How to Care for a Car’s Leather Interior

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While regular dusting and vacuuming of a car’s interior is enough for basic maintenance, cars with leather interiors need detailing and freshening up at least thrice a year to keep them as fresh-looking as the day they left the factory.

There are two types of leather material that are used in car interiors. There is treated leather and untreated leather. Treated leather has been coated with a thin layer of sealant or plastic that is not readily visible to the eye. Untreated leather is just that, leather that has been tanned but has no protective coating on it. The cleaning agents that you will use will depend on what type of leather your car interior has and you need to ask your dealer what type of leather has been used in your car interior.

Another way to determine the type of leather used in your car’s interior is to do the water-drop test. With a dropper or teaspoon, drop a (very small) amount of water in an inconspicuous part of, say, the passenger seat. How the water displaces on the leather surface will tell you if it is treated or not. If the water is absorbed into the leather, then you have an untreated leather interior. If the water beads and/or rolls off, then your interior is made from treated leather. Treated leather can be cleaned just like vinyl interiors. You can buy general-purpose interior cleaners or use very mild soapy water to rinse off the grime that will have accumulated on the seats with use. You should not use strong detergents on your treated leather seats as these may remove the protective treatment and/or discolor the leather surface. Also, do not use stiff brushes as these may scratch the leather or even remove the surface treatment. Do not use Armor-All or similar products as these will make your seats slippery and possibly distract you from driving when you are operating the vehicle. There are leather conditioners available specifically formulated for treated leather interiors and this will not leave a shiny gloss on your seats but a matte finish instead.

In case your dealer or the water-drop test shows that you have an untreated leather interior, then you will have to use specialty products to care for this particular type of leather interior. First of all, you will need a leather cleaner to remove surface grime but at the same time will not damage the color or finish of the untreated leather. Apply the cleaner as instructed in the box or bottle. While detailers will try to sell you special detailing cloths, a white, lint-free cloth is all you need to apply the cleaning solution. A white cloth is preferred because you will see if you are already removing the leather’s color and not just the dirt. You may need to use more on seat surfaces because these are the contact areas when the vehicle is used. In fact, a damp cloth may be all you need to use for the sides of the seats because they are hardly touched. This will help preserve any chemicals used by the factory to finish the leather and help preserve your bottle of cleaner. The cleaner should be followed up with a leather conditioner to protect the untreated leather’s finish. Make sure that you have removed all of the leather cleaner before using the leather conditioner. A once-over with a damp cloth on the leather surfaces will help ensure that no cleaner residue is left. After you have applied the conditioner, wait for at least 15 minutes before using the vehicle to allow the treatment to seep into the leather.