Leather is a natural, durable product, outlasting cotton, nylon, or any other fabric. There are numerous examples of leather furniture built in the 1890s or earlier that is still in use today. Leather saddles, which take tremendous abuse and wear and tear during normal use, are still in good condition when they’re 80, 90, or 100 years old.
Of course, leather doesn’t last all that time on its own. Since it was a living product, it needs regular cleaning and conditioning to keep it in good shape. Conditioning keeps it from drying out and becoming brittle. The suppleness has to be maintained with oils that are specially formulated for that purpose.
Home remedy products such as olive oil, linseed oil, and flax oil touted on DIY sites have long since been superseded by modern conditioners. It’s the difference between cooking on a wood-burning stove or cooking on a modern gas stove with all the bells and whistles. Both get the job done, but the modern version is better.
Like wine, leather is one of those things that gets better with age. As it is used and worn, it gradually develops a soft glow and sheen. The color may change, becoming richer and fuller. As long as you clean it on a regular basis, it will only improve with age.
What you’re cleaning
Normally, the size of the bottle may not be a consideration when you’re buying a cleaning product, but in this case, it is. If you have leather furniture, you may not be able to get a large bottle into the right position to spray hard-to-reach areas. In this case, you have to spray a cloth in order to transfer the cleaner to the leather. The problem is thatsome cleaners require that you spray them directly on the leather. If you’re cleaning leather shoes, boots, bags, purses, and so on, it won’t be a problem.
What object or furniture you’re cleaning determines what kind of cleaner you should get and also determines whether it should be sprayed directly on the leather or be sprayed on a cloth first.
Leather cleaners usually come premixed and ready to use, but some are in a concentrated form that you have to dilute with water, which is an extra step in the cleaning process. If you’re willing to do this, you can get more bang for your buck. If you just want to spray and go, then a concentrate probably isn’t for you.
Always read the instructions on the product before cleaning your leather. This helps prevent mistakes from happeningas often.
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How much surface area does a particular cleaner cover? Few of them answer that question exactly, but you can get a feel for it by reading the instructions. Cleaners that suggestusing a paper towel normally don’t cover as much as those which recommend using a microfiber cloth. The reason is simple: microfibers have millions of tiny pockets that absorb cleaners and conditioners and release them over a larger area than other fibers. Cleaners that recommend paper towels aren’t absorbed as readily as microfibers and therefore don’t cover as much territory.
One of our key considerations is how spray formulas compare to concentrates. Concentrated leather cleaner requires extra prep, but it can give you more control during cleaning.
We note whether a leather cleaner is recommended for use with paper towels or microfiber, since this can determine how much surface area the leather cleaner can cover.
In our research, we note that a larger bottle of cleaner may be a better deal economically, but it also may be too hard to navigate if you’re cleaning a large item.
When researching leather cleaner with conditioner, we want to know if the product is equally effective at cleaning and conditioning—or if you’d be better off buying a separate leather conditioner.
We look at spray leather cleaners and gel leather cleaners, noting the advantages and disadvantages of each type. Depending on what you’re cleaning, one might be easier to use than the other.
We evaluate leather cleaners at different price points to find the best deals. Concentrates tend to cost $16 or more, while combination cleaner/conditioners cost $10 to $16.
Whether you need to clean your car seats, boots, a purse, or a saddle, we check the performance of different leather cleaners to find the best product for your project.
When investigating leather cleaners, we find out if the cleaner could be safely used on other materials, such as synthetic leather, vinyl, or other fabrics.
While it’s important to test a leather cleaner before you use it, we also investigate this aspect of each product on our research list.
We look for products that get the job done, whether you’re performing regular maintenance cleaning or trying to clean up a stain.
Spray vs. gel
Leather cleaners come in two basic varieties: sprays and gels. Sprays are exactly what you might expect: a thin liquid that can be sprayed from a pump spray bottle. You can spray them directly on the leather fabric or spray the cloth to dampen it.
