Car Leather Cleaner
Why most suck and what you can do about it

"Darren, I just bought some car leather cleaner and it hardly made a difference!"

I hear this same complaint so frequently from so many people who suddenly realize their car leather needs cleaning.

This is a problem with many of the retail products used for cleaning and detailing your car.

Products that have been "dumbed-down" so that manufacturers can cover their ass and avoid any push back from consumers in the form of lawsuits because some knucklehead decided to use a product that was actually effective, but has now become effectively dangerous in the wrong persons hands.

This means manufacturer's must formulate things to be overly mild and safe. Since manufacturer's can't control the idiots of the world that have no common sense, products have to intentionally be so mild as to be now rendered very ineffective. 

Car Leather Cleaner:
Managing expectations

best car leather cleaner

Disappointment is a common theme when it comes to people and cleaning the car leather within their cars. The other half of the problem is unrealistic expectations...and it usually plays out something like this:

  • You have car leather interior.
  • Your pretty sure it should be cleaned just like anything else, but you remain a little hesitant due to the inconvenience of it along with general ignorance as to what to use and how to do it.
  • Day after day goes by and your car leather continues to get dirtier and dirtier.
  • Finally you can't take the insult any longer and you go in search of the best car leather cleaner.
  • Since you remain mostly ignorant, you make a decision founded on ignorance.
  • You get said car leather cleaner, you use it, it doesn't work, you get frustrated and annoyed...and now you are here.

Understanding the Nature of the Beast!

What do I mean by this?

It means you must understand that since most car leather cleaners are formulated to be overly mild so manufacturers can protect themselves, we must apply this knowledge to the situation and move forward from there.

How to Clean Car Leather Tips and a Simplified Approach

Trinova car leather cleaner

For the sake of clarity and simplification, it will be necessary to break this down into (2) basic categories of car leather care and cleaning; don't panic, it is only two!

  1. Basic car leather cleaning for new cars, or car leather that has minimal dirt build-up.
  2. Leather car upholstery cleaning for moderate to heavy build-up of dirt.

Basic Leather Car Upholstery Cleaning and Maintenance

Working under the knowledge that as a rule, most auto leather upholstery cleaners will be formulated to be necessarily mild, let's address the situation of car owners with brand new cars who's car leather is in pristine condition... or close to it.

Car Leather Cleaner

Leather Cleaner - For Furniture, Sofa, Shoes, Car Care, Handbags, Purses, Apparels, Seat Covers, Bags, Couch, Chair, Gloves, Saddles, Jackets and more - 18 oz - Free Microfiber

  • Top rated leather cleaner on Amazon.
  • Ideal for any new car owner to keep new car leather clean.
  • Ideal for any light leather cleaning duties.
  • As usual; the labeling and marketing of car leather cleaners are filled with their share of hype and misrepresentation. (just accept this and know that the cleaner will still work)

Car Leather Conditioner

TriNova Leather Conditioner and Restorer with Water Repellent Formula, 8 oz

  • After you clean; time to condition.
  • Not a necessity; but most people prefer to condition if they are going to clean.
  • Top rated car leather conditioner on Amazon.

Car Leather Cleaner and Conditioner (set)

Lexol Leather Conditioner and Leather Cleaner, Use On Car Leather, Leather Apparel, Furniture, Shoes, Bags, and Accessories. Trusted Since 1933 - Lexol Complete Leather Care Kit, 16.9 oz Bottles

  • This kit comes as a set: both car leather cleaner and conditioner
  • Top rated on Amazon
  • Produce by a trusted name in car leather cleaners and conditioners
  • Perfect for any car owner with new car leather that has not allowed years of dirt to accumulate

Car Leather Scrub Brush (individual)

Chemical Guys ACCS96 fl. oz Premium Select Horse Hair Interior Cleaning Brush for Leather, Vinyl, Fabric and More

