A 'How-To' on Interior Leather Care
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  1. #1
    Registered Member Rockpick's Avatar
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    A 'How-To' on Interior Leather Care

    With today’s high-dollar vehicles, most people want to keep, not only their exterior but, their interior flawless. There are multiple types of products inside your cabin in your vehicle including plastics, maybe woods, carpets/other textiles, vinyl, and leather. In this ‘how-to’, I’d like to talk a little bit about leather care.

    --

    There are two predominate types of leather out there on the market. One is a ‘clear-coated’ type of leather that has gone through many processes to make it a durable texture and further, the manufacturing process places a ‘clear-coat’ on top of the leather. This clear-coat adds increased durability as well as an added perk when it comes to cleaning it up. Many people have asked me why you would want to condition leather that is clear coated. They think that the clear coating will protect the leather so that conditioning isn’t necessary. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. The clear-coat that is on the seats acts much like the clear coat on many of today’s modern paint finishes. It is porous. It requires nourishment and replenishment of the necessary oils and emollients just like the clear coat on your paint requires. Further, the clear coat is very porous and thus, the oils and conditioning agents can get down to the actual leather and prevent drying and cracking.

    The second type of leather is non-clear coated leather. You will typically find this in many high end and old classic vehicles as well as a few specialty interiors on certain vehicles (see my gallery for the King Ranch F-150 interior). These leathers present a unique problem in that whatever hits the leather typically leaves a mark on the leather. You can think of this type of leather similar to a baseball glove or leather jacket.

    Cleaning, as I mentioned, can be a hassle on either type of leather. Fortunately, the majority of the leather seating surfaces out there are primarily of the ‘clear-coated’ variety and thus, makes them slightly easier to deal with but, it is important to note that both varieties are porous and need to be cleaned and conditioned on a regular basis to reduce the chances of drying and cracking. Think of leather like your skin in that if you allow it to get very dry, it’s rough, it might crack, etc. Leather is skin.

    To clean either type of leather interior, I typically start with the same general process that I’ve found to be very easy to utilize and very successful in results.

    First, I start by making sure that the seating surface is free of loose debris. This would include french-fries, crumbs, and other items of this nature. The most popular place for these items to reside is in those crevasses where the stitching holds the seat together. I typically go over these areas with a small vacuum and remove the loose stuff.

    Secondly, I follow with a dry 100% high-pile very soft terry cloth to remove what remains. I’ll follow this step with a 100% cotton damp (use warm water) wash-cloth. This will further help open the pores of the leather and remove some more of the surficial dirt.

    At this point, I’ll evaluate the leather further. Does it appear that it’s dry? Does it have anything ‘sticky’ (ie: coke/coffee) on the surface? Are there any ink marks? Is grease present? Stubborn stains? On each one of those criteria, I might utilize a different product to remove them but, generally, a quality leather cleaner like Meguiar’s Medallion Premium Leather Cleaner (M-96) could be used to not only deal with the individual problem, but to also remove the various other dirt and soils that are ‘ground-in’ to the pores of the leather or clear-coat.

    I like to work on an individual seat at a time because I feel that the moisture added by wiping the seats down with the warm cloth tends to help the conditioning and cleaning of the surface.

    After cleaning the surfaces, it is important to follow up with a quality conditioner. I’ve tried and like Meguiar’s Gold Class Rich Leather Aloe Conditioner (G-1116). I will typically apply this product to an applicator pad or directly onto my hands and massage the product into the leather. It is important to cover all of the surfaces with this product to ensure an even cover. Some leathers (specifically the non-clear coated variety) might tend to darken when applying a product of this nature. I assure you that this is temporary and it’s simply the leather accepting the conditioner to further ‘feed’ and supplement the necessary oils that are already present in the leathers due to the tanning and liquoring of the hides. It’s perfectly normal.

    My general rule of thumb is to apply two coats to ensure an even cover as well as further nourish the areas that may need a little extra TLC. Further, I apply the product in very thin coats (much like a polish on the paint). There’s no need to ‘glob it on’.

    I’ll continue to each seating surface throughout the vehicle until I’m complete utilizing the same procedure. At the end, I’ll go back over all of the seats with a 100% cotton towel to ensure that I didn’t leave a ‘glob’ here or there that would get on someone’s clothes while sitting there and to also buff (rotate the towel frequently) it out to bring it back to a neutral luster.

    To detail the leather interior in-between my ‘full-procedure’ as shown above, I like to utilize a product like Meguiar’s Gold Class Rich Leather Wipes. They’re very easy to toss into your console or under a seat and can be used when you have that sudden ‘oooops!’ drip onto your seat or if you discover that certain areas need a little bit of attention.

    It is important to note that there are oodles of great leather cleaning and conditioning products out there on the market (like Meguiar’s Rich Leather Aloe Cleaner and Meguiar’s Gold Class Rich Leather Spray just to name a few. Some are even ‘cleaner/conditioners’ which can be utilized in one step (like Meguiar’s Gold Class Rich Leather Foam Cleaner/Conditioner. I usually like to utilize a two step process on the seating surfaces as I’ve found it to be beneficial however; in some instances, a single step process could certainly be utilized with great success; for example, if the interior wasn’t heavily soiled or for maintenance between two-step procedures.

    This is just the procedure that I typically use on my vehicle as well as many vehicles that I’ve dealt with. I’ve found it to be VERY beneficial and would certainly like to open the discussion to adding to or taking away from my procedure. To date, I’ve experimented with several methods and this, by far and away, has proven to be the easiest and most beneficial method that I’ve discovered.

    I welcome your comments/suggestions/additions/subtractions.

