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How to Prevent and Remove Oil Damage to Leather Furniture

One of the worst things to eat on leather couches is buttered popcorn—the all-time favorite movie snack. What a bummer.

Here’s some food for thought for preventing and removing oil damage to leather sofas and any other type of leather surface.

How oil affects leather

Here’s how oil negatively interacts with leather products.

It weakens the material structure

Oil can harm leather because it weakens the material’s structural integrity.

Leather is naturally porous, allowing it to breathe and maintain its flexibility. However, when oil is applied, it can seep into these pores, causing the leather to become overly saturated. This excess moisture can lead to a breakdown of the leather fibers over time, resulting in a loss of strength and durability.

Oil can also attract dust and dirt particles, which can become embedded in the leather, compromising its appearance and longevity.

Oil damages the aesthetic appeal

Oil can significantly alter the aesthetic appeal of leather. Leather is cherished for its natural beauty and unique grain patterns, but when oil is applied, it can darken or discolor the leather, diminishing its visual appeal. This reminder should instill a sense of caution and care when handling oily substances around your leather items.

Over time, the oil may also oxidize, leading to a greasy or sticky residue that is difficult to remove. This can detract from the appearance of leather goods, making them worn or unkempt.

Chemical reactions make leather degrade faster

Certain oils may contain additives or chemicals that can react with the leather, causing it to degrade rapidly.

These chemical reactions can result in the formation of stains, spots, or discoloration that are difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. Therefore, it is essential to use caution when applying oils to leather and to choose products specifically designed for leather care to avoid inadvertently causing damage.

What’s happening

When oil gets on your furniture, it is soaked into the back side of the leather—the part you can’t see.

Then, eventually, it saturates broader areas as it naturally fills up from back to front over time. Once oil saturates the leather, you end up with ugly oil spots on the surface, like in this photo. It isn’t pretty, that’s for sure.

The two best practices for preventing oil damage to leather

You can do two key things to avoid spots of oil on leather.

1. Clean and protect leather 3 to 4 times a year

Regular cleaning and protection are your best tools for maintaining the beauty and longevity of your leather furniture. 

When you clean your furniture, you remove dirt and oil from its surface and prevent them from eventually soaking in. A good protection cream will fill in the gaps and spaces in the leather’s original top coat as it wears down, giving you the power to preserve your leather’s quality.

By filling those gaps with protection cream, you remove the possibility that they can be filled with dirt and oil later – sort of like putting out the fire before it starts. Here’s a detailed guide if you need some extra info.

2. Avoid exposure to excessive amounts of dirt, grease, and body oil

The fact of the matter is that if you use your leather furniture at all, it will be exposed to some body oil and dirt.  You’re probably going to eat on it occasionally – it comes with the territory. 

However, you can limit the damage caused by normal wear and tear. You should avoid sleeping on your leather furniture regularly or sitting down if you are sweaty and dirty from the outside. Also, if you are wearing sunscreen or have greasy popcorn hands, use the less expensive seats in the house. 

If you can, cover your leather in areas that see a lot of dirt and oil. Try tossing a blanket over the headrest of a leather recliner you know you will rest your head on frequently or for extended periods of time.

How to prevent and remove oil spots from leather

Preventing and removing oil spots on leather requires careful attention and a proactive approach to leather care. Here’s a detailed guide to help you keep your leather items looking their best:


  1. Avoid Contact: The best way to prevent oil spots on leather is to minimize contact with oily substances. Be mindful when handling greasy foods or using oily products around leather items.
  2. Use Protective Measures: Consider using leather protectants or sealants as a proactive measure to create a barrier against oil and other liquids. These products are designed to repel spills and make it easier to clean any accidental stains, providing an extra layer of defense for your leather items.
  3. Regular Cleaning: Clean your leather items by wiping them down regularly with a soft, dry cloth. This helps remove any surface oils or dirt that could lead to stains.
  4. Substances to avoid:
    • Olive oil
    • Coconut oil
    • Linseed oil
    • Body oils
    • Any other natural oils

Removing Oil Spots:

