Leather Care
by Hemi on October 28th, 2014


How many times have you been asked by a client, “How should I take care of my vehicle's leather interior?” If you're a car business veteran, the likely answer is hundreds, or thousands of times. We hope this information on leather care will add some value to your relationship with your client.

While we wash and wax our vehicle's paint to a glowing shine, vacuum its carpet, and clean every smudge from its glass, some of the 253M vehicles on America's roads, those with leather interiors, require a little more attention to sustain their plush, smooth, and comfortable feeling. What's the best way to clean and care for a vehicle's leather interior? What are some of leather's properties we should be mindful of? Which cleaning and condition products work best, and which are harmful?

Leather value, resale

In the age of recycled materials, green manufacturing processes, and the ever changing car sales environment, the organic, once live material that is leather, an animal hide, tanned, dyed, cut, and sewn to exacting specifications, painstakingly installed onto a vehicle's seats, can, over the lifespan of a vehicle, either add to its overall value, or detract from it, depending on how it's cared for.

Unlike manufactured materials, it might be said that leather is still nearly alive; it continues to breath, it can burn, and it quickly takes on the properties of its environment. Through the desperate heat of summer, and the frozen chill of a wintery day, leather is constantly changing. It retains moisture, and loses it just as quickly. It wears from the outside in, and from the inside out. Where sewn, and perforated by a needle and thread, it can become weak, split, or tear. Its dyed surface is susceptible to stains (far less than cloth). It can dry rot and fall apart if not conditioned. Yet, with all its apparent vulnerabilities, leather is perhaps the most durable, most adaptive, and most widely used luxury material in both our homes, and in our much beloved automobiles.

Commonly, damage to leather seating most often occurs from sharp objects, or from ink, while widespread damage, dry rot, cracked, split, or discolored leather, likely occurs from misuse, or lack of proper care. If you've ever looked into the cost of a single seat cover, armrest, or headrest, from your parts department, you know the cost can be quite high, often into hundreds of dollars, while replacing the entire leather seating in a vehicle will cost your customer thousands.

Easy care, 1-2-3

What should you tell your customer the next time you're asked? For starters, everyone should keep ink pens, and sharp objects, out of their back pockets. You'd be amazed at how much ink ends up on a new leather interior, or how easily one's purse, or briefcase, or tablet case, or backpack, with the charming metal adornments scratches or cuts into leather.

Next, an annual, or bi-annual cleaning and condition is recommended. Most people can do this at home. A soft cloth rag with soap and water does the trick quite nicely. Any one of a thousand cleaners might not work as well as soap and water. Here, with aid of a vacuum (soft bristle nozzle, not a hard plastic nozzle), or blown air, the crumbs, dust, or debris which collects in the seat's seams can be removed. Over time, debris caught in a seam acts like a razor within that seam, rubbing, and cutting into the thread and the surface of the leather. When severe damage occurs to a leather seat, it's normally at a seam, where the leather has become weak and the seam separates. It's the leather that usually wears more than the thread of the seam. Vacuuming debris from the seams will help avoid this sort of damage.

The next biggest contributor to leather damage is extended exposure to the sun. The sections most exposed, the top of the rear seat, and any rear headrests, get the most sun. Here, leather will become dry, burned, and shrink. After a good soap and water cleaning, applying a leather conditioner will help ensure leather's sustainability. Any auto parts store carries several leather conditioners, McGuiar's, or Lexol, are two good choices. The entire leather surface of an interior should be conditioned once it's cleaned. Remember that certain portions of an interior are likely vinyl, the back of front seats, skirts, and often headrest sides, or sections of the rear seat. These won't require conditioning as vinyl needs much less care than leather.

Danger, danger!!

Anything that coats, or effectively seals the surface of leather should be avoided. Any wax, or film that may build up from such product's use will not allow the leather surface to breath, and will lead to dry rot. These cleaners or conditioners, which often produce a shiny surface, should always be avoided. So, too, any harsh chemical cleaners which would damage the leather's surface.

You're a smooth smoothie

Alas, when next your customer asks, your answer should be, “Soap and water work great, and you should apply a conditioner once, or twice a year to keep it plush and vibrant. Watch out for pens, and sharp objects, and always vacuum crumbs, and dirt out of the seams.” This will help protect your customer's investment in their new leather interior.

Happy selling!

Posted in Leather    Tagged with leather, care, conditioning, cleaning, upholstery, st. louis, aftermarket, automotive, restyling, Roadwire, Katzkin, lexol, mcguiars


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