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Cleaning Leather Stains

If you want to avoid a spillage becoming a stain or if you need to remove an existing stain, this comprehensive guide will show you how.

Whenever there is an accident, the two golden rules are to act fast and to treat appropriately. Scan through this article to quickly find out how to clean leather whether you have spilled wine, coffee, chocolate or one of a multitude of other substances. This article does not apply to specialist leathers such as suede or nubuck.

The good news is that most spillages can be treated before becoming stains and most stains do not have to be permanent. The actual method you will need will depend on the substance involved, the fabric and the age of stain.

The most common exceptions to the above are dyes and bleaches. Both of these permanently alter the color of the fabric at the molecular level and so cannot be cleaned (although you may be able to restore them).

Unless you need to treat an emergency spillage now, before looking in depth at how to clean leather furniture you should collect together a leather cleaning toolkit.

Here is a list of equipment that will help you to deal with most spillages quickly and in the right way:

Here is a list of chemicals and natural substances you should keep in your cupboard for tackling stains and spillages. Some will be rarely needed but it is worth having them to hand just in case:

Main List

  • Amyl acetate (banana oil)
  • Glue remover
  • Ice cubes in plastic bags
  • Leather furniture cleaner with conditioner
  • Leather degreaser
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Salt
  • Soda water
  • Talcum powder
  • Washing-up liquid
  • White spirit
  • White vinegar

Also Useful

  • Bicarbonate of soda
  • Carbon tetrachloride (warning: toxic)
  • Milk
  • Rubber adhesive
  • Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol)
  • Saddle soap/glycerine
  • Shaving cream
  • Soap flakes
  • Soft eraser
  • Sticky tape
  • Wax crayons to match color (optional, for restoration)
  • WD-40

You will notice that there is no mention of Borax or bleach while bicarbonate of soda and even saddle soap are rarely recommended . These chemicals can sometimes be helpful but should generally be avoided. They are too alkaline for modern leather which is a mildly acidic fabric. Using these chemicals can lead to the breakdown of fibres deep within the leather so should only be used as a last resort.

General Leather Care

Leather should be kept out of direct sunlight. On the whole, leather cleaning is fairly straightforward, requiring only the occasional dust and wipe down along with an annual treatment with hide food or leather cream. Prior to this yearly treat, give your leather sofa a wipe with a damp cloth or sponge, remembering to dry thoroughly afterwards. This will lift dust and prevent the clogging of the pores leather needs to breathe. You don’t even really need to use a leather furniture cleaner although it is useful to have one to hand. A leather conditioner is recommended for increasing the lifespan of the leather, particularly if it has come into contact with alcohol or soap which can cause drying and cracking.

As detailed above, avoid alkaline products (bicarbonate of soda, saddle soap, etc.) as much as possible as these will break down the bonds keeping the fats and tannins in place. Where possible, the stain removal methods below have stayed away from these chemicals.

In most cases, avoid getting leather too wet, especially if the stain includes dyes or bleaches as this will spread the problem. Suede is particularly sensitive to water which is why many of the remedies below are not suitable for suede.

Although stains should be dealt with immediately, patience is definitely a virtue when treating them. Where dyes and bleaches are involved, use blotting or feathering rather than wiping because wiping can deepen and spread a stain.

As a general rule of thumb, oily and greasy stains will require an absorbent substance like talcum powder to soak up the oils. This is best left overnight before vacuuming or sweeping off.

You should find a care label on leather furniture which will have more specific care instructions.


Spot Testing

Although most of the chemicals listed above have been chosen for their compatibility with leather, it is always wise to spot test first. Simply locate a piece of the leather you don’t mind damaging (e.g. on an inside seam, under a hem or where the leather has been wrapped out of sight). Apply a tiny spot of the chemical using a clean cloth and wait ten minutes. Blot the chemical with a clean cloth. If the fabric looks the same color as when you applied the spot and there is no color on the cloth, you are safe to use the chemical on your sofa or other leather item.

Leather Cleaning by Stain Type

To follow is a list of different types of stain together with simple step-by-step guides explaining how to remove each stain from your leather furniture.