6 Tips to Protect the Leather Furniture in Your Home

Dina Cheney
Written by Dina Cheney
Updated October 19, 2021
Children jumping on a leather sofa
Catherine Falls Commercial/Moment via Getty Images

Less is more when caring for this type of upholstery

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Soft and luxurious to the touch, leather is durable and easy to maintain. When cleaning and protecting this type of upholstery, it’s best to use a gentle touch. Read on to learn how to keep your furniture in good condition for years.

Protected vs. Unprotected Leather

The leather in furniture comes protected or unprotected—with protected more common. To properly care for your upholstery, it’s important to understand the differences between them.

  • Unprotected leather is also called pure aniline, full aniline, or unfinished leather. This category tends to be the softest, highest quality—and priciest. Without a pigment or protectant coating, its natural grains and markings show, developing an attractive patina over time. Unfortunately, its unprotected surface makes it more vulnerable to scratching, staining, and other damage.

  • Protected (or finished) leather is also known as semi-aniline, aniline plus pigment, or pigmented leather. It features a topcoat with a pigment and protectant. For this reason, the surface can take more wear and tear and better resist staining. On the con side, though, thicker topcoats make leather stiffer and less comfortable to sit on.

Identify Your Leather

Caring for unprotected leather requires a much gentler touch than caring for protected leather. That’s why it’s important to determine which type of furniture you have; check the label or ask your retailer.

If you can’t find an answer, scratch the material with your fingernail. If it leaves a mark, you most likely have unprotected leather. Keep in mind that you can have a professional apply a leather protector to your unprotected leather furniture.

How to Clean Leather

Wiping down leather sofa surface
Kilito Chan/Moment via Getty Images

Follow these simple steps roughly every two weeks. 

1. Read the Label

Each leather product is different. Begin by reading the care instructions carefully. (Of course, you only need to follow this step the first time.) 

2. Dust

Dust with a dry cloth. You can use a lightly dampened cloth when cleaning protected leather. 

3. Vacuum

Vacuum with a brush attachment. Consider doing this more frequently if you have pets. 

4. Wipe and Dry

You’ll generally want to wipe the surface with a soft cloth lightly dampened with distilled water. You can also use a leather cleaner approved by your furniture’s manufacturer.

The first time you clean your leather furniture, make sure your method won’t damage the upholstery. Test the technique out on a small inconspicuous area.

If the leather didn’t get damaged or absorb water, proceed with your method. If your furniture absorbed water, use a dry cloth.

5. Remove Stains and Scratches

Be gentle when treating these issues. 

For scratches:

  • Gently buff the leather with a chamois cloth or clean fingers.

  • If they remain, rub in a tiny amount of distilled water and blot with a dry cloth.

For stains:

  • Clean up spills immediately. Blot with a clean, dry cloth or towel, then air-dry. Keep in mind that grease stains should disappear over time.

  • If you spill something water-based on protected leather, wipe with a clean, lightly dampened cloth and air-dry. For more stubborn stains, moisten a soft cloth or sponge with a combination of mild non-detergent liquid soap and lukewarm distilled water or a leather cleaner. Then, gently wipe. Wipe again with a clean cloth lightly moistened with plain distilled water. Blot with a dry cloth.

  • When treating stains, avoid harsh soaps, cleaning solvents, detergents, or ammonia. Don’t use a lot of water.

  • If stains persist, hire a professional near you to repair your leather furniture. The cost to clean a full-size leather couch is typically between $195 and $475.

6. Condition Leather

Check the label to see if you should condition your leather furniture. If yes, apply a leather conditioner every six to 12 months to keep your upholstery soft and supple. The dryer the environment, the more often you’ll want to repeat this process. 

To make your own leather conditioner, combine two cups of warm water, a tablespoon of natural baby soap, and a splash of vinegar.

How to Protect Leather Furniture

Don’t feel pressured to buy your retailer’s or manufacturer’s leather insurance policy. Not only will it be pricey, but, in many cases, it also won’t cover damage that’s likely to occur. Instead, other than cleaning your furniture properly, simply avoid:

  • Using conditioning oils with silicone or wax, varnishes, and polishes.

  • Placing printed materials on leather since the ink can transfer and leave stains.

  • Keeping sharp objects near leather since they can scratch their surface.

  • Placing leather furniture near direct sunlight and heat sources, like radiators and fireplaces. Over time, the natural material can dry, crack and fade.

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