How to Care for a Leather Couch

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Dear Home Ec 101,
What is the best way to care for a leather couch?  I have seen several leather conditioners advertised, but do these leave a waxy finish?  I have had my leather couch and love seat for four years, and they have held up well, but a few scratches are starting to show up.  What can I do to keep them looking good in the long run?  Thanks, and I love your site!

how to care for leather furniture

Heather says:

We’ve had our leather couch and love seat for about eight years, through four children and a total of three large dogs -not all at the same time- and both pieces still look good. For the last five years we’ve also had an upholstered couch and only one dog has ever used it and boy is the wear showing. If I can avoid it, I don’t think I’ll ever buy upholstered furniture again. Leather furniture is amazingly resilient when cared for properly. Is the leather on our eight year old couches pristine? Absolutely not, but the only people who can see the damage that has occurred over time are the people who live here.

Nothing lasts forever and damage happens, but you can minimize the damage of normal use by cleaning and caring for your leather furniture.

Unfortunately there’s no prevention for damage by crazy relatives and inconsiderate guests i.e., gouges from pocket knives or cigarette burns.

Want to hear the best part about caring for leather furniture?

It’s easy.

Most of the time, as long as it’s surface dirt and dust, vacuuming with the soft bristly attachment or wiping down with a barely damp rag will be all that is needed. Surface dirt needs to be removed often to prevent damage, just work this into your weekly cleaning schedule and you’ll have no problems.

Most leather furniture only needs to be conditioned twice a year.

When conditioning leather, do not apply the product unevenly. This may cause splotching or uneven coloration. If one seat of the couch or love seat is used significantly more often than others, it may be wise to condition this area more frequently, once a quarter perhaps.

Conditioning leather is not optional.

Without conditioning leather will dry out, become brittle, and crack.

What should you use to condition the leather? Well, it’s going to depend on the type of leather used to make your furniture.  Your best bet is to call the manufacturer. Before balking at their recommended brand and going with the potentially shoddy knock-off think about the amount of money you invested in the set when it was new and the amount it will cost to replace it. Consider it a maintenance cost.

Remember frugality is not about going with the lowest short-term cost, it’s about getting the most value for your money over time.

There are some definite do nots when it comes to leather furniture:

  • Do not use classic Pledge or any other dusting spray on your leather furniture. Over time you will create a build up that will be a nightmare to remove without damaging the leather.
  • Do not use oils or varnishes on leather.
  • Do not use soap on leather. If soap must be used to remove a stain, try a very mild one like castille. Then wipe the area several times with a barely damp rag, dry, and then condition. Soap breaks down the oils that keep the leather supple.
  • Do not use an excessive amount of water on leather furniture. This may create a stain larger than the original problem.
  • Do not use solvents such as rubbing alcohol leather furniture.
    If rubbing alcohol is applied with a q-tip to remove ball point pen marks, be sure to condition the area properly as soon as possible.
  • Sweat, hair oil, and skin care products like benzoyl peroxide are not good for leather. Use a pillow instead of the arm when lying down to watch tv.

    furniture care guide
    Click the picture for more tips!
  • Remember sunlight damages leather, think of leather just like your skin, only without the ability to repair itself. Try to keep leather furniture away from direct sunlight or when that isn’t possible, condition exposed areas more often.

Reference: Michigan State University Home Maintenance and Repair.

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5 thoughts on “How to Care for a Leather Couch”

  1. If you have no specified conditioner to use. Bick 4 leather conditioner works well with very minimal or no change in the color. Minor scratches can be camoflaged with very careful application of a brown marker. Sharpie has a useful leather-toned brown in several point sizes.

  2. Thanks for the post on caring for leather furniture. I have a off white leather couch and I love it. I've had it for over 6 years and still looks good. I keep the sun off of it, by shutting my blinds in the morning when the sun comes in. Your post was very helpful, and I'm sure it will help a lot of people who have leather furniture.

  3. I appreciate the post. Leather furniture are very precious and hard to maintain. There are so many products in the market to maintain them. Plus we have got a new option, these days called as AMC (annual maintainance contract).
    Its like a insurance for the furniture. If some goes wrong, they will fix without extra money.


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