Gels can’t be sprayed; they must be squeezed onto a cloth and then transferred to the leather, or they can be squeezed onto fabric and then rubbed in with a cloth. The main advantage of the second type is the ease of use on furniture that has tight areas where it would be difficult to maneuver a spray bottle into position to spray the leather.
Cleaner vs. conditioner
Some leather cleaners are just that — a cleaner. However, some combine a cleaning agent with a conditioner to keep the leather oiled, supple, and pliable. If you get one that is only a cleaner, purchase a conditioner separately. Otherwise, you will have very clean but very dry and cracked leather.
Cleaners that include a conditioner might sound like a better bargain, but combination products don’t always do the best job of cleaning or conditioning.
Finished or unfinished leather
Some leather cleaners cannot be used on unfinished leather products or things like suede and faux leather; others can be used on such fabrics. Make sure you know which fabrics you have on your furniture, car seats, coats, and shoes before you buy. The wrong product could cause serious problems with your fabric.
Leather is susceptible to UV rays from the sun. It can dry out, crack, and break from prolonged exposure to the sun. To prevent that, you need to condition the leather after it’s cleaned. With a cleaner that also conditions, you don’t have to go over it twice — it’s a time-saver as well as a way to protect your leather goods from sun damage.
DIY sites often advise you to use olive oil as a conditioner on leather. Don’t do it. The oil can seep into the leather and react badly with it, giving it a noticeable odor.
Leather cleaner prices
Low-priced products below $10 come from top-of-the-line brand name manufacturers.
From $10 to $16, you will find products that may be cleaners only. You will also find combination products that include both cleaners and conditioners.
Cleaners $16 and above include concentrated products. Some have a more complicated manufacturing process, which adds to the price. Price is not always the best indicator of the quality of leather cleaning products. For the most part, you shouldn’t have to pay more than $20.
Leather cleaners can be stored in a dry and cool place such as under a cabinet or in a closet.
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Thoroughly dust your leather products before using a cleaner or conditioner on them. A vacuum cleaner is an excellent method of getting all the dust out of the tiny pores in the leather.
The first time you use a new cleaner or conditioner on your leather goods, apply a tiny amount to an inconspicuous part of the fabric. Apply it as per the instructions, and observe the area for a couple of days to see if there is any staining or discoloration. Once you know it’s safe for your type of leather, you can use it on the whole item.
No two pieces of leather are identical. Make sure you test your cleaners and conditioners independently on each leather product before cleaning or conditioning a whole item.
After each application of a cleaner or conditioner, buff the leather with a dry cloth. Don’t leave any excess moisture on the leather.
Cleaners and conditioners can remove scuff marks if they’re applied soon after the leather is scuffed. If the scuff mark goes untreated for too long, the area will change colors beyond the ability of the cleaner or conditioners to do anything about it.
Q. How often should leather be cleaned?
A. Most leather should be cleaned and conditioned at least three times a year. Leather items that are frequently exposed to sun for extended periods, such as car seats, should be cleaned and conditioned at least once a month to prevent drying and cracking. Leather that is exposed to cold, dry weather should be cleaned and conditioned frequently as well.
Test the cleaner on a small, inconspicuousarea of the leather item prior to cleaning.
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Q. What should I do about stains that won’t come out?
A. Stains that won’t come out indicate the unwanted liquid has penetrated the pores of the leather and spread laterally throughout the material. If that happens you need to get your leather item professionally cleaned.
Q. Can I get professional leather cleaning products and do it myself?
A. No. Those products are often regulated and restricted to licensed professionals. If over-the-counter cleaners and conditioners don’t remove a stain, you may have to pay quite a bit for someone else to do it.
Q. How often should dark or light leather be cleaned?
A. Leather that is light in color has to be cleaned more frequently than dark leather. You should clean dark leather three or four times a year and clean light leather once a month.