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

Sad fact: Red wine and leather don't mix

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Reviewed by Asya Biddle
Updated July 13, 2022
A woman reading with her cat in the living room
Photo: Carlsson, Peter / Getty Images


You've got this!

Time to complete

48 hours

Includes the time needed to let the couch dry.



Just a short shopping trip (or online order).

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What you'll need:


  • Soft cloths or microfiber towels
  • Cotton swab (optional)


  • Warm water
  • Saddle soap or dish soap
  • Leather cream conditioner
  • Rubbing alcohol (optional)
  • Ice (optional)

You woke up to find your teenager asleep in the living room after studying all night, pen in hand, ink on the…oh no, not the leather couch! Don’t fret: We’ll teach you how to clean a leather couch, remove a variety of stains, and keep your couch safe from future spills, marks, and blemishes.

  1. Test Your Leather

    The leather couch cleaning agent you will use for the general 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 a local upholstery cleaner instead.

  2. Vacuum the Sofa

    Before you start wiping it down, go over the surface of the couch with a vacuum to take care of any dirt, debris, and crumbs. Hit the crack and crevices around the cushions while you’re at it.

  3. Clean Treated Leather 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." 

  4. 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 leather.

  5. 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. 

    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. Then, repeat the process as needed to get everything off your sofa.

  6. Wipe Your Couch Down Again With a Damp Cloth

    Once all the dirty marks and sticky stuff are off, give the sofa a once-over with a damp, soap-free microfiber cloth.

  7. Dry the Sofa With a Microfiber Cloth

    To finish off, grab a dry microfiber cloth and go over the couch to absorb any excess moisture.

  8. Allow the Couch to Air-Dry

    Let the sofa air dry for 24 to 48 hours before using it again or applying conditioners.

  9. 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. 

    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. Then, you’re free to resume movie nights.

How to Avoid Future Leather Stains

Your couch is more than just a piece of furniture. It’s the setting of Saturday game nights and solo reading sessions. It’s an important part of the family, so make sure to take the time to keep it looking great.

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 tolerates 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 the couch could become discolored.

2. Keep Chemicals Away

Leather is sensitive 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 treatment. The conditioner will not only make your couch lustrous but will prevent any cracking.

DIY Leather Couch Cleaning vs. Hiring a Pro

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. 

Additional Questions

Can I clean leather with vinegar?

Yes, you can use a 1:1 solution of vinegar and water to deal with everyday dirt and dust. Dip a microfiber cloth in the solution and wipe the leather down in circular motions. 

What is the best solution for cleaning leather?

Most professional cleaners recommend saddle soap, but a 1:1 solution of vinegar and water can work as well. Don’t skip the leather conditioner afterward, which will soften and preserve the leather to help prevent future cracks and tears.

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