    RP

    Edited to correct weblink to product. --rp
    Last edited by Rockpick; Mar 14th, 2004 at 07:08 PM.

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    RP, You pretty much covered it all. I use basically the same methods and products. I use WHITE towels for the initial damp wipe, and final buff. I apply the product with my hands. I give the back of the seat (exposed to the sun via the rear window) an extra shot of conditioner. This area seems to always be the dryest. I have found that putting in a favorite CD when I clean the leather makes the process go easier and at the "Right" tempo.

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    Registered Member Mr. T's Avatar
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    RP

    Thanks for the great right up. I have a couple of questions for anyone .

    First, how do you go about cleaning leather that is perforrated?

    Second, any suggestions on cleaning and/or conditioning "pleather" or a fake leather. Its not leather or vinyl. Not sure which products would be safe and effective.

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    Registered Member Aurora40's Avatar
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    Mr. T, just my two cents. For perforated leather, it should clean the same way. You might not want to use dripping wet cloths so it doesn't rush through the perforations (though, that's kind of a good idea anyway), and you probably wouldn't want to apply anything directly to the leather (again, a good idea anyway). I think it might matter more with the conditioner since you want one that won't leave residue in the holes... Just my thought.

    For fake leather, I use a vinyl/rubber product just like I would on the rest of the interior (minus the wood).


    Rockpick, excellent post!
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    How about a vacuum job on it first, to get any dirt out of the small holes.

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    perpetual noob Mosca's Avatar
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    Frequency.

    While you can get away with once every couple-three months in temperate climes like the Northeast, Northwest, and upper Midwest, if you live in the South, lower Midwest (St Louis and south), Southwest etc., you should condition your leather at least once a month. If you have a convertible and use it often, again condition your leather at least once a month, regardless of where you live. I've found that sunlight is very hard on leather.


    Tom

  7. #7
    Registered Member Teak's Avatar
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    Great post RP.

    Mosca,
    Good advice.


    Eric

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    Registered Member Slats's Avatar
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    Thanks Rockpick,
    Nice to hear someone agree with me about the coated leather. On a different forum I was arguing with a guy who claimed that coated leather does not need to be conditioned. The important thing to understand is that leather is skin.

    I've got a question for you? If I buy an older vehicle (say mid 90's) with leather and it is rather dried out and stiff, is there anything that can be done to recondition it? I've read that you can use special oil or something. Does Meguiar's make any product like that?

    Thanks,
    Slats

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    03RCODE MattN03's Avatar
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    Thats some great info! Thanks Rockpick. I've got an 03 Mach 1 Mustang & it even states in the manual that there is a protective coating on the leather seats & it doesn't need conditioning! The car isn't a daily driver, and is only driven on the weekends for quick cruises, to shows, or drag racing so it stays very clean. Is it a wise idea to skip the leather cleaner (I keep it vacuumed out regulary & NO ONE eats or drinks in the car-even water!!)? Or should I spend a little extra time, do the cleaner & conditioner? Thanks for a great post!!
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  10. #10
    Registered Member Rockpick's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Mr. T
    ...how do you go about cleaning leather that is perforrated?

    ...any suggestions on cleaning and/or conditioning "pleather" or a fake leather. Its not leather or vinyl. Not sure which products would be safe and effective.
    Like Aurora40 mentioned, I would approach it in nearly the same fashion however; I'd be careful not to saturate with anything (be it the moist rag step, or the cleaning/conditioning step). Most likely, the foam material that is utilized in your seat consists of two individual support materials (one for your rump, the other for the bolsters etc... likewise on the rear of the seat).

    As far as the 'pleather' style seating surfaces, I'd tend to agree with Aurora40 again. My personal preference on something like this would be a quality vinyl cleaner/conditioner like #40.

    Originally posted by Slats
    If I buy an older vehicle (say mid 90's) with leather and it is rather dried out and stiff, is there anything that can be done to recondition it? I've read that you can use special oil or something. Does Meguiar's make any product like that?
    Tough one there without actually seeing the interior condition and, even then, I may not be the one that needs to tell you what you could and couldn't do.

    I would try the method that I've found beneficial as mentioned above but, I'd probably add the 'conditioning' step in there several times and, inside of those several times, I'd place as much conditioner on the leather as it would take. Leather that is in that bad of shape needs to be fed in a very bad way so, allow it to soak in as it will. Also, I'd be very conservative in the application of the cleaner.

    When all else fails, I'd consult a qualified interior upholstry shop. I should note that once the leather is cracked, it's been my experience that it's tough to revitalize.

    Originally posted by MattN03
    Is it a wise idea to skip the leather cleaner (I keep it vacuumed out regulary & NO ONE eats or drinks in the car-even water!!)? Or should I spend a little extra time, do the cleaner & conditioner?
    Well, again, a toughy without actually seeing the interior each time it might be time to clean and/or condition.

    Each individual interior will be subject to individual environmental conditions which may accelerate the weathering process thus making it necessary to condition more frequently or less frequently.

    My personal hunch is that the interior is, most likely, in grade A shape and thus, you might be one of the folks that could get away with simply using a 'one-step' product to knock out the full gammet of issues that you could encounter.

    If you decided that a two-step process was more suited to your needs, I'd recommend leaving in the cleaning process as your body oils and grime will fine a permanent residence on the surface of the leather... even if the contact between clothing/skin and leather is minimal.

    Also, please note that the entire process mentioned above is collaborated from MY PAST EXPERIENCES with both types of leather. I've owned (and own) interiors that consisted of both and I've simply detailed how I have cleaned/conditioned them with success. In short, everything I've mentioned in my posts here is, very simply put, MY OPINION.

    RP

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