How to Clean Leather

An Extensive Guide of Tips, Tricks and Techniques

To Safely Clean all Kinds of Junk from all Types of Leather

This is a comprehensive and detailed document of how to specifically clean various types of leather as professionals and unprofessionals do. And I’ll speak in simple terms so even a 5th grader can understand. No offense if you’re a 5th grader though. We love 5th graders. I hope you’ll bookmark this page to return to over and over again for whatever the leather you’re cleaning through the years.

You’ll read our two lists of best leather cleaners: 

  1. The list of the 12 Best Household Leather Cleaners

  2. The list of the 10 Best Professional Leather Cleaners 

We’ll tell you how to clean the following leather products:

  1. How to clean leather in general?

  2. How to clean leather shoes and boots?

  3. How to clean leather car seats?

  4. How to clean a leather couch?

  5. How to clean a leather jacket?

  6. How often should I condition leather?

We’ll tell you how to clean the following OFF of leather:

  1. How to clean General Dirt and Grime off of leather? 

  2. How to clean Stains off of leather? - Ink, Blood, Kool-Aid, Wine?

  3. How to clean Bad Smells out of leather? - Skunk, Dead people, Cigarette smoke, Fish, Mothballs, Spoiled milk, Cat urine, Fire smoke?

  4. How to clean Hard Sticky Gunk off of leather? - Tree sap, Tar, Gum?

  5. How to clean Saltwater off of leather?

  6. How to clean Mildew or Mold off of leather?

  7. How to clean Oil, Grease or Wax from leather?

On what authority do I present these leather cleaning tips and tricks? 

Patricia Chamberlain, the OCD owner and creator of Chamberlain’s Leather Milk, told me what she does. She has been conditioning, repairing and restoring antique leather museum pieces and sentimental private leather projects since 2007 and contributed some of these tricks and tips.

Michael Weaver, owner of SERVPRO North Irving, generously submitted his professional leather cleaning tips and tricks since their family’s business has been doing disaster restoration and crime scene clean up for decades. Their only job is to clean and restore things to new condition after floods, fires, murders and other bad things that happen. Their tips and techniques for cleaning leather are listed after Chamberlain’s suggestions. Some are the same. Michael has been a faithful Saddleback Leather owner for years.

I, Dave Munson, am the owner of Saddleback Leather Co., and I’ve been learning about and educating people on all that goes into quality leather since 1999. We’ve been designing, repairing, conditioning and cleaning leather briefcases, backpacks, suitcases and trunks for two decades now. And hundreds of times a year our customer service folks are asked the question “How to Clean Leather? These tips and tricks are what we use when customers send their leather in to be cleaned or repaired and also what we tell people so they can successfully and safely clean their leather of almost anything that stinks, sticks or stains. 

Many well meaning, yet ignorant, people who don’t have a clue about leather types, give horrible and destructive “one shoe fits all” leather cleaning advice that will discolor or dry out some leathers. We live and love leather and so we have a pretty good idea on how this cleaning leather thing works.

A disclaimer: The main reason I wrote this article is to help people clean and care for their leather. But we also sell Chamberlain’s Leather Milk Cleaner and Conditioner because we believe their recipes are the best in existence for cleaning, conditioning and protecting leather. But there are a lot of other products listed here too. What we’re after is that you’re happy with your leather again, not to sell a few bottles of Leather Care, though I’m not opposed to the idea.

How often to condition leather? What kind of leather do you have? 

99% of leather is either Chrome or Vegetable Tanned. Sometimes you need to clean them differently. To become a respected and knowledgeable leather buyer, like to know the difference between Full Grain and Genuine Leather, read our Leather Buyer’s Guide written for 5th Graders here.

Chrome Tanned Leather thrives on neglect and only needs to be conditioned every 12 months. It is used to make 95% of leather shoes and boots, leather jackets and leather couches and also 99.9% of all car seats. 95% of tanneries tan leather with the mineral, Chromium, which makes it very corrosion resistant and so really hot or cold temperatures don’t affect it much either. 

Vegetable Tanned Leather doesn’t like water or extreme heat and needs to be conditioned every 3 to 6 months. It’s used to make almost all gun holsters, horse saddles, belts, knife sheaths and all of the leather soles of shoes. It is usually kind of stiff. Some people use veg to make backpacks and briefcases. Vegetable Tanned Leather will last just as long as Chrome Tanned leather, if you take care of it. 

What is the best cleaner for leather? 

