How to Clean Leather Furniture
Emily Faith's living room features the tan Timber sofa

How to Clean Leather Furniture

You know the scenario. You’re hosting a get-together and someone drops their balsamic fig appetizer on your new leather furniture. You might try to play it off like ‘oh that old thing? Don’t worry about it!’ but inside? Your heart’s racing. Your breathing is speeding up. Your mind is spiraling. Act cool. How the heck do you clean leather furniture!? 

While you could start rocking the plastic sofa coverings of the 70’s, you could also just — get this — learn how to clean leather furniture. It’s not as hard as you think. We consulted our in-house experts for the best and easiest methods to help you keep your leather furniture supple, beautiful, and plastic cover-free. 

Macaela Trapp holds a cup of coffee up to her Article Sven sofa
Macaela Trapp of @MacaelaMade knows how to do carefree mornings right. Fresh coffee and the Sven Charme tan leather sofa? We’ll cheers to that — carefully.

An Ounce of Prevention.

Maybe those plastic covers were onto something? We kid, we kid. But when it comes to trying to figure out how to clean leather, there are certain precautions you can take to boost the longevity and reduce maintenance. The easiest way to minimize cleaning and care time? Don’t mess it up in the first place. 

We’re not suggesting you stop eating on the couch altogether. We’re just saying there are certain things you can do to prevent spillage. For example, always use a plate. Have designated sofa-approved foods such as popcorn or dried fruit. Keep the soup and fried chicken for the table. 

We’re also big on ‘eating towels’ around here. Keep a designated tea towel or easily-washable blanket near the couch so you can drape it over your lap when it’s time to dig in. This is also a great way to impress a first-date. Nobody with an eating towel has commitment issues. That’s a fact. 

Bev Cooks dog Charlie sleeps on an Article tan Sven leather sofa.
A well-placed blanket protects Bev Weidner’s Sven Charme Tan sectional from her sweet dog Charlie’s paws — and adds an extra touch of cozy to the relaxed, plant-filled living space.

What are we dealing with here?

First things first. What type of leather do you have on your hands? Figuring out how to clean leather can depend on the kind of leather you have. Different types of leathers will have slightly more or less durability.

Full grain leather — which hasn’t undergone any correction — absorbs the impact of everyday life to develop a gorgeous vintage patina.

Aniline — leather with no added pigment  or corrections — will show potential damage like scratches, fading from direct light, and stains sooner. You’ll also get that much-loved patina quicker with aniline leather. Noted.

Semi-aniline — leather with a small amount of extra pigment added to even out color — is a bit less porous and susceptible to stains and damage. Good news, butter fingers. That said, no leather is indestructible. Take care of it the same way you’d take care of anything else you love. 

Live Your Style shares her living room featuring the Article Timber sofa in Charme tan leather.
Sharrah Stevens from Live Your Style embraces the naturally imperfect look with her Timber sofa in Charme tan leather. Bright and light cushions keep the room feeling airy and fuss-free.

Lay It All Out.

Damage prevention is a big part of keeping your leather at 100 percent. 

You know when you’re enjoying lunch on a patio somewhere but the sun is just a little too hot and bright? Don’t make your leather furniture go through this. 

When planning out your space, consider your room’s layout. Direct heat will dry out and stiffen your leather furniture — not that surprising when you think about what we look like after a day in the sun. It’s important to keep leather away from baseboard heaters, radiators, fireplaces, and other sources of heat. Unlike beer on a hot day, leather is best at good ol’ fashioned room temperature. 

And while we love a light and bright space, your leather isn’t a big fan. It’ll pretend. But you’ll know deep down it’s just trying to make you happy. Leather’s like that. Anyways. Direct light, like the kind from those floor to ceiling windows that made you fall in love with your home, will cause your leather to fade and discolor. It’s not only your windows you have to be careful of, though. Direct light from an too-close lamp or other artificial light can cause fading and discoloration too. 

To avoid these issues, simply ensure your leather furniture isn’t in the line of fire from direct heat or light. Toss a stylish throw blanket over affected areas, or configure a layout that makes sense for your space — and your leather. 

The Article Charme tan Sven sofa in Craftberry Bush's living room
We love this living room makeover Lucy Atkins of Craftberry Bush did for her sister. Stunning velvet curtains help limit the Sven Charme tan leather sofa‘s exposure to direct sunlight.

No Go Zone.

While leather is durable, it’s not indestructible. Or a match for Fido’s 11/10 mischievous puppy behaviour. Your pets’ sharp nails, unidentifiable stains, mountains of fur, and love of chewing can wreak havoc on your leather. 

We know. Keeping your pets off of your furniture is much easier said than done. That said, there are definitely things you can do to for preemptive four-legged damage control when retraining isn’t an option. 

