An expert 6-step guide to cleaning a leather sofa

Knowing how to properly clean a leather sofa is important because it is more susceptible to damage than other upholstery and some traditional cleaning methods can cause further stains or watermarks.

Leather sofas are a great choice for many reasons; they’re elegant, timeless, durable and, best of all, they’re relatively easy to clean – when you know how. As an expensive investment for your home, the last thing you want to do is damage your sofa while cleaning it. Just like you would when cleaning stainless steel or marble, cleaning leather requires extra care and attention – and there are some do’s and don’ts for better cleaning.

Our expert guide on how to clean a leather sofa covers all the key cleaning methods to keep your leather sofa in good condition and extend the life of your sofa.

How to clean a leather sofa: a step-by-step expert

“There are many options for properly cleaning your leather sofa; it’s important to use products specifically designed for leather treatment,” says Chad Bodinnar, Sales Manager at ScS (opens in a new tab).

“Water-based products are particularly useful for treating most stains by penetrating the surface to clean without harming your leather. Make sure that any liquid used to clean the surface is wiped off with a microfiber cloth and when finished cleaning you apply a leather protection cream to condition it. This will provide you with a protective layer to help repel stains and soiling while working to keep the leather soft and comfortable.”

Follow our simple step-by-step guide to refreshing your leather sofa.

What you will need:

  • A vacuum
  • Two or more microfiber cloths
  • Saddle soap/white vinegar/mild soap
  • Cream leather

1. Vacuum or wipe off dust and dirt

Handheld vacuum cleaner used as the first step to cleaning a leather sofa

(Image credit: Getty Images | Jenson)

Similar to cleaning hardwood floors, the first step in cleaning your leather sofa is to physically remove any dust, dirt, or grime from the surface of your sofa. “This will prevent it from being inadvertently rubbed on the couch when you wipe it down with the cleaning solution,” says Rebecca Snowden, interior style consultant at Furniture and choices (opens in a new tab).

Use the best vacuum cleaner you have for the job and go over your entire sofa, including the back, arms and underside of the cushions to completely remove all traces of dirt. If the cushions are removable, remove them to capture any hidden dirt.

“A good option here is to use the soft brush attachment of the vacuum cleaner to avoid scratches. But if you don’t have a suitable vacuum cleaner, a dry microfibre cloth will also do – and is also important for the step 3!”

2. Prepare a cleaning solution

When it comes to choosing the right soap or cleaner for your leather couch, it’s all about the gentler the better. “Some options work well here, and most are household items readily available in your bathroom or pantry,” says Rebecca. “A mild PH-balanced soap is the best choice for cleaning leather – either as a bar or by mixing a few drops in lukewarm water for a very dilute mixture.”

“For a natural approach, a simple 50:50 dilution of white vinegar and water can do the trick. It is an effective but gentle stain remover for most types of upholstery and leather does not Finally, saddle soaps, or soaps specifically made for leather, are an option, but they may also darken or harden the surface of your sofa.

3. Perform a patch test

Once your solution is ready, it is advisable to test it first on a small section of the leather, before applying it liberally. “Whatever cleaning solution you choose, try using it on a small area of ​​the sofa first,” advises Rebecca. “Preferably somewhere that’s not very visible.”

“Apply a small amount and let it dry to make sure it looks like you want it and there’s no fading.”

4. Clean the sofa with a microfiber cloth

Clean a cream leather sofa with a yellow microfiber cloth

(Image credit: Getty Images | Manuel-FO)

Once you’re happy with the patch test results, it’s time to begin the cleaning process. “You’ll need two soft microfiber cloths, one for cleaning the couch and one for drying it,” advises Rebecca. “First, soak a cloth in the cleaning fluid and wring it out – it should be damp, not wet. If you’re using bar soap, dampen the cloth and run it over the surface of the soap.”

“Now, working from top to bottom, rub the cloth gently but firmly along the surface, taking care to get into the corners. Continue rinsing the cloth in the cleaning solution as you go. you need.” Master cleaning your microfiber cloth to make sure it’s up to snuff.

“To avoid water marks after cleaning, we recommend that you dampen a colorfast cloth with boiled water from a kettle and gently wipe the entire panel or cushion from one seam to another,” advises Giselle Lancaster, Purchasing Manager at Sofology. (opens in a new tab) “This will help prevent water spots while the fabric dries.”

