn’t fall out (you know, because it’s bad luck to spill salt). Place the salt sock over the stain and apply pressure with your hand. With this, we want the salt to absorb as much of the red wine as possible from the leather. Once the stain starts to disappear, use a cloth dampened with warm water to blot the area until it’s fully gone. Be careful — make sure you’re blotting the area since rubbing leather can damage the material. Finally, use a clean towel to gently dry the area, letting it air dry until fully dry to the touch.

dog on couch

Pet Urine

Finally, we all love cuddling with our pets on the couch. However, if you have a puppy, or maybe an older animal that has trouble controlling itself, there’s always the risk of urination on your furniture. In the case of couches, this would most likely occur on a couch cushion.

Similar to a wine spill, first blot the area with paper towels, being careful not to spread the liquid to other areas of the cushion and couch. Then, remove the stuffing if there is a zipper on your cushion. You’ll want to clean the cushion stuffing, at some point, as well, but removing it will prevent any liquid from soaking through the leather onto your actual cushion. To clean it, use an enzymatic cleaner and wash in the sink by hand. Let it air dry outside, if possible.

Using a urine stain cleaner, test it on a hidden area of the couch. Sometimes, the chemicals in these cleaners will be too harsh — so you’d rather have the spot be hidden than visible! If there are no issues with your cleaner, spray some on a damp cloth and gently wipe over the entire area of the stain. Since you’re dampening the entire surface, you’ll lessen the chances of leaving a watermark stain over the specific spot you cleaned.

Once both parts of the cushion are clean and dry, reinsert the stuffing into the cushion cover. Finally, apply a leather conditioner.

If, for some reason, any of these tips don’t get the stains out to your satisfaction, there is still one more answer. Give Guardsman a call at 1-800-788-8020 to save the day! Our Care & Repair service is always available and ready to provide you with an expert repairman who can come to your home to remove any stain you are concerned about.

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