To completely understand how to clean your leather furniture you must know what it is. Leather furniture pieces are a byproduct from our meat industry. Animals are raised as food. Animal skins are made into high-priced leather furniture pieces. When cleaning a leather sofa, you are actually giving your pet cow skin a bath.
How to clean leather furniture:
Look closely at your leather sofa; notice all of the natural wrinkles, lines and gouges that give your leather furniture personality. Those are the cow’s natural wrinkles, arguments with barbed-wire fences, and butchering scars. Lesser quality leather furniture will also sometimes have partial burned branding marks that are visible.
Hides are processed by taking them off of the cow. The hide is scraped and shaved to get all of the gore and hair off of it. Oils are worked into the hide so that all of the skin pores are sealed, and then the hide is stretched like a rubber band so that it will always have some elasticity available to give when you sit on your leather sofa.
Later in the tanning process dyes, protective sealants, and other niceties can be added to your leather furniture to make it more appealing, but we are just worried about the basics when attempting to clean leather furniture: skin, wrinkles, pores, and elasticity.
Skin Care: Your leather furniture skin is just like your skin only thicker. Leather furniture will blister or crack open if you let it sit in the sun too long. To avoid these problems, place your leather sofa where it will never receive direct sunlight. Leather furniture will sometimes darken as it dries out in the sun or beside a heater vent. These are not problems that can be cleaned off.
Wrinkle Care: Wrinkled area in your leather furniture will collect and hold dirt quicker than other areas of the sofa. As you are vacuuming the rest of your house, remember to vacuum your leather furniture at the same time. Do not use household cleaners on your animal skin or you will destroy the tanning process results.
Pores Care: Leather furniture has skin pores that act like a sponge toward any liquid that comes in contact with your leather. If the baby’s diaper leaks or the gang playing poker spills a beer, blot it off of the leather sofa instantly with a dry clean soft rag. If you use a wet rag, you will be pushing that unwanted liquid further into the sponge-like leather.
Butters and oils are handled in a different way if they are the liquid spilled onto your leather furniture. Ignore all grease, butter, and oil spills completely. These substances are very close to the oils put onto your leather skin originally. Oils will soak into the animal skin pores and disappear, just as human sweat does while you are sitting on the sofa.
Elasticity Care: During the original tanning process, your cow skin was stretched so that when it dried it would snap back and remember how to stretch again. Cow skins have a short memory. Leather will only stretch and shrink so many times before it stretches and stays stretched like a dead rubber band.
NEVER USE SADDLE SOAP – Saddle soap is a leather stretching product. Saddle soap is alkaline, and that dissolves leather over time. Stretching action happens when the alkaline product seeps into the leather sofa pores and starts to dissolve the leather from all areas of the leather sofa at once. Your sofa will stretch without oomph to stretch back.
NEVER USE IVORY DISH SOAP – There is a myth running rampant online that any kind of Ivory Soap will clean your leather furniture. This is not true. Ivory Soap is a very old name in soaps. This bar soap used to be the one that had the least lye in it, so that it was mild enough for a baby. Today’s recipe for Ivory Dish Soap is not the same as the old time bar soaps that started the myth that Ivory Soap cleans leather.
If you must use a liquid cleaner on your leather furniture, use a lightly damp rag dipped into a watered down solution of a human baby soap or shampoo. These are the mildest soaps on the market today. You must remember that anything that you put onto your leather sofa will seep into the pores. All soaps will leave a light sticky residue on your leather furniture for dust to collect on.
I was an antique dealer for decades, and have cleaned more than my share of leather furniture. There’s not enough money on the planet to get me to put one of those unsanitary, un-cleanable, temperamental, leather-cow-with-a-bad-attitude furniture pieces into my home again.
Cleaning Summary: Vacuum your leather furniture regularly. Wipe everything up with a dry rag as fast as it gets spilled, let butter soak in. Keep out of heat and sunlight. Do not use water or cleaning products. Sell quickly before it decreases too much in value.