We can spend a large proportion of our day sat in our vehicles, driving to and from work, school, the grocery store and numerous other places. Over time, the leather seats in our cars, SUVs and trucks get dirty, grimy and need a thorough deep clean. In this guide, we will show you how to clean dirty leather car seats in just eight easy steps.
Leather car seats used the be the preserve of high-end limousines, top of the range executive cars and luxury brands. Whist leather car seats still often feature in these top-spec luxury models, more modest compact hatchbacks and pickup trucks now have the option of a full leather interior.
Leather is a durable and luxurious material which is well suited to the rigors of modern motoring. It’s not affected by extremes in temperature or humidity, leather is supple yet maintains its shape and form. Leather can be embossed, perforated, padded, moulded and formed to hold many complex shapes, plus it is fairly easy to clean and maintain.
In this guide, we will show you how to clean really dirty leather car seats, highlighting the best tools, equipment, cleaning solutions and techniques, to keep your leather car seats clean and factory fresh.
Which Tools and Products to Use When Cleaning Dirty Leather Seats?
To clean your dirty leather car seats most effectively, we recommend the following tools and products are used:
- Microfiber Towels
- Microfiber Scrub Pad
- Soft Bristled Detailing Brush
- Soft Bristled Leather Brush
- Mild Leather Cleaner
- Leather Conditioner
- Leather Protector (Optional)
- Cocktail Sticks
- Steam Cleaner (Optional)
- Vacuum Cleaner
- Vacuum Cleaner Crevice Tool
- Air Compressor (Optional)
How To Clean Dirty Leather Car Seats In 8 Simple Steps
STEP 1: Inspect The Condition of Your Leather Seats
Before we answer the question of how to deep clean leather car seats, we must begin the leather cleaning process with a full inspection of your leather car seats. Specifically, you’re looking for rips or tears in the leather, holes or worn areas. Some leather car seats have perforated panels, whilst others are quilted, so each panel of leather needs careful consideration before any cleaning takes place.
Delicate or damaged areas of leather will require a different approach when it comes to the products and techniques used in the contact cleaning process. A careful and cautious approach will pay dividends in these areas.
STEP 2: Vacuum The Leather Seats
Using the crevice tool, attached to your vacuum cleaner, carefully vacuum the seat bases, paying particular attention to the seat base side bolsters. If the leather on the side bolsters is in good condition, carefully push the bolster away from the base to expose the join between the seat base side bolder and the seat base itself. This area can accumulate a surprising amount of loose dirt, crumbs, sand and other detritus. With the joint exposed, use the vacuum cleaner crevice tool to suck up any unwanted dirt particles.
Be careful not to force the crevice tool into the surface of the leather as this could damage your car seat.
Run your finger-tips around the end of your vacuum cleaner’s crevice tool. If you feel any plastic burrs or sharp edges, use a nail file or sand paper to rub these areas smooth.
For extra protection, wrap some coloured detailers masking tape around the end of your vacuum cleaner crevice tool to create an even softer edge.
How to clean perforated leather car seats
If the leather seats in your vehicle have perforated panels, reduce your vacuuming speed to allow the crevice tool time to extract dirt and debris from the tiny perforation holes. The key to cleaning these types of leather car seats is to use the right tool to clean perforated leather seats, combined with the right technique.
We’re often asked ‘how to get crumbs out of perforated leather seats’ – but the answer is fairly simple. If any of the perforations are blocked with dirt or crumbs, try using a leather brush to gently agitate and massage the dirt free from the blocked hole. If this fails to remove the blockage from the perforation, as a last resort, try using a wooden cocktail stick to release the dirt from the perforation.
STEP 3: Blow The Dirt Out
If you have access to an air compressor, use a high pressure jet of compressed air to blow out any remaining dirt and debris from the seams and edges of the leather seats.
If you’re cleaning the whole interior of your car, use the compressed air to dislodge and blow dirt and detritus from underneath your leather car seats, then out of door pockets, storage trays, seatback pockets or any other hard to reach area.
Once the compressed air has dislodged any dirt and debris left over from the vacuuming stage, use the vacuum once again to safely and quickly remove this.
STEP 4: Contact Cleaning
Using a mild leather cleaner, or safe interior cleaner, together with a clean, soft-bristled leather brush or microfibre scrub pad. Carefully clean each panel of each seat. Work one seat panel at a time. Apply your leather cleaner directly to both the panel and brush or scrub pad.
