Most high-end performance cars are opulent through and through. From the enhancements under the hood to custom suspension set-ups that allow you to rocket around corners, those of us that opt for the best – also take time to keep everything in tip-top shape. But when it comes to leather seats, keeping them clean and free of stains can be challenging.
If you have a car with leather seating – and I’m willing to bet dimes-to-donuts that most of you reading this article do, you’ll understand that finding a stain on leather car seats simply sucks. While there are several professional cleaning solution products and car detailers that specialize in leather seat cleaning, there are some easier methods to consider.
If you’re wondering how to remove leather car seat stains, this blog will serve you well.
In the information below, we’ll provide a guide to cleaning leather car seats. We’ll introduce some leather cleaning Do’s and Don’ts, explain why it’s difficult to remove stains from leather products with just warm water or a cleaning solution and provide you with a few creative DIY leather cleaning options if you’re inclined to use them.
How to Tackle Tough Stains on Leather Upholstery
There is no greater smell and feel than real, deep, rich, Corinthian Leather (Bonus points if you got that reference). When your leather seats, upholstery, shift knob or a steering wheel are freshly cleaned, it provides a touch of elegance and comfort that other interior materials simply can’t touch.
However, finding a dirt stain on this beautiful material can drive many car owners up the proverbial wall. The main reason for this is because natural leather absorbs liquids and other contaminants, making it nearly impossible to remove stains after they’ve had time to soak.
Why Are Leather Stains Hard to Remove?
For those not aware, automotive leather is basically cow skin or hide. There are some high-end leather products made from buffalo, goat, snake, eel, or even alligator skin. They are much more complex than simple cloth car seats.
Skin is very absorbent, even when it’s been treated or tanned. When making leather, the skin is stripped from the animal, placed in brine (to stop the decomposition process), then the tanning or final treatment begins. While this helps to reduce absorption and damage, it still happens.
As liquids, oils, or grease are spilled on leather surfaces, it will soak into the material. A general rule of thumb is to immediately start to blot the stain with a dry cloth or towel made from microfiber, to begin the removal process. Don’t use dish soap, nail polish remover or even a steam cleaner.
The longer the liquid soaks into the liquid, the more difficult the stain will be to remove. Add sunlight or heat to the mixture, and you’ll find yourself in a pretty pickle.
What are the Dos and Don’ts with Leather Car Seat Stains?
When you spill something on leather seats or recently find one – there are some proven do’s and don’ts that you should follow. These tips can make it easier to remove leather stains in car seats and other interior products.
- Always start by blotting the stain with a clean and dry microfiber cloth. Microfiber is exceptionally absorbent, which makes it the perfect material for removing wet stuff from leather car seats. Anytime you spill something on leather, start by blotting it with a microfiber towel until it’s relatively dry.
- Before cleaning, always vacuum the leather car seats. This will remove any abrasives or harsh materials from the leather surface, making it easier to clean – and reduce scratching.
- Take it slow. Contrary to movies or TV shows where the home or car owner is frantically rubbing the spilled wine from their leather couch, removing stains from leather should be taken slowly. Work in small sections – which not only allows you to focus on the stain but helps to reduce discoloration.
- Use the right products. If you have real, authentic leather seats, you want to use natural, non-toxic cleaning agents. Never use chemical cleaners on leather car seats, unless they are specifically formulated for your type of leather interior components.
- Do NOT Use Petroleum or Wax-Based Conditioners. It might seem logical to polish your leather car seats – like you would high-end shoes. But this will screw up your seats quickly. It eventually will build-up a residual, causing the leather car seat finish to dull.
- Do NOT let the wet stuff dry. Once liquids, grease, or oils dry on leather, it’ virtually impossible to remove – without damaging the material.
- Do NOT use bristles for deep cleaning – especially hard materials. Toothbrushes with soft bristles can be used – or specific leather cleaning brushes.
- Do NOT be cheap. When it comes to leather cleaning agents or other cleaner products, you truly get what you pay for. If you are worried about price, consider going directly to the manufacturer of the product – as opposed to third-party sellers or online / brick and mortar retailers.
How to Remove Stains from Leather Seats
There are a few proven methods for removing leather car seat stains. However, to assume that all stains are equal would be obtuse. In fact, each type of leather stain should be handled with caution and using specific techniques and supplies.
