A handsome leather couch is luxurious—and if you want to make sure it stays that way, you have to know how to clean leather. Wear and tear, of course, is inevitable—we’d never tell you to stop with the Netflix binges—but as long as you clean and care for leather properly, the material will only improve with age. You know, like a fine wine.
“The best way to think of leather is that it is like your skin. Good-quality aniline leather is a natural, breathable material; it changes over time,” says furniture designer Timothy Oulton. And just like skin, leather requires regular care to look its best. Leather couches and all other leather furniture need to be dusted with a dry cloth and receive a monthly application of a leather cream to keep the material soft and moisturized—and, actually, leather cream is also what you use to clean up any dirt or stains that crop up.
We asked Oulton and Christophe Pourny, a New York–based restoration expert and the author of The Furniture Bible, to share their top tips on how to clean leather sofas and other furniture, plus the secrets to bringing those seen-better-days pieces back to life.
To tackle mild stains, dip a clean, damp washcloth in warm soapy water and use it to wipe away the stain on your leather. “Specific leather soaps exist, usually called saddle soaps,” says Pourny. Darker stains, like those from an ink pen, are another story. According to Pourny, “a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol can do the trick.” Just be careful to apply it directly on the stain spot, so the alcohol doesn’t spread the stain onto more of the leather.
“Be sure to carefully dry the leather with another clean, dry cloth to avoid any mildew,” Pourny notes. For best results, leave the spot alone overnight.
Re-moisturize the material by applying the leather cream with a clean cloth. Let it sink in, then buff to a shine if you’d like.
Now that you know how to clean leather like a pro, here are a few more tips on how to care for leather furniture so that it lasts a lifetime.