You might read that you can use window cleaner, nail polish remover, magic sponges, cleaning wipes, hair spray, shoe polish and markers to fix your leather auto interior. But, these products will damage your leather, and you should not use them.
Leather auto seats tend to get worn out and old looking quickly if you don’t clean them the right way. This video will show you how to clean the leather seats in your car and make them last three times as long.
Eating fast food in your car is unavoidable on some busy days, and we’ve all had those, “Oh crap!” moments when fries went flying all over the car seat. Although this isn’t unusual or uncommon, it’s probably not something you should brush off too lightly if you have leather seats. Grease and oil, even just the natural oils in your skin, can really add up and cause damage to your leather seats. In fact, oil (from food or just the oil in your skin) is one of the main reasons leather car seats end up looking old and worn.
How does oil damage leather car seats?
There are two main ways that oil causes damage to leather auto seats:
1. Oil combines with little bits of dust and dirt, acting like a fine sand paper that wears down the protective coating on your seats as passengers get in and out of your car. That protective layer makes your leather seats more resilient to scratches, water and heat damage as well as other types of wear and tear, so, once that layer is worn thin, your seats are more susceptible to all types of damage.
Seat worn, over time, from dirt and oil
2. When oil gets on your leather seats, especially once it starts to break down that protective coating, it is soaked into the back side of the leather—the part you can’t see. Over time, the leather will “fill up,” and the oil will rise to the surface. Once the oil saturates the leather, the result is typically ugly oil stains.
How to prevent oil damage to your auto seats
To prevent oil damage, you should clean and protect your car seats 6-8 times a year, cleaning the most used areas more frequently than those that aren’t used very often. Check out our leather cleaning post for tips on leather cleaning and protection.
Additionally, never treat your leather with olive oil, petroleum or any other type of oil. A lot of people do to try to prevent drying, but the oil you use will get soaked up just like any other oil, resulting in spots and discoloration.
How do I get rid of oil damage?
If you find oil spots on your car seats, you can try to remove them by rubbing the area with a soft leather cleaner. You may be able to temporarily remove the spot, but since more oil remains deep within the leather, you will probably see it resurface over time.
Depending on the extent of the damage, a professional may be able to do a more thorough cleaning of the leather seat than you will be able to do yourself, as they have special cleaning tools and processes that can cleanse deep into the leather.
Post any additional questions in the comments, and we’d be happy to answer them for you!
I’ve seen people try every household product in the book to clean and repair their leather auto interior, and there are 8 products I see that cause major problems for people on a regular basis. I don’t recommend using any of the following on your auto leather:
Hair spray has always been a favorite fix-all by old wives’ tale believers. Hair spray has been hailed as a solution for stain removal, stopping runs in tights and is now being used to remove stains from leather furniture.
While many of the ladies here at Fibrenew do insist that it works wonders on stocking runs, we are all 100 percent in agreement that you should NEVER try using it on leather.
There are two main reasons not to use hair spray on leather furniture or other upholstery:
A lot of hair spray contains alcohol, and alcohol damages the surface of all types of leather upholstery. While you may not see the damage right after you spray it on, you will notice that it breaks down the leather’s ability to protect itself from damage down the road. This is especially true for fully-finished leather.
Hair spray is always going to leave your leather feeling a little sticky. You might think of this as a minor nuisance and just wait for it to wear off, but the truth is that “just a little sticky” is actually more problematic than you might think. The hair spray residue will attract little tiny pieces of dirt and dust that you might not be able to see with the naked eye. This will cause abrasion as people move around on your upholstery, breaking down the protective topcoat on fully-finished leather and digging into and damaging semi-aniline or aniline leather.
When it comes to repairing and caring for leather furniture, there are hundreds of options. Furniture stores and online retailers offer up products that do everything from cleaning to dying leather. However, you should proceed with extreme caution when you use these DIY products on your furniture. I’ve heard and seen the effects of horror stories where these products ruined people’s leather furniture, so here are a few pointers on what to look out for.
1. Don’t use any products that contain alcohol or acetone. Alcohol seeps into and damages the protective surface of furniture leather. Acetone will remove the dye and color from leather.
2. Be sure to use products designed for upholstery. Leather used for shoes, jackets and clothing is very different than that used in furniture.
3. Only use products designed for the type of leather you have. Most furniture is made of aniline, semi-aniline or fully-finished leather. Because of the differences in finish, it is very important to use only products designed for the leather you have.
4. Dying leather is a highly specialized art. Professionals receive extensive training on color matching and dying, and it’s not at all likely that any DIY dye kit will produce very good dying results. So, be very careful with these products – test them on a part of the furniture that no one will ever see before you use it on the visible part of the piece.
5. Stay away from products that say they are for multiple surfaces, even if one of those surfaces is leather. Most of the time these products contain elements that will damage leather. It is best to stick with products made specifically for leather.
Leather furniture and upholstery will inevitably face some wear and tear throughout its life, and there are many types of damage you can’t avoid. However, sun damage is one problem that can definitely be prevented. Too much sunlight and heat will fade and/or dry out your leather.
Couch faded by the sun
Fading is commonly seen in semi-aniline and aniline leathers, and it is less common in fully-finished leathers that have a protective topcoat. It’s a problem people frequently face, and, if you put your leather furniture next to a window that gets a lot of sunlight, you can see fading in as little as 4 to 6 months.
Drying will occur with any type of leather. The sun’s heat slowly causes the moisture and natural oil in leather to evaporate. Over time, if you don’t care for your leather properly, it will dry out and crack.
Badly cracked chair
How to Prevent Sun Damage
One crucial step to preventing fading and cracking is to, if possible, keep your leather furniture out of direct sunlight. You can do all the right things to protect your sofa, but, if it’s directly in front of a sunny window, it is only a matter of time before the heat takes its toll. If you do need to place furniture in front of a window (we know, most people do), invest in some blinds to shade your furniture from the sun during the hottest, sunniest parts of the day. Those blinds will be a lot cheaper than taking your leather upholstery to a professional for patching and re-dying later on down the road.
Another important precaution to take is to clean and protect your furniture 3-4 times a year with a leather conditioning kit. For tips, check out our post on how to clean and protect your leather.
There are a plethora of leather products available to clean and repair auto leather. Some of these can be great tools for car owners, but others contain harmful chemicals that will do more harm than good for your car.
Here are some good tips on what to look for when shopping around for leather products:
1. Make sure the product you are using is designed specifically for the type of leather you are using it on. Products are usually made for aniline, semi-aniline or fully-finished leather. The vast majority of auto leather is fully finished – it has dye and a protective layer that make it more durable than other types of leather. Different types of leather soak up products in different ways, so not all leather cleaners will work for all kinds of leather.
2. The finish on auto leather is completely different from that found on jackets, shoes and purses. Be sure that you get products designed for upholstery.
3. Don’t use products on your leather if the container says they are designed to be used on both leather and plastic products. These likely contain elements that will cause long-term damage to leather.
4. Do not use any products that contain any alcohol or acetone. Alcohol will damage the protective top coat on leather, and acetone will break down the leather dye, removing the color.
5. Be wary of do-it-yourself dying products. Finding an exact color match is sometimes difficult for professionals, and most DIY dye kits lack what you need to make your repair look good.
There are also a lot of wives’ tales about household products that people use to repair leather. Some of these have merit, but others will really harm your leather. Before you try out a household product on your auto interior, check out our post on frequently recommended leather remedies that ruin leather.
Any thoughts on good/ bad car leather products? Share them in the comments!