Old leather couch

Best way to clean a leather couch

Best cleaning method for leather couches?

You’ve spent a good bit of time researching it online, reading reviews, then you shopped around for the best price and finally plopped down an inordinate amount of money on that leather sofa.  Or, maybe you stopped by a garage sale, saw through the dirt and grime and brought home a leather couch you know needs some work but also understand there is beauty there that you can restore.  But how do you go about it?  What is the best way to clean a leather couch?

First, of course, it depends on what type of leather…you have to know your leather.  Is it Analine?  Semi-aniline?  Genuine Leather?  Faux Leather?  Knowing this up front is critical. In fact, I would argue that knowing this before making the purchase is critical.  But, we are assuming you have a leather couch of some sort so we lets go with that.

The next thing you need to consider is the type of dirt, grime, stain, etc you are working with.  Is it a food spill? Milk? Grease? Oil? Ink? Sweat? Hair gel? Pet urine?  Or is it just years and years of neglect.  An interesting thing about leather furniture is that it can last so long, even without regular maintenance, that finding a very old leather couch that has not been maintained can means years and years of buildup that needs to be cleaned off.

Dog on nice leather couchFirst step to cleaning a leather couch

As with any leather, brush it off.  If you start right in by scrubbing or applying a cleaning product, you stand the chance of rubbing dirt or grime into the pores that you could have easily removed by a good brushing.  So always brush first.  Your leather sofa will thank you for it. Of course there are considerations here as well – the type of leather will determine what type of brush to use.  See our article on the different types of leather brushes.

I would add that vacuuming falls into this step.  If you have a vacuum with a light and gentle brush, this is a great way to get surface dirt and grime off.  Use the aforementioned brush and then vacuum.  Be sure to get between all the nooks and crannies.

After the brushing and vacuuming, we’re ready to get to the cleaning part.  There is quite a bit of advice floating around that describes using “soap and warm water” or “water and vinegar”.  Couple this with the plethora of leather cleaning products on the market today and the actual best process can become a bit cloudy?  Should you use soap and water? Maybe.  Should you use water and vinegar?  Maybe not.  Once again, a lot will depend on the type of leather and the degree of dirt or staining you are addressing.

Here’s a quick refresher on the types of leather and what you need to be aware of:

  • Full grain leather – exactly what it sounds like…the entire layer of leather including the top outer layer.  Shows marks and blemishes…shows the “life of the animal”
  • Top grain leather – a bit less than full grain as the top layers have been sanded down to provide a more even appearance.  Patterns are often stamped into the leather.
  • Genuine leather
  • Faux leather

And there are a couple of types of treatments that are combined with the above:

  • Analine – porous material with no protective layer.  Leather color is dyed during processing
  • Semi-analine – has a light protective layer.  This can make it easier to clean although it is still porous and will liquids can soak in.

You can certainly find other types of leathers on couches but the above will make up the majority of what you see.  If you see a tag on your leather sofa that says something else, please do the research before you start cleaning.

So what you’ll have, for example, may be “Full grain aniline” or “Genuine leather semi-aniline”.  The terms may be different but the underlying concepts are the same.  Two couches, one made with “full grain aniline” and the other made of “full grain semi-aniline” are made from the same basic type of leather (full grain) but that leather has been processed and treated differently.

How to clean an aniline leather couch

Distilled water should be used to clean an aniline leather couch.  Regular water or any other type of water will have minerals which, due to the porous nature of aniline leather, will get in the pores and collect over time, leaving the leather with a stained look.

Aniline leather should not be drenched when cleaning, but rather uniformly wiped down with a soft damp cloth.  Spot cleaning may result in the area that was cleaned ending as a darker shade.  It is suggested that the couch be cleaned entirely any time cleaning is required.  A high quality, expensive aniline leather couch is best cleaned by experts.

There are cleaners and conditioners on the market for aniline leather – these are good choices.  Some of these include waterproofing aspects as well which, again, is not a bad choice.  Thought should be given to the use of the couch.  Will it be in a sitting room and seldom used…only on special occasions?  Or is it in the main living room with kids eating their happy meals?

How to clean a semi-aniline couch

Semi-aniline couches have a protective layer added during the manufacturing process so they stand up to liquids a little bit better than aniline but, still, proceed carefully.  Semi-aniline responds well to gentle soap and water cleaning.  There are also a number of semi-aniline products on the market to clean and protect.

So, what is the best way to clean a leather couch?

  1. Dust and vacuum your couch
  2. Determine if aniline or semi-aniline
    1. If aniline: Use distilled water only, no mineral or tap water.
    2. If semi-aniline: Use a very light mixture of a soap and water.
    3. Find a top rated semi-aniline or aniline cleaner for this.  And a good soft cloth.
  3. Without wetting the material too much, wipe down the entire couch
  4. Allow it to dry completely – 24 hours should do it
  5. Apply your choice of leather conditioner that is made for semi-aniline or aniline leather.