  1. Act Quickly: If you notice an oil spot on your leather item, it’s important to act quickly to prevent it from settling into the leather. Start by dabbing the stained area of the upholstery gently with a clean cloth—a microfiber cloth works best—to remove as much of the oil as possible. This immediate response can significantly reduce the severity of the stain.
  2. Absorbent Materials: Sprinkle a small amount of cornstarch, talcum powder, or baking soda onto the oil spot. These absorbent materials can help draw out the oil from the affected area.
  3. Let it Sit: Allow the absorbent material to sit on the stain for several hours, or even overnight, to give it time to work its magic.
  4. Brush Away: After the absorbent material has had time to work, use a soft-bristled brush to gently brush away the residue. Be careful not to scrub too vigorously, as this could damage the leather.
  5. For stubborn oil spots, don’t worry. The removal process can be repeated several times until the stain is fully removed. This reassurance should give you the confidence that even the most stubborn stains can be tackled with the right approach.
  6. Spot Cleaning: You can try spot cleaning with a mild leather cleaner or saddle soap for stubborn stains. Apply a small amount of cleaner to a clean, damp cloth and gently rub the stain in a circular motion on the leather surface.
  7. Dry Thoroughly: Once the stain is removed, allow the leather item to air dry completely before using it again. Avoid using heat sources such as hair dryers, as these can cause the leather to become stiff or crack. You can follow up with dedicated leather cleaners and leather conditioners if you wish.

Additional Tips:

  • Test First: Before using any cleaning or conditioning products on your leather, it’s always a good idea to test them in an inconspicuous area first to ensure they won’t cause any damage.
  • Professional Cleaning: If you need clarification on removing a stubborn oil spot or the leather item is valuable or delicate, consider taking it to a professional leather cleaner for treatment.
  • Regular Maintenance: To keep your leather items looking their best, continue to clean and condition them regularly. This helps protect the leather from damage and keeps it supple and lustrous.

Following these preventive measures and taking prompt action to remove oil spots, you can keep your leather items looking beautiful and well-maintained for years.

Fibrenew can rescue your oil-clogged leather any time

Contact your local Fibrenew professional for all your leather, plastic, and vinyl repair needs.

Want to run a business that gives you incredible earning potential and the flexibility to take control of your time and life? Join the Fibrenew Family!

Check out our free Franchise Information Report for everything you need to know.

Also, enjoy these valuable resources on all things leather, plastic, and vinyl repair, franchising, sustainability, and more:

Until next time!



Oil on the leather FAQ

Can I use water to remove oil stains from leather?

Water alone is not typically effective for removing oil stains from leather. Water can sometimes worsen the stain by spreading it or causing the leather to become discolored. Instead, absorbent materials like cornstarch or baking soda are used to draw out the oil.

How do I know if a cleaning product is safe for my leather item?

Always test any cleaning product on a small, inconspicuous area of the leather first to ensure it won’t cause damage or discoloration. Look for products specifically designed for leather care and avoid using harsh chemicals or solvents that could harm the leather.

What should I do if the oil stain doesn’t come out after the first attempt?

If the stain persists after your initial removal attempt, repeat the cleaning process or use a different method. Some stains may require multiple treatments to remove entirely. If you still need help, consider seeking professional help from a leather cleaner.

Can I use a hairdryer or heat source to speed up the drying process after cleaning?

It’s best to avoid using heat sources like hairdryers to dry leather after cleaning, as this can cause the leather to become stiff or crack. Instead, allow the leather item to air dry naturally at room temperature.

How do I prevent oil stains from occurring in the first place?

To prevent oil stains on leather, avoid contact with oily substances and consider using protective measures like leather sealants or protectants. Regularly cleaning and conditioning your leather items can also help maintain their appearance and resilience against stains.

Can I use household items like vinegar or dish soap to remove oil stains from leather?

While some household items like vinegar or mild dish soap may be effective for cleaning leather, they may not always be suitable for removing oil stains. It’s best to use products specifically designed for leather care to ensure the best results and avoid damaging the leather.

How do I remove oil stains from delicate or sensitive leather items?

For delicate or sensitive leather items, it’s best to proceed with caution and seek professional help if you’re unsure. Test any cleaning products or methods in a small, inconspicuous area first, and consider consulting a professional leather cleaner for guidance.

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Meet the author

Chad Hendry

Head Trainer

I’m like a modern-day superhero at Fibrenew, using my trusty cape to save leather, plastic and vinyl from being wasted! That’s right: I help franchisees learn how to restore damaged items instead of replacing them.

See other posts by Chad Hendry