  • The exact brush I use professional/personally (I actually use many brushes as have a very expansive arsenal of detail brushes whether I am using car leather cleaner of any other cleaner)
  • A great all-around brush whether you are cleaning car leather or any other material in your car
  • because this is a very gentle brush made from natural fibers, it is gentle on anything (that is the trade-off. Gentle may prove ineffective if you are trying to clean materials in your car that are excessively dirty)
  • I actually prefer the dual-brush set below as it gives you a wider range of cleaning abilities by buying the two-set brushes

Car Leather Scrub Brush (set)

Upholstery Cleaner Scrub Brush Set Cleaning Brush and Horsehair Detailing Brush for Car Interior, Seats, Boat, Couch, Sofa and Carpet

  • Labeled for the boat world, but two brushes ideal for use with your choice in a car leather cleaner
  • One brush is super gentle boars hair for light-duty car leather cleaning
  • One brush is synthetic bristles for more aggressive car leather cleaning
  • My "go-to" auto leather cleaning brushes that work perfectly with any car leather cleaner

The Next Level of leather Upholstery Cleaning and Conditioning:

Darren's Tips: We have to remember that virtually every car leather cleaner off the shelf (or Internet) will be on the mild side. Not every car is going to need heavy duty car leather cleaner; it's just that most people in my experience wait entirely too long before they attempt to clean their car leather. If you keep it clean from the start, the products above will be all that is required.

Another part of the problem is that most people think the car leather is overly delicate and are afraid to get aggressive in their cleaning of it. So getting clean car leather is part product and part technique. Car leather can handle more aggressive scrubbing than most people would think. If you do get the leather cleaner and conditioner from above, just know that if your car leather is dirty enough, you will be required to do repeat cleaning applications.

The good news is that what a cleaner lacks in aggressiveness, can be made up for in a large part with repeat applications of the cleaning process. I have had to scrub some car leather 4 and 5 times for complete removal of unwanted dirt that was heavily embedded.

Heavy Duty Car Leather Cleaner

Welcome to the answer for probably 90% of you reading this. Like I said earlier, unless you have car leather that is brand new or has less than say 5K miles on it, the products, tools, and tips that follow will be the winning ticket. So let me break it down into the individual auto leather cleaner, tools, and techniques that will provide dramatic results when needed.

Before and during Heavy Duty leather Cleaning

car leather cleaner

After Heavy Duty Car Leather Cleaning

car leather cleaner

The dramatic pictures above show the kind of results possible when the right products and techniques are applied. The example above required multiple cleaning applications to achieve these kinds of results. Just know this is normal.

Heavy Duty Car Leather Cleaner

Simple Green 73434010 14010 Industrial Cleaner & Degreaser, Concentrated, Lemon, 1 gal Bottle

  • Most of you reading this will likely reject the idea of using Simple Green as a safe car leather cleaner
  • Just know that I have used this professionally to clean car leather for years (my dilution ratio is 10:1 when using as a car leather cleaner)
  • Lemon scent is an added bonus
  • This all-purpose cleaner is a concentrate which means you can custom dilute it based on your needs and your fear factor if you are a complete beginner (this means you can dilute this product way down if you are concerned or worried about using this as a car leather cleaner. Simply dilute based on the packaging instructions, and your fear factor until you gain some confidence in the beginning)
  • Remember: car leather is coated with a clear protective coating. So you are not actually cleaning natural leather, but cleaning natural leather that has been coated with a clear, synthetic coating)
  • Also an ideal product for so many other detailing jobs as well as an great all-purpose cleaner for endless household jobs

Heavy Duty Car Leather Cleaning

Upholstery Cleaner Scrub Brush Set Cleaning Brush and Horsehair Detailing Brush for Car Interior, Seats, Boat, Couch, Sofa and Carpet

  • Yes, these are the same car leather cleaning scrub brushes from above
  • Many of you will be dealing with car leather that has not been cleaned in years (if ever at all!)
  • When you are trying to clean excessively dirty car leather you will be amazed at how aggressive you will have to get in order to achieve desired results (the synthetic scrub brush in this brush set is perfect for the heavier duty auto leather cleaners and leather cleaning jobs)
  • Ideal when you realize you have some seriously dirty car leather and you know that a "soft" scrub brush is really too soft
  • This brush will dial up your results with heavier duty bristles without damaging your car leather

