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How to clean your leather car interior - like a professional

BMW Z4 interior deep cleaned.JPG
Cayman passenger side.JPG

Why is it important to clean you leather car interior? 

Like your good self I am a car enthusiast. My personal passion is for Modern Classics, cars from the late 80’s and early 90’s, particularly the front engine Porsches, BMWs, and Audis. I’ve owned many, restored a few, and even dabbled with trading them – my long-term personal classic is a 1981 Porsche 924 with a motor-sport inspired twist.

The one aspect of cars that I have consistently managed to add value to is their interiors. I find that a clean, tidy, and fresh (looking and smelling) interior greatly enhances the driving experience and time spent behind the wheel, and makes it a significantly more pleasurable place for any passenger. It also adds greatly to the value, appeal and sale-ability of the vehicle if you decide to move it on, or are hiring it out.

Before I get into the ‘how’ of cleaning your leather (or vinyl) car interior like a professional I’ll tell you ‘why’ it is important. Keeping the leather clean in your car interior is essential for its longevity. Leather is used in car interiors for its luxury feel and appeal, and because it is pretty tough and durable – as with many aspects of your car it requires regular maintenance to keep these characteristics.  “Prevention is better (and more cost effective) than cure”. If leather is not regularly cleaned properly surface dirt will migrate into the valleys of the grain, and especially into creases in the leather. Over time these captured dirt particles will act as an abrasive gradually wearing away at the surface of the leather and remove its protective coating and then the pigment (colour). This will also allow the dirt to become more easily ingrained and the leather more susceptible to staining and dye transfer.

In the image below on the left side you can see the dirt has migrated into the valley of the leather grain and has further accumulated in the creases. The right hand side of the photo the leather has been professionally cleaned by The Leather Buff. 

Dirt in leather grain

Leather Cleaning Steps

  1. Vacuum the interior, use the brush attachment on the leather pieces such as the seats. Make sure to get dust and dirt particles out of the creases and crevices so that it doesn’t get rubbed into the surface of the leather when cleaning.

  2. Use products that are specific for their purpose. In my experience dedicated leather cleaner and a separate dedicated leather conditioner will give better results than a 2 in 1 product. The most effective leather cleaners are ones that foam, more on that in a bit.

    • Make sure you read the instructions for the particular product you intend to use.

    • Test on a small inconspicuous area first.

  3. Use a soft bristle brush, preferably one designed for cleaning leather, the best types will have absorbent bristles. The purpose of using a brush is that the bristles will be able to agitate and lift the dirt from the grain, creases and pores in the leather. Do not scrub with the brush this can wear the leather surface – instead use gentle pressure and circular motions as the grain is multi directional.

    • The next best cleaning tools are firm none abrasive cleaning sponge, or a cotton terry towel but a brush is definitely the most effective.

  4. Work in smallish areas at a time e.g. one or two seat panels. You want to work the leather cleaner into foam and agitate it into the grain and creases. The foam will capture the dislodged dirt particles; cleaners that remain liquid don’t do this as effectively. You need to then wipe away the leather cleaner before it starts to dry, thus removing the dirt before it can settle back.

    • Microfiber towels or cotton terry towels work well for this, make sure they are clean to start with so you can monitor the dirt being removed. You will probably require several clean towels.

  5. For the best results you should go over each area at least twice. The first pass will clean the surface of the leather and start to loosen the dirt trapped in the grain, creases and pores. The second pass will lift the dirt out of the grain, creases, and pores. If on the second pass you are still seeing a lot of dirt being lifted onto your towel a third pass will be required.

  6. Once you have the leather clean, and having gone to all that effort, you’ll want to keep it that way. This is the time to apply a good quality leather conditioner, or protection cream.


I hope that these tips are of use to you. Should you require any further advice or assistance with the care, maintenance, or repair of your leather auto interiors please do get in touch.

Leather Cleaning Tips
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