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!
Most car interior leather and motorcycle seats are fully finished, and there are a couple of reasons why it cracks. Cracking usually occurs when the protective coating on fully finished leather is worn down or when there has been a manufacturer problem.
Cracked leather car seat
1. Body oil and dirt can cause leather to crack -
It is very easy for dirt and oils to collect on the surface of leather. Together, these act like a fine sand paper, breaking down the protective layer on fully finished leather over time, eventually leading to visible cracks at the surface. Once the protective layer is broken down, the leather underneath, which is incredibly porous, soaks up the dirt and oil sitting on its surface causing further abrasion and damage.
2. A manufacturer problem can cause leather to crack -
Tanneries put a layer of dye and a protective top coating on cow hide (almost like paint on drywall) to make fully finished leather. Leather has a lot of give and will stretch and move as people sit and slide around on it, so the manufacturer needs to stretch it properly before they put on the dye and protective top coating. If they don’t stretch it well, the leather will quickly stretch more than the dye can handle, and the coating will crack.
Once leather is cracked, a leather repair professional can typically fix it, however, it is much cheaper and easier to clean and take care of your leather seats from the start than to deal with cracking after it happens.
We’d be happy to answer any additional questions you have. Please post questions in the comments below, and, if you want to show us a photo of a specific piece of leather, either post it on our Facebook page or contact your local franchisee.
You may notice that, over time, your soft leather car or motorcycle seats become dry or faded. Many people attribute this to wear and tear, but it is actually caused by heat and light from the sun. Because the leather in your vehicle is likely to be exposed to a lot of sunlight and heat in parking lots, vehicle manufacturers use leather that is highly resistant to sun damage in their seats.
Motorcycle seat faded by the sun
Most car seats are made from fully-finished leather, and it tends to hold up a lot longer in the sun than other types of leather. But, even the strongest of leathers will be damaged by heat and sunlight over time, so it’s a good idea to clean and protect your seats 6-8 times a year to boost their resistance to damage.
You can also try using window shields in a car or covers on a bike to keep some of the light and heat off your leather if you park in the sun for extended periods of time.
It is also a good idea to seek out parking spots in the shade instead of in direct sunlight.
How to fix dried out, faded leather
You can have a leather professional re-dye faded leather for a reasonable cost. But, once the natural oils found in leather are gone, they’re gone for good. Leather professionals can do a number of things to make it look better, but there is no way to truly restore it to its previous condition. That’s why preventative maintenance is so important!
We’d be happy to answer any additional questions you may have. Please post your thoughts in the comments!
We recommend that you clean and protect your car and motorcycle seats 6-8 times a year, cleaning seats that get used frequently the most and those that often go untouched less frequently.
Why you should clean your leather car and motorcycle seats
Dirt and oil collect on seats easily. You usually can’t see this fine layer of mess, but it acts as an abrasive surface, making tiny scratches on and wearing down the top layer found on the vast majority of leather vehicle seats. Once that layer is worn down, the leather is more susceptible to all kinds of damage.
Also, leather is naturally very porous, so, once the protective layer has been worn down, it soaks up the dirt and oils left standing on its surface. Even before you can see the effects of this damage, the leather is collecting the dirt and oil it soaks up on the back side of the leather. Once there is enough on the back side, it will eventually seep to the front and discolor the leather.
What to use to clean leather car and motorcycle seats
Use a soft cleaner made specifically for leather. You can get leather cleaners at most auto enthusiast shops, and Fibrenew franchisees all sell them. Before you pick a cleaner, you should read our guide on leather cleaning products.
How to clean auto and bike seats
You should check out the directions on the bottles of the cleaner and protection cream you buy, but, generally speaking, you should:
Squeeze leather cleaner on a clean sponge.
Wipe your seats using a circular motion. You don’t need to press down hard; just a gentle rub will suffice.
Use a clean, dry cotton towel to dry off any excess cleaner.
Use the same circular motion and a soft cotton cloth to apply protection cream to your couch.
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.
The business of dying leather is a tricky one, and you really can’t replicate it with any marker. People come to us all the time asking us to fix problems they’ve created trying to fix a bleached out or discolored spot on their upholstery with a similarly colored marker. The fact of the matter is that dyed leather usually has many layers and tones, and thinking you can find one marker that’s going to give you an exact match is like thinking a bottle of cheap hair dye is going to give your hair a natural look.
An example of a spot filled in with a brown marker
Now, if you just have a teeny tiny spot somewhere pretty hidden on your couch, car seat, etc. you might find marker results to be sufficient. But, if you want a discolored spot to match the rest of the piece, you really shouldn’t go the marker route. A professional, like Fibrenew, can usually re-dye spots for a very reasonable price.
Most people, myself included, think of window cleaner as being one of the mildest of all cleaners. People consider it to be so mild they could use it on almost anything. Unfortunately, you really cannot use window cleaner on leather upholstery because almost all of it contains alcohol.
Alcohol will damage the surface of your leather, especially breaking down the protective top coat on fully-finished leathers that make up the vast majority of the leather upholstery market. Breakdown of this surface will leave your upholstery more susceptible to all types of damage in the future, like scratching and water damage.
Alcohol can also, in some cases, cause discoloration in leather.
This footrest has been slightly discolored with an orange hue because of an alcohol cleaner.
This couch has a slightly discolored mark because the owner used a cleaner with alcohol in it.