How to Clean a Leather Couch to Make It Soft, Supple, and Spotless

Keep your leather sofa looking its best by cleaning and conditioning it regularly.

Leather couch in living room
Photo: KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images

Genuine leather furniture is an investment—and should be treated as such. According to Jesse Johnstone, the president of Fibrenew, this includes giving your leather sofa regular cleaning and conditioning treatments. "These cleaners and protectors are best used on full-finish leather, which is leather with a topcoat," he says. "If your leather looks and feels 'raw', it likely doesn't have a topcoat—so it's best to contact a professional for cleaning assistance." If your sofa is finished, however, you can spruce it up yourself. Ahead, you'll find everything you need to know about cleaning your leather sofa.

The Best Cleaner for Leather Couches

There are plenty of leather cleaning products on the market, but Johnstone says to avoid combination formulas that promise to knock out two steps in one. "While two-in-one cleaner and protector products can seem appealing because of their ease of use, they're not going to produce the same results that a two-part product will give you," he says. "In order to properly protect and condition a piece of leather, you must first clean it separately."

Those combination cleaners simply move the dirt and other contaminates around the surface of the couch, which Johnstone says neither cleans nor protects your piece. So, when it comes to shopping for a leather couch cleaner, he says stick with products labeled "professional grade." "This won't be the lowest priced product on the market, but it should give you a much better and longer-lasting result than cheaper two-in-ones," he says, noting to also prioritize water-based formulas. "Some products are mildly-scented to smell like leather or offer UV protection—both are good features to look for," he adds.

The Method: How to Clean a Leather Couch

While calling in a professional is always the safer choice, Johnstone explains that you can DIY your way to a cleaner leather couch. "Similar to maintaining a swimming pool or changing your car's oil, if you're up for the task, you can tackle leather furniture upkeep yourself," he affirms, adding that you'll want to make sure you're truly cleaning your couch before you add on any protectant. "When cleaning, you want to first test your product in an inconspicuous area and work away from direct sunlight, if possible," he says. "Once you're confident that the cleaner will not remove any of the finish, spray generous amounts of the product onto a microfiber applicator and gently scrub the surface in an overlapping, circular motion." Make sure both your applicator and the surface are wet as your gently scrub to prevent damaging the material. "Then, wipe everything dry with a lint-free cloth," explains Johnstone. "After the furniture is clean and dry, it's time for the second step, which is to apply the conditioner."

How to Condition Your Leather Couch

Test your leather conditioner on an out-of-the-way spot on your sofa before you apply it to the whole piece. Once you are in the clear, "spray a generous amount of the product onto a lint-free microfiber cloth and spread it evenly on the couch's surface, creating a thin layer," Johnstone says, noting that you should not wipe it dry when you're done—instead, allow it to air dry. "This is what creates that seal on the surface, which will help protect the couch from oil, water, dirt, food spills, and depending on the product you choose, UV rays, as well," he shares.

Never Steam Clean a Leather Couch

While steam cleaning may be an effective way to clean and sanitize several spaces in your home, Johnstone says you should keep your steamer far away from your leather couch. "The heat of the steam can potentially flash out leather's natural fats and oils, which can lead to premature aging of the material," he says, adding that this causes the leather to dry out, which leads to cracking, peeling, and further deterioration.

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