Here’s our list of the Top 12 Household Leather Cleaners

  1. Water is one of the best leather cleaners there is

  2. White vinegar and water equal parts 

  3. Saddle soap is a great leather cleaner

  4. WD-40 can be a great leather cleaner sometimes

  5. Lime or lemon juice can be a really good leather cleaner

  6. Baby shampoo cleans leather

  7. Baking Soda soaks up certain things

  8. Talcum Powder cleans too

  9. Corn Starch is a strange cleaner

  10. Ice helps a ton with hard gunk

  11. Rubbing alcohol works as a cleaner of leather

  12. Hydrogen Peroxide neutralizes some smells

Warning: With whichever of these leather cleaners you choose, first test it on a small hard to see area that you won’t mind if it gets a little discolored. If it discolors then you’ll know you just dodged a bullet. Not all leather dyes and colors are created equal.

What to avoid

Petroleum based products (vaseline basically) or mineral oil ones are usually the cheapest base for a formula and super easy to make. But they can actually make your bag slightly tacky, which attracts dust and junk to the leather. It’s best just to avoid low priced leather cleaners. It’s like eating kind of old oysters that you think might still be good, but you’re not sure. Not worth it!!! Don’t do it!!! Same with low priced leather cleaners and conditioners. Don’t do it. Good quality leather care has very necessary expensive ingredients that are also PH balanced (not too acidic) and you’ll never regret using them.

Don’t Damage Your Leather

To not discolor your leather, first take a white piece of pillowcase or sheet and lightly rub the leather in circles for a couple of seconds. If the color has strongly rubbed off, then you know to be careful using a lot of liquids. Suede is the worst with this.

If you bought a leather couch or chair for under $1000 USD, shoes or boots for under $200 or a briefcase for under $400, then it was made with cheaper Genuine leather that gets stained easily and dries out and cracks relatively quickly.

How to dry leather? After you’ve cleaned it and it’s wet, stuff it to it’s normal shape or lay it flat, if it’s flat, so it will kind of dry in that shape. Particularly if it is veg tanned leather. Then let it dry overnight. But do add some heat if it’s chrome tanned leather so you don’t get any watermarks if you cleaned it with lots of water. If you live in a humid area, then bring it inside to dry. Room temp should do the trick. Always use distilled water when cleaning so you don’t get watermarks on the leather.

How to Clean Oil, Grease from Leather? 

Chamberlain’s Cleaning Advice

5 Sort of Easy Steps to Getting Oil and Grease out of Leather

  1. First put dry corn starch on the exact spill area. Lightly make sure it’s rubbed on and leave it a night or two then use a soft brush and brush it off. If need be, do a second treatment. 

  2. In the morning, rub with water in the direction with the lines on the leather (grain).

  3. Clean again with Chamberlain’s Straight Cleaner, Baby Shampoo or cut a lemon or lime in half and rub it on the spot. You can also get the leather degreaser product - Leather Master by Dr. Tork is good stuff. I like All Purpose Orange Cleaners.

  4. Wipe off with clean and wet hot cloth. 

  5. Condition it with leather conditioner. 

How to Clean Wax or Crayon from Leather?

Wax or Crayon - Lay brown paper bag or paper towel on the wax and then a hot iron on top of that over and over again. Or, put it in the freezer or put a bag of ice on it and then chip off the wax. You’ll have a spot where the wax used to be, so do the oil and grease treatment to perfect it. You can try WD 40 first and then clean the leather again if it leaves an oily mark and nothing else is working.

SERVPRO’s Advice

10 Steps to Clean Wax or Crayon off of Leather

  1. Remove as much of the wax or crayon with a brush.

  2. Vacuum to remove the loose particles.

  3. Place a dry towel over the affected area 

  4. Make 3 or 4 passes with a hot iron across the top of the towel.

  5. Dip a brush into the citrus-based solvent and apply to the area.  Do not oversaturate. Gently agitate it for about 5 minutes. 

  6. Rinse the leather with hot water, but not vegetable tanned leather. Use a hot rag if it’s veg tanned.

  7. With the wax/crayon gone, pour some Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner (RTU) onto the area so the remaining residue is removed. 

  8. Hot water rinse the leather again.

  9. Dry quickly to avoid water stains on the leather.  Put it directly in front of a fan or use a blow dryer, but not with veg tanned leather. Dry veg tanned leather at room temperature.

  10. Moisturize once it’s dry with Chamberlain’s Leather Milk Leather Conditioner

How to Remove Stains from Leather? 

One of the main rules of stain removal is to be as gentle as you clean. Always dab rather than rub and work from the outside towards this inside of the stain so it won’t spread out further. Remember, dab rather than smear when possible.

How to Clean Leather from Kool-Aid, Gatorade and Wine Stains? 