Here are some tips for removing specific types of leather stains on car seats.
If you spill water on leather interior parts, the clean-up process is very simple – just dry with a soft microfiber cloth or dry towel. Leather with water stains that have not been at least blotted, may leave stains.
So, once water finds its way onto leather seats, use a microfiber cloth or towel to slowly dab, starting with the center of the wet area, then moving in a circular motion to the outside. Use a gentle touch and use multiple, dry sections of the microfiber cloth for optimal results.
For those who enjoy eating pizza in the car, or pick-up some burgers, tacos or French fries to go – finding a grease stain on your leather seating is never a positive experience. However, removing grease stains on leather car seats is not an impossible task. Here are a few steps to follow that will make it easier to remove grease stains.
First – Gather Supplies
For grease stains, you’ll have to do more than simply dry it up. The best supplies for grease stains on leather car seats are microfiber cloth and some cornstarch.
Second – Blot the Stain
Using the microfiber cloth, blot the grease stain to remove as much of the liquid as possible. This will collect a lot of the liquid and soak up residual. Do not use rubbing alcohol as this will cause more harm than good.
Third – Apply Cornstarch
The next step is to apply some cornstarch to the impacted area. This will basically act as a drying agent. Sprinkle a thin layer of cornstarch onto the impacted area. Let it soak for at least 10 minutes.
Finally – Vacuum Clean
The last step is to vacuum clean the cornstarch. It’ll be saturated with grease, so you should use caution when vacuuming on leather seats. The best way to accomplish this is by using a straight vacuum nozzle as opposed to a soft brush attachment.
There are some good industrial leather cleaner agents sold in a spray bottle, but I would recommend asking professional detailers for their tips.
Remove Ink Stains
If you’ve placed a pen on your leather seats, and it spilled ink – don’t freak out. It is possible to remove ink stains. The first thing to remember is the things you DON’T want to do.
- Don’t use hairspray or any rubbing alcohol-based solutions.
- Don’t use abrasive cleaners – as they can remove leather as well.
The best way to remove ink is to start by dabbing with the soft, clean and dry microfiber towel or cloth. This will collect most of the ink – but not it all. To correctly remove ink, it’s best to defer to professionals or use cleaning products designed for leather car seats.
Are there DIY Options to Clean Leather Car Seats?
Every do-it-yourselfer takes pride in fixing things themselves. However, there is a difference between a DIY repair and using household materials to fix something. Let’s be real for a minute – using cheap or homemade solutions to remove stains on leather interior parts like car seats is not a great idea.
That being said -- if you’re so inclined to attempt these methods – just be careful with them, as you can turn a quick stain removal into a permanent stain. I always recommend using leather cleaners and conditioners, as they are formulated for these materials.
Vinegar – Olive Oil – Water
One of the best and proven solutions for removing some hard to remove stains from leather seats and surfaces is a blend of vinegar, olive oil, and water. With this option, you’ll add ½ cup of olive oil, ¼ cup of vinegar (just white vinegar) and mix inside of a spray bottle. You’ll spray it on the impacted area on the seat, let it soak for five minutes and then wipe clean.
But, if you remember above, we recommended not spraying anything on leather seats. So, this method is not really a good idea, especially on perforated leather seats.
Toothpaste or Baking Soda
So, if spraying on leather seats is not a good idea, is there something else you can try that is more topical? Perhaps you’ve heard of using gritty materials like toothpaste or baking soda? This is better than spraying a solution to leather seats – but still, not the best idea.
For this to work, you’ll have to spread toothpaste or some baking soda (the direct powder) onto the stain. Us a damp microfiber cloth to rub in the solution to the leather seat and let it sit for a few hours. Once it’s dried, you can remove it with a soft cloth or vacuum directly up.
The drawback to this method is that toothpaste and baking sodas can be harsh and leave stains themselves. A workaround to this problem is to treat the stained area with a leather conditioner – that may help to protect the leather from fading or cracking.
Wrapping it Up
While there are several ways to keep your leather car seats protected and proven professional products that are great for keeping them in tip-top-shape, cleaning or removing stains should be left to a professional detailer.
Replacing leather seats can be quite expensive, so if you find a stain that goes beyond simple water, contact a professional detailer and have them take care of them for you.