“All leather ages, and darkens with oils from people’s skin,” notes Jason Jobson, co-owner of Christophe Pourny Studio, which makes leather-care products. “We refer to that as patina, and it can add character and value.” Still, leather furniture can become dry, stained, or scratched, as well as dirty.
First, know what type of leather it is. These tips generally apply to protected (treated) leather, which is most often used for upholstery. It has a uniform appearance with some sheen. Unprotected leather requires professional cleaning. Avoid such homespun treatments as mayonnaise. Also avoid waxes and silicone, unless the furniture manufacturer calls for leather wax.
Dust the piece with a microfiber cloth, then vacuum using the soft brush attachment and the crevice tool. With distilled water, lightly dampen a clean microfiber cloth and wipe the upholstery. Don’t soak the leather—make sure the cloth is well-wrung. Aged or neglected leather may require more intensive cleaning. You might try adding a small amount of a neutral-pH liquid soap (e.g., Neutrogena) or a cleanser specifically made for leather upholstery. Don’t oversaturate leather. Wipe with a new cloth dampened with distilled water, and dry with a clean cloth.
Using a leather cream keeps leather pliable to prevent cracking and chipping. “If cracks have started, you can’t make them go away, but you can prevent them from getting worse,” says Jobson. “Moisturizing the leather softens the cracked edges and makes them less likely to tear further.”
How often should leather be conditioned? “It’s about the use of the object,” says Dennis Blaine of Restoration Preservation Conservation Products, which offers museum-grade Renaissance Wax and more. “A piece that gets daily use requires more attention.” Conditioning leather once a year with a leather cream keeps it supple, but leather furniture used daily will need to be treated every six months.” Leather in very dry environments may also need more frequent conditioning.
To condition a piece, apply a thin coating of leather cream with a clean microfiber cloth. If you are working with wax, “allow the fibers to move the wax over the object,” Blaine recommends. “The key is to apply it sparingly. Don’t fill in the cracks—let the cloth glide over them. Don’t let the wax dry.” Work in sections and buff immediately with another clean cloth. Keep leather furniture out of direct sunlight and away from heat vents.
Wipe up any liquid spill immediately with a clean absorbent cloth to prevent staining. For a light stain such as a water ring, dab on warm soapy water and then blot with a damp, clean cloth. For darker stains like wine, apply a small amount of rubbing alcohol to a clean white cotton cloth and lightly rub in a circular motion. Then condition with a leather cream or wax to even out the look. Ink stains from newsprint may be treated the same way. Indelible ink from markers usually can’t be removed. For oily stains, Jobson recommends applying talcum powder to the stain and letting it sit overnight; it acts as a poultice to draw the oil out of the leather. Wipe or vacuum the powder off.
Greasy stains and discoloration from body oil may be blotted with a dry cloth (no water). The “stain” will eventually dissipate into the leather.
DEALING WITH SCRATCHES
Very light scratches can often be buffed out with your fingers. For minor scratches, try buffing gently with chamois cloth.
Apply leather cream or wax over the piece, if needed, and buff with a clean cloth.