5. Dry polish the surface

After washing the sofa with your solution, the next step is to dry buff the surface of the leather, to ensure that no excess moisture remains – taking care to tackle any seams and dips pillows.

“There’s no need to rinse off the solution, but it’s essential to dry the sofa thoroughly to ensure there’s no risk of mildew,” says Rebecca.

6. Apply leather conditioner

An optional but highly recommended step is to apply a specialist conditioner to preserve the leather. Rebecca advises, “To keep your leather sofa in pristine condition, we suggest using a leather cream or conditioner to restore moisture and suppleness. It’s best to use it every 6-12 months, but it’s also best to check the care label on your sofa upholstery to find the best option.”

What should you not clean leather with?

“Genuine leather is a natural product, so it can react badly to harsh chemicals or acidity, so it’s best to avoid these cleaning products,” Chad warns. “Anything too acidic like undiluted vinegar, lemon juice or bleach can be too harsh – it will cause discoloration and potentially material damage to the leather.”

“We always recommend using specialist cleaning products for leather sofas,” advises Chad of ScS. However, he goes on to note that cleaning with vinegar is okay when left untreated, explaining, “You can mix equal parts of vinegar and warm water to create a natural solution that can be effective in removing unwanted stains or marks after a spill”.

Light brown distressed leather sofa in neutral living room with gray leather walls

(Image credit: Bread)

Can I use dish soap to clean my leather sofa?

Whether you can use dish soap to clean a leather sofa is a frequently asked question because you can clean more things with dishwashing detergent – but not a leather sofa it would seem.

“Due to the sensitivity of leather, it is not recommended to use dish soap to clean the surface,” warns Chad. “There are so many varieties of leather that each sofa can react differently, depending on the type of leather you have. In this case, it is best to treat any immediate spills with warm water and a clean cloth, wiping with circular movements then passing a dry microfiber cloth so as not to leave water.”

“If that doesn’t work, seek advice from the manufacturer’s guide or a specialist product designed for treating leather to ensure you don’t further damage the material.”

How to clean stains from a leather sofa

“Like many fabrics, it’s best to blot (never rub) spills as quickly as possible with a dry absorbent cloth,” advises Charlie Marshall, founder of Loaf (opens in a new tab).

“Blot up spilled water, food, oil or ink as soon as possible before they have time to harden,” agrees Rebecca. “Rubbing alcohol can be used cautiously to remove ink stains, and baking soda works well on grease stains. For more stubborn stains such as pen ink, there are cleaners available which can be used in small amounts to treat these areas.”

For more severe stains, Charlie adds: “We don’t recommend using saddle soap or any other specialist cleaners, instead we recommend you contact a certified company who can send professional upholstery cleaners to your home. you to make sure the leather stays pristine.”

Expert advice to extend the life of your leather sofa

The best way to prolong the life of your leather sofa is to keep it clean and take care of it on a daily basis.

“Dirt and dust increase fabric wear and can dull colors, reducing the life of your furniture, so keeping an eye on it’s upkeep is essential,” says Rebecca Snowden, Interior Style Advisor. “At a minimum, you should lightly vacuum your leather sofa once a week with a soft brush attachment, paying particular attention to the forearms where your hands rest. A thorough cleaning every three months or so is also recommended to ensure it is spotless for years to come.

Charlie Marshall, Founder of Loaf adds, “It wears brilliantly with age, but there are a few things to keep in mind when caring for leather. First, leather doesn’t like sharp objects or things like belt buckles, as these will scratch and mark it. You should also be wary of leather fading, so keep leather sofas out of direct sunlight or heat.

Rebecca also shares the following top tips for caring for your leather sofa to maintain its condition:

  • Gently vacuum your leather sofa with a soft brush every week.
  • Always clean up any spills with a clean, damp cloth as soon as possible.
  • Re-fluff and rotate your sofa cushions frequently to help maintain their appearance and durability.
  • Be careful around the front of your sofa arms as over time dulling and abrasion can occur if spills are left unattended.
  • Proactively protect your leather with specialist products, refer to your manufacturer’s guide if you are unsure.
  • Add cushions and throws to accommodate a layer of protection against potential spills.
  • Do not leave your leather sofa exposed to direct sunlight for an extended period of time as this may cause the color to fade.
  • Do not abuse it with cleaning products and especially avoid detergents. To be on the safe side, opt for specialist leather care kits.

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