How to Clean a Leather Sofa

A leather sofa is a design classic for a reason. This is a timeless and stylish piece of furniture but it is also extremely practical. Compared to fabric upholstery, leather sofas can withstand an awful lot more. Spills can be wiped off, crumbs can be vacuumed away, and they are very difficult to tear. With that being said, your leather sofa will need to be cleaned regularly. And, while leather is a hard-wearing material, it needs to be cleaned carefully for it to retain its appearance and robustness.

how to clean a leather sofa

Leather sofa cleaning schedule

As with maintaining anything, getting into a routine will help to preserve your leather sofa. In general, frequent light cleaning, less frequent deep cleaning, and carefully cleaning any spills as they happen is the best schedule.

Because leather is a natural material, you will also need to spend time conditioning it. If leather loses its oils then it is prone to cracking.

You should also remember that the key to leather cleaning is to never use too much water. No matter what your cleaning technique is, you should never allow the leather to get soaked. This can stain it, dry it out, and cause cracking.


Vacuuming and dusting

You should vacuum and/or dust your leather couch every week. If you have small children that are likely to leave a trail of crumbs behind them, you can do it more often.

If you use a vacuum cleaner, make sure to use a soft brush attachment. A hard plastic attachment will risk scratching the leather upholstery.

When you vacuum, focus on between the cushions and the edges as this is where they are most likely to gather.

You can also dust your leather furniture using a microfiber cloth. Make sure this is a dry cloth and that you don’t scrub too hard.


Thorough clean using mild soap or leather cleaner

A more thorough clean is often needed less frequently than vacuuming. Around once a month is usually fine. You can do this less often if the sofa doesn’t get much use, or you may need to clean more frequently if it is more likely to get dirty.

You should never use harsh cleaners on leather sofas. While leather is hard-wearing, it has a delicate coating that can easily get damaged. Cleaners with ammonia or bleach, in particular, should never go near your sofa.

Instead, you should opt for a mild leather sofa cleaner. A mixture of washing-up liquid, white vinegar, and warm water will usually be enough. Add a few drops of soap and vinegar to a bucket of warm water. Then damp a microfibre cloth with the cleaning solution. The cloth should not be soaking wet, only damp. So make sure that you wring out some of the moisture.

Then start cleaning the sofa using a circular motion. Rinse out the cloth often so that the dirt is removed. Once you have finished, use a dry rag to gently wipe the sofa dry.

Instead of this homemade cleaning solution, you could buy specialist leather cleaners. These are designed to be mild enough not to damage the leather finish but will help to remove dirt. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure that you use the cleaner properly.

Every 6-12 months

You should use leather conditioner at least every 6-12 months. Keeping your leather furniture conditioner is key to making sure it lasts.

There are lots of different leather conditioner types on the market, including waxes, oils, and creams. They will all aim to replace your leather’s natural oils. This ensures that the leather’s surface doesn’t dry out which could lead to cracking.

To apply leather conditioner, use the amount directed in the manufacturer’s guide. Make sure you apply the conditioner gently and work it into the surface of the entire sofa using a circular motion. Focus on the most used areas of the sofa such as the seat cushions and backrest. This is where the leather finish is most likely to have become degraded.

Removing tough stains

Accidents happen. And no matter how careful you are there is a chance that your leather sofa could get stained. Cleaning leather of tough stains without damaging it can be tricky but it is often possible.

Grease stains

Grease stains are notoriously difficult to remove from any fabric, including leather. Grease is made up of fats which cannot be dissolved in water. This means when you try to remove a grease stain using water, the fat molecules won’t be lifted off.

Baking soda is an alkaline and fat is an acid so it works to neutralise the molecules, allowing them to be lifted off the leather.

First, absorb excess grease with a clean dry cloth by blotting (not rubbing as this could spread the stain). Then sprinkle the area with baking soda and leave it for a few hours or overnight. Afterwards, rub the baking soda in using a soft brush or toothbrush (very gently!).

Put some dish soap on a clean cloth and gently blot the stained area. Then use a damp cloth to wipe it away.

Ink stain

Ink is also very difficult to remove because of its pigment. The best way of removing ink is isopropyl alcohol but if you can avoid using this to clean leather you should. It is a harsh cleaner and could easily damage the leather’s surface.

Before using alcohol, you can try using pure soap on a damp cloth to gently rub the ink stains using small circles. Avoid using larger circular motions as this could cause the stain to spread out.

If soap doesn’t work and you do need to use alcohol, make sure that you test it on a small inconspicuous area first so that you have some idea of how the leather sofa is going to react to it.

Final thoughts

Cleaning leather sofas is often less work than other types of upholstery. They usually only require a weekly vacuuming, a monthly clean with soap and water, and then the use of a leather conditioner once or twice a year. When cleaning leather, you should be careful not to damage its finish. Never let it get soaking wet and make sure that you don’t use harsh cleaners. If you do need to use something stronger to get rid of a tough stain, it is a good idea to condition it as soon as you can afterwards to restore its natural oils.

About the author

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Brad Smith

Brad Smith is an experienced interior designer and the founder of With a Master's degree in Interior Design from Pratt Institute and a passion for creating safe and healthy living spaces, Brad shares his expert insights and innovative design ideas with our readers. His work is driven by the belief that home is where every story begins.

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