Car leather Cleaning Cloths

Kirkland Signature Ultra High Pile Premium Microfiber Towels, 36 Count (Pack of 1), Yellow - 713160

  • Micro-fiber cloths are the only type of cloths I use regardless of the type of cleaning or detailing I am doing to a car
  • The softest, safest, most absorbent cloth you will find
  • The added bonus with using micro-fiber cloths like these is no unwanted lint like traditional terry cloth or cotton cloths
  • Once you adjust to using these, and experience the merits of micro-fiber first hand, you will never go back to traditional cleaning cloths

Darren's Note: Admittedly, when I first used micro-fiber cloths with my car leather cleaner to clean car leather it was an adjustment due to the fact that these cloths will grab your car leather more than other types of cloths.

You may resist embracing these cloths because of this. If you are willing to endure the initial difference in the user experience, you will find that these cloths truly are superior in every way. 

Definitely the most gentle cloth you will find in cleaning your car leather.

  • Always read label instructions as your starting point. (It is amazing what you can learn by simply reading instructions...I know; BORING!)
  • Always test any new product in an inconspicuous area first to verify results. Then proceed or change course based on what you observe. 
  • When it comes to cleaning car leather and you are doing your initial testing, make sure to allow the area to fully dry as part of verifying your results before moving forward.
  • Any of the products from above can be used on car leather and any material that "looks" like leather. Most leather upholstery has leather that is "selectively" used within your car. This means that your seat may only have sections that are truly leather. But all these products can be used safely, regardless of it being true leather or synthetic leather.

Auto Leather Cleaner Recap

The ideas and info presented here on this page will be very revealing to many of you. So for the sake of clarity, I am going to recap this page in a bullet point way to highlight the important take-a ways:

professional car leather cleaner

  • Modern day car leather is much more durable than we have been lead to believe and able to handle far more aggressive techniques than most people would imagine.
  • Modern day car leather has been designed and made to better withstand every day use; this also means more aggressive cleaning techniques are also appropriate and suitable.
  • If you are the cautious type and rarely venture of the beaten path in life then you will want to go with the first car leather cleaner.
  • If you are open to new ideas and like simplified and effective techniques, then I would go the Chemical Guy's All-purpose cleaner since this one product has hundreds of uses whether this be on your car or around the house.
  • Once you have cleaned your car leather to satisfaction, maintaining it is far easier if you simply do so consistently before it reaches levels of extreme dirt.
car leather cleaner review
  • I love rules but for every rule there is always going to be exceptions to that rule. So it is always advisable to test any new product in an inconspicuous (this means in an area that is not in your face, hidden, partially hidden, etc., etc.) area first for results. Most modern day car leather is coated with a water-based clear coating that protects against harmful chemicals and normal use. But like I said, there are always exceptions.
  • When testing, you need to carefully determine if the cleaner is pulling up dirt, or pulling off color. Sometimes it is hard to tell. This is rarely the case due to most leather being coated, but it is wise to verify first.
  • There will be areas of your leather car upholstery that gets excessive use; eg. side bolsters, seat cushion edges, etc. These areas may have permanent damage beneath the excessive layer of dirt that has accumulated. Once you start removing the excessive dirt, it may reveal this permanently damaged area. You as the owner will have to make a judgement call as to how aggressively you are going to clean these areas if they exist. The more dirt you remove, the more the permanent damage will be revealed. Once again, this will generally only apply to car leather that is truly excessively dirty and perhaps older than a few years old.

Car leather Cleaner Summary

car leather cleaning brushes in BMW

If you have made it this far down this page I congratulate you! You are among the select few in the world willing to dig in and educate yourself in a way most people simply are too lazy to do.

Now you should be a more informed consumer and car owner with the ability to produce truly professional results.

I hope I have helped!


Daren Priest

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