Leather Furniture Care: A Guide

Leather furniture can transform a living space. Most pieces offer a timeless look, and it’ll also stand up to wear and tear – provided, of course, that you care for it properly.

Caring for and maintaining leather furniture needn’t take long – and the results are almost always worthwhile.

We’ll look very shortly at how to care for your leather furniture, but before we do that, you need to establish the type of leather your furniture is made from.

What Type of Leather is Your Furniture Made From?

It’s probably an exaggeration to say that leather comes in about as many varieties as there are types of cow. But there are a lot of them! There’s bi-cast leather, bonded leather, nubuck leather, and even faux leather (which, of course, isn’t leather at all).

The most durable sort of leather is ‘protected’ leather. This is what’s typically used to make furniture, with the addition of extra materials lending the manufacturer greater control over how the surface ultimately looks and feels.

If you have a protected leather sofa, it’ll be glossy, and the natural grain of the animal’s skin will be invisible.

At the other end of the spectrum is ‘aniline’ leather. Aniline leather retains the characteristics of the animal, including scars, pores, and all of the other imperfections which make it unique. No additional pigmentation is used, but the leather is dipped in a special bath of dye.

Aniline leather tends to be on the pricier side. This is because, of all the leather manufactured, only a small fraction is deemed fit to be used for furniture and other goods.

For our purposes, we need only put leather into two categories: protected leather, and everything else.

Once you’ve established what type of leather you own, you can find out how best to care for it.

Cleaning Unprotected Leather

Unprotected leather is more sensitive than protected leather, so should not be treated with caustic cleaning products.

DIY solutions, on the whole, should be avoided (especially since their use can sometimes void your warranty). Similarly, you don’t want to use anything that might scuff or scratch the sofa.

First you’ll want to vacuum the entire sofa using a soft brush attachment. After that, you can wipe the leather using a soft, dry cloth.

For a more thorough clean, you can use a little bit of distilled water, or a specialist leather cleaning solution. If the leather is still wet when you’re done, you’ve used too much liquid. If you’re using an unfamiliar product, test it out on a hidden area of leather (such as underneath the cushions).

Generally speaking, less is more when it comes to cleaning unprotected leather. Once you’ve gone too far, it’s almost impossible to restore the material to its original state.

Cleaning Protected Leather

Protected leather, fortunately, is far more forgiving than unprotected leather.

That said, you’ll still want to steer clear of anything too harsh. Avoid anything containing ammonia. The same can be said, to a lesser extent, of anything that’s not specifically designed to clean leather furniture – and this even includes cleaners designed for other types of leather products, like saddle-soap.

When cleaning protected leather, you can achieve good results by mixing a tiny drop of soap with distilled water, and applying the mixture using a gentle cloth. Work the solution in from top to bottom. When you’re done, you can wipe the leather clean using another cloth, again wet with distilled water, before drying the whole thing off with a clean towel.

For maximum peace of mind, it’s worth testing your cleaning solution on a part of the leather that’s not on show. Look out for any discolouration. If everything looks good, you can carry on.

Cleaning Spills and Stains from Unprotected Leather

Leather furniture is vulnerable to damage from even small spillages and stains – particularly if those spills are left long enough for them to soak into the leather.

This danger is especially pressing in the case of unprotected leather, as the surface is naturally porous. Should you spill something onto unprotected leather, mop it up quickly with a clean cloth. Don’t use a hair-dryer, as this will damage the material.

Unfortunately, this is about as much as you can do without consulting the manufacturer. They may have more specific advice that’s tailored to the material in question. In some cases, it might be necessary to replace a particular part of the furnishing to correct the problem.

Cleaning Spills and Stains from Protected Leather

It’s much easier to deal with spills on protected leather. Yes, it’s still important to mop up the initial spillage as quickly as possible. If you’ve spilt something water-based, like juice, then you can take the same approach with a clean cloth and some distilled water. You can then take things a little bit further, and wipe at the stain with some distilled water and mild soap.

If you’ve spilt something oil-based, like butter, the leather will over time absorb the fat. You don’t need to use any water in this instance. There are, however, specific leather-cleaning products, engineered mostly for cars, for engine oil that’s accidentally found its way onto leather upholstery.

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