There is no need to apply heavy pressure to the brush when cleaning leather car seats. Simply work in small, circular movements, letting the chemicals in the leather cleaner lift any ingrained dirt and grime. Allow the tips of the bristles to access the textured surface of the leather grain. Ensure that panel joints and the stitched areas are fully cleansed too.
How to clean light coloured leather car seats
For light colored leather, you may need to use a stronger leather cleaner. Alternatively, make a second pass with your chosen leather cleaner and leather brush or microfibre scrub pad. Don’t increase the pressure with the circular bushing movements as this won’t necessarily improve the cleaning results.
Use less pressure and a higher frequency of circular movement to ensure a thorough clean.
If you encounter a particularly stubborn stain, or heavily soiled areas of leather, you could use a steam cleaner to tackle the problem. The heat and steam will help to open the pores of the leather. This allows you to gently remove any ingrained dirt. You need to be careful and mindful of the heat and steam/water which is generated by the steam cleaner.
Wrap a clean microfiber cloth around the steam machine wand whilst gently cleaning the heavily soiled area.
Whilst the leather is warm and the pores of the leather are open, apply more leather cleaner directly to your soft bristled leather brush. Using a circular brushing movement, exfoliate and deep clean the leather, being careful not to use too much pressure.
STEP 5: Wipe Clean and Rinse
Once you have cleaned each panel of the leather seat, use a clean, damp microfiber cloth to wipe away any excess cleaning product, dirt and grime. After removing excess product and dirt, rinse your microfiber cloth in a bucket of warm water. Once rinsed, wring out the microfiber cloth, so it is damp and ready to be used on the next panel.
After fully cleaning and rinsing each part and panel of each leather car seat, empty your rinse bucket. You may be shocked at how dirty the water in your rinse bucket is!
Refill your rinse bucket with clean, warm water and, using a fresh, clean microfiber towel, wipe clean each seat once again with a damp microfiber. This second pass will ensure that the seats are completely clean and that any excess cleaning fluids have been removed.
STEP 6: Dry the Leather Seats
The next step is to dry your seats. The best way to do this is using compressed air. If you have access to an air compressor, use a jet of compressed air to blow dry the leather. Make sure you pull back the side bolsters and any padded panels to expose the seams, drying with compressed air.
If you don’t have access to an air compressor, simply use a dry microfiber towel and carefully wipe clean the leather seats. Work methodically, one panel at a time, one seat at a time. Once you have finished drying with a microfiber towel, leave the windows or doors open for a few minutes. Allow the air to circulate throughout the vehicle. You want the leather seats to be completely dry before you apply any leather treatments or protective coatings.
STEP 7: Condition the Leather
If your leather car seats are relatively new and in good condition, you can postpone this step and skip ahead to the next step. If your leather car seats are older, or the leather is creased, cracked or sun-damaged, then now might be the ideal time to apply a non-greasy leather conditioner. Even if your leather car seats are brand new, there’s no harm in conditioning the leather.
Avoid leather conditioners that contain waxes or silicone as they can leave behind unwanted residues.
When applying your chosen leather conditioner, always follow the manufacturers specific instructions. Shake the bottle before conditioning. Apply with a microfiber applicator, using a circular motion, working one panel at a time.
Don’t use too much of the leather conditioner, less is more. Allow the leather conditioner to be absorbed into the grain of the leather. Remove any excess product with a clean, slightly damp microfiber cloth.
Finally, buff each panel of your leather car seats with a clean, dry microfiber cloth.
Try to avoid conditioning leather car seats in strong, direct sunlight or high ambient temperatures.
STEP 8: Protect the Leather
Once you’ve fully cleansed, dried and conditioned your leather car seats, apply a dedicated leather protectant or coating. Modern leather protectors and ceramic coatings can help prevent dye transfer from jeans and other fabrics. They can also protect the leather from UV damage, dirt and staining.
Ceramic leather coatings offer a long lasting, protective barrier, without changing the color or tone of the leather, leaving the surface looking natural and showroom fresh. These ceramic costings also make subsequent leather cleaning super easy, with just a damp microfiber or leather wipes being all that’s required.
Just like the paintwork of your car, the leather car seats need regular, careful cleaning to keep them looking and feeling supple and luxurious. With the right products and techniques, outlined in this how-to guide, you’ll be able to maintain your leather car seats, keeping them looking and feeling like new.
Hopefully you now know how to clean dirty car leather seats. If you’re looking for a guide on how to clean and protect the exterior of your car, why not check out our guide on How Do I Safely Wash My Brand-New Car?