How to Clean a Leather Couch and Protect It From Future Spills

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Reviewed by Asya Biddle
Updated November 5, 2021
A woman reading with her cat in the living room
Photo: Carlsson, Peter / Getty Images

From gum to a glass of wine, these stain-removal tips will help you restore your leather couch to its former glory

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If you woke up to find your teenage kid passed out in the living room after studying all night, pen in hand, ink on the … oh no, not the leather couch! Don’t fret. These leather couch cleaning tips will help you remove a variety of unfortunate stains and keep your couch safe from future spills, marks, and blemishes.

Difficulty: 1/5

Time: One to two days, including time needed to let the couch dry

Tools and materials needed:

  • Warm water

  • Saddle soap or dish soap

  • Leather cream conditioner

  • Soft cloths or microfiber towels

  • Rubbing alcohol (optional)

  • Cotton swab (optional)

  • Ice (optional)

1. Test Your Leather

The leather couch cleaning agent you will use for the general, overall cleaning will depend on whether or not you have finished or unfinished leather. Finished (aka treated) leather has a protective coating and can be cleaned with saddle soap.

Unfinished leather is much more delicate, and even a mild soap can be too harsh for it. You may know which type of leather your couch is made of, but if not, test a small, inconspicuous area with a dab of saddle soap and water.

If you find that your leather is untreated, hire an upholstery cleaner instead.

2. Do a General Cleaning With Soap and Water

Women cleaning a sofa with cloth
Photo: Manuel-F-O / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

For a treated leather couch, a cleaning with saddle soap—or mild dish soap—mixed with water should do the trick. But "leather is one of those materials you always want to use the old adage ‘less is more’ when it comes to cleaning,” says Asya Biddle, Angi Expert Review Board member and manager of The Dust Busters janitorial company in Williamsport, PA. “Whether it’s treated or not, try a damp microfiber cloth first before adding any mild or saddle soap."

Follow these leather couch cleaning steps:

  • Vacuum your sofa first to get rid of any crumbs and debris

  • Wipe the couch with a damp (not wet!) microfiber towel

  • Clean it with a solution of water and some mild dish or saddle soap on a damp cloth

  • Wipe your leather couch again with a soap-free, damp cloth

  • Lastly, wipe with a completely dry cloth

3. Spot Treat

For stubborn marks and stains, spray a small amount of rubbing alcohol onto a clean cloth and blot it. You can also use a cotton ball or swab to target ink stains—just make sure you only use it on the stained area so you don’t cause the ink to bleed.

After blotting it with the cotton ball, dab the spot with a clean towel. You may have to do this a few times as the stain lifts away from the leather. As with soaps, you should test a small, unseen spot on your couch to make sure the alcohol is compatible with the type of leather you’re working with.

4. Clean Sticky Spots

You can remove sticky or chewy substances, like chewing gum or other candy, from your leather couch using something you probably already have lots of: ice.

Follow these cleaning tips to remove gum from your leather couch:

  • Put several ice cubes in a plastic baggie and let the bag sit on the problem spot for a few minutes

  • Next, remove the bag of ice and pick at the (now-hardened) stain with your finger or a spoon

  • Repeat the process as needed to get everything off your sofa

5. Let Your Couch Dry

Wipe the couch down with a clean cloth one more time and let it air dry completely before using it again.

6. Moisturize

Cleaning products can have a drying effect on leather, so make sure to re-moisturize your couch with a leather cream conditioner after it has dried. A lack of moisture is the number one cause of peeling leather, so make sure to keep up with moisturizing to prevent your leather couch from cracking.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, though most will recommend you apply it with a clean cloth, let it sink in, then buff out using circular motions. You’ll want to let your couch dry one more time after completing this step.

4 Steps to Keep Your Leather Couch Stain-Free

Dog lying on leather sofa in living room
Photo: Isabel Alcala/ADDICTIVE STOCK / Adobe Stock

Your couch is more than just a piece of furniture. It’s where you cuddle with your kids, partner, or pets (or all three) and watch movies. It’s the setting of Saturday game nights and solo reading sessions. It’s an important part of the family, so it makes sense to spend time maintaining it.

Maintain and protect your leather furniture for years to come by following these tips.

1. Prevent Mold and Mildew

To prevent mold and mildew from growing on your couch, make sure your home—and especially the room the sofa lives in—is well-ventilated with open windows or fans to keep moisture out.

If your couch’s leather will tolerate it, you can also cover it in a thin coat of anti-fungicidal silicone resin or wax dressing. These materials are not recommended for lighter-colored leather, as it could become discolored.

2. Keep Chemicals Away

Leather is a sensitive material and reacts to many common household chemicals. Acetone-based items (like nail polish remover) and chlorine (from a wet bathing suit) are two chemicals that can cause staining and discoloration to your sofa. In addition, some types of denim can cause dye transfer and leave a mark.

3. Clean Stains Immediately

The longer a stain is allowed to sit, the higher the likelihood that it will become permanent (or at least become harder to get out). Clean ink and other stains using the methods we described above.

4. Implement a Regular Maintenance Protocol

Once per week, you should wipe down and vacuum away any dirt on the couch. Every month, do a regular cleaning with saddle soap and water, as well as a conditioning. The conditioner will not only make your couch lustrous but will prevent any cracking.

Cost to Hire a Professional for Leather Couch Cleaning

If your couch has stubborn stains, is untreated, or cleaning it is just one task too many for you this month, consider hiring a professional. A leather couch cleaning will cost between $195 and $475, depending on the size and the type of leather. Take your time when determining if cleaning your couch yourself or hiring a pro is the better route to go.

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