How to keep leather interior looking like new

Leather can look like new when cared for properly

Leather vehicle interiors come at a premium, so it makes sense to keep it looking sharp and help it last the life of you vehicle.

After all, seats get the most wear and tear – and share of spills – but don’t forget the armrests and door panels. They too get a lot of action from passengers.

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Keeping leather interiors like new is not difficult. Many manufacturers make a wide variety of products – from pastes and spray-on products to wipes – to help motorists keep leather vehicle interiors in excellent, long-lasting condition.

According to experts, two considerations affect the kind of car-care product that’s right for the leather interior in your vehicle:

• New interiors or newer interiors showing little soiling can be cleaned and conditioned using a one-step cleaner-conditioner product.
• For older interiors and those scuffed or dirty, use of a single-step leather cleaner followed by a single-step leather conditioner will work best.

Automotive interior leather cleaning and conditioning products use similar components in their formulas, so manufacturer choice should not be difficult.

“In new cars, leather has coatings on them to help protect against moisture spills and wear and tear, but at the microscopic level the leather pores are flexible,” said Mike Pennington, director of Training and Consumer Relations, for car-care products company Meguiar’s.

“When you cleaning leather, you’re wiping clean its protective layer applied by the OEM. Cleaning clears away oils, grime and dirt that get onto its surface from our clothes and skin. Leather cleaners are typically gentler for this purpose than are other types of all-purpose cleaners or vinyl cleaners.”

Once a cleaner has done its work—be sure to work over armrests and other interior leather items—the conditioner application helps keep the leather’s pores flexible. The right conditioner will not add false color to the original leather and will help keep the leather soft and supple, looking its best. 

Pennington advised against using rub-in pastes or colored cleaner-conditioners on premium leather seats having perforations (for heat and A/C). These products can clog these pinpoint pores and discolor. Consult the product’s manufacturer if in question, he said.

Now that the interior is clean, conditioned and protected again, be careful as you enter and leave the vehicle so you keep the leather nice and fresh. Pennington offered these “Not to Do” tips:

  • Be alert to sharp objects in rear pants pockets or items on belts that can scratch or even puncture leather
  • When loading a SUV, lay down a towel or tarp before stowing items, such as bicycles having sharp objects that might otherwise scar or scratch the leather
  • Keep leather wipes in the vehicle for quick spot removal from coffee and food spills
  • Do not wear soiled clothes while driving, which can transfer grime into leather seats
  • Wait until your destination before lathering arms, legs and torso with sun screen