First of all, make sure Fluffy and Fido are getting regular manicures (whether done by you or a groomer). Keeping nails short helps reduce the risk of deep gashes and permanent damage. Some can be buffed out (we’ll talk more about this later on) but why take that chance? As we mentioned before: preventative measures are best.

To cut down on vacuuming and dusting, make regular brushing part of your routine. We recommend a daily brushing, but, if your dog can’t fit you into their schedule, even once a week will seriously reduce hair buildup. 

Dog lays next to an Article Tablet Charme blonde leather ottoman
Blogger Ave Styles adds warmth and texture to client Rennai Hoefer’s living room with the Tablet ottoman in Charme blonde. This well-behaved pooch approves of the style — and knows it’s off-limits for naps.

That’s Harsh.

You don’t use harsh chemicals or cleansers on your face, and your leather should be the same. Leather is a natural material: it won’t react kindly to being touched by severe cleaners. These may affect the coloring, texture, and durability of the material and really, what did leather ever do to you? 

Your Everyday Leather Cleaning Guide.

We all have our regular routines that help us look and feel our best, and leather is no different. 

Dirt, crumbs, dust, and those missing french fries are abrasive. To make sure your leather furniture isn’t getting a french fry facial, make sure you dust and vacuum regularly.

Carolina Andes and family enjoy the Sven Charme tan sectional.
Blogger Carolina Andes enjoys some quality family time with the Sven Charme tan leather sectional.

To dust, we recommend using a slightly moist microfibre cloth to gently wipe your piece. When it comes to vacuuming, use a soft brush head attachment to go over your leather furniture. These are also great for getting into any nooks or crannies — the desired resting place of every crumb on earth. 

That’s the Spot.

Sometimes, the worst case scenario happens. You — or a newly acquired enemy — spill on your leather furniture. This is when knowing how to clean leather comes in really handy.

We understand the impulse to just burn everything, move away, and start a new life in Iowa, but there are ways to recover from a spill or accident.

Once a spill happens, attend to it immediately. The longer you wait to deal with it, the deeper the stain will go. There’s no time to call your mom and ask for advice. It’s time to clean.

Start by trying to shake off any excess liquid if possible and necessary. Sometimes you drop the whole glass of wine. Sometimes it’s just a few drops. 

Once you’ve gotten rid of any liquid, take an absorbent cloth and start gently dabbing the spot. This helps remove as much of the stain-causing offender as possible. This method will also help diffuse the spill and any resulting stain by softening the edges. After you’ve absorbed most of the stain, turn to our old friend the Slightly Moist Cloth to finish the job. Let it air dry overnight (or longer), but don’t even think about taking a hair dryer to your couch. This is a no-blowout zone.

Dining room designed by Emily Henderson featuring the leather Kissa dining chair.
The dreamy textured slate blue walls from Emily Henderson are the perfect backdrop for the forgiving Kissa Canyon Tan leather dining chair. Pasta sauce, red wine, and baby food have met their match.

Thinking about using all of your elbow grease to rub the stain into oblivion? Please don’t. Rubbing the stain will just work it right into the leather and ensure it remains a permanent fixture. Not exactly the kind of extra flair you’re looking for. Soft and gentle wins the race. The leather cleaning race, that is. 

When all else fails, don’t be afraid of calling in the professionals. What might seem like a higher cost upfront will save you not only the struggle of trying to figure out how to clean leather yourself, but the cost of having to replace your furniture much sooner and more often than you want. 

Scratches? Never Heard of ‘Em.

Okay, fine. Some scratches and cuts to leather furniture are beyond repair (this is where the whole prevention thing is key.) But for everyday little nicks, nail marks, and scratches, there’s an expert technique that could save your hide. 

Heat your thumb up by breathing on it much like you would if you were trying to defrost it. It’s probably best to do this when you have the house to yourself — or your non-judgmental family who won’t question your behavior. Once your thumb is sufficiently warm — a few hot breaths should do the trick — gently rub the scratch with said thumb to buff out the mark. 

Here you might be thinking ‘well if my warm breath is good, hotter, machine-powered air is even better.’ We get where you’re coming from, but please don’t use your hairdryer on your leather. Just like the other forms of direct heat we mentioned above, the high temperature from a hairdryer is more than enough to damage leather. We only want the best for you. 

Samantha Lindsey gets ready to fold some laundry with her Article Sven sofa in Chocolat
Blogger Samantha Lindsey pairs the Sven sofa in Charme chocolat leather with her weekend chores. The leather’s natural patina is the perfect match for her rustic but refined coffee table.

Leather is made to stand the test of time. All it needs is a little TLC. Learn how to clean leather with our recommendations above and look forward to a long and stress-free life with your leather furniture. 

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