Chamberlain’s Leather Cleaning Advice

Dab a cotton ball into rubbing alcohol or white vinegar mixed evenly with water or lemon juice with water and specifically dab and slightly rub it with a toothbrush. 

SERVPRO’s Professional Leather Cleaning Advice

Red Dye, Kool-Aid, Gatorade

Full restoration may not be possible if the stain has been there for an extended period of time or if previous soap-based cleaning has already been attempted because the stain will have been set in.  This should always be tested in an inconspicuous area first in case the leather dry rubs off.  Also, excessive heat may cause damage to the fibers.

Here are 9 Steps to Cleaning Red Dyes and Stains from Leather 

  1. Moisten the leather with clean water. 

  2. Sprinkle Natural Fabric brightener on the surface.

  3. Cover with a wet cotton towel.

  4. Apply heat and steam to the towel with an iron. Gently work the area with the tip of the iron. Check every 15 seconds. 

  5. Change the position of the tip as the color lifts. 

  6. Repeat as needed until your leather is clean.

  7. Clean water rinse to remove chemical from the leather. If it’s not removed, it will probably bleach it. 

  8. Dry the leather overnight

  9. Moisturize it with a quality Leather Conditioner

Chamberlain’s Advice

How to get ink off leather?

This is the hardest one to clean off of leather, but not impossible. But let me guess. Your toddler found a Sharpie or permanent marker and drew pretty lines on your expensive leather briefcase and now you want to know what you can do. Glass half empty people would say you’re pretty much screwed. But not me. This is an opportunity like no other. You have three options:

  1. Or, dab the leather with cleaner, do not rub it which smears the loose ink around. Then, with a fine little paint brush, carefully and exactly follow the ink lines to bleach out the ink spot with commercial grade hydrogen peroxide or bleach. It will bleach the leather and damage it a tad, but that’s okay. You’re going to have a good story. Then, get leather Furniture Clinic leather dyes, mix the right colors together on a small plate and then spot dye the leather. There will be instructions on the package how to mix them. Condition leather.

  2. Get some VERY fine sandpaper, like 1000 grit, and finely sand along the ink marks. It will damage the leather a little, but it may be better than having a big cuss word on your leather backpack. Then, spot dye the spot you sanded off. You may want to sand off the leather around it so it isn’t really obvious that you cleaned of those letters. Condition leather afterwards.

Dave’s Advice for what to do with pen marks on leather

  1. Take it to a really good artist or tattoo artist and have them finish the artwork in a creative way. And then when your artist kid gets old enough and carries your old briefcase (as long as you bought a quality one) into an interview and gets asked about the artwork, he’ll have a good story and will get the job because he made them smile. Condition the leather afterwards.

How to get blood stains off of leather? 

Chamberlain’s Leather Cleaning Advice

A lot of it is the same as for wine, Kool-Aid or other stubborn stains. 

Here are 6 Steps to Cleaning Blood Stains from Leather

  1. Dab a cotton ball in white vinegar and water mixed evenly, lemon juice with water, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. We use Leather Milk’s Straight Leather Cleaner. 

  2. Specifically dab and then slightly rub the stain with a toothbrush. 

  3. Let dry overnight. 

  4. When dry, corn starch or talcum powder on it and leave overnight again. 

  5. Remove powder. 

  6. If the stain is still there, then put the powder on it overnight again. Some say you can use baking soda, but I’m not sure.

But be careful, because a leather cleaner that has a high alcohol content can lift the original color out of the leather and then you’ll have to spot dye the leather. And if you do, we’ll tell you how. Patricia Chamberlain uses Furniture Clinic leather dyes.

SERVPRO’s Leather Cleaning Advice

Bloodborne Pathogen & Other Potentially Infectious Materials 

  1. Use a damp towel (regular water) to clean as much of the contaminant off the leather. 

  2. Lightly put some hydrogen peroxide onto a new towel and use it to wipe off the leather.  It’ll foam when it reacts with the mold. The reaction is caused by rapid oxidation which causes the mold to decompose. The foaming action helps lift the mold off the textile and makes it easier to clean. This may cause bleaching, so this should be tested in an inconspicuous spot. Over the counter hydrogen peroxide has the lowest incidence of this. If you use janitorial grade or laboratorial rate hydrogen peroxide, then bleaching will likely happen and you should definitely use chemical resistant gloves. We recommend the regular OTC. If the hydrogen peroxide works well, you can continue cleaning the rest of the leather. 

  3. Dry the leather.

  4. Moisturize the leather after cleaning with a PH balanced leather conditioner. 

Professionally, we always take the highest level of precaution with this type of cleaning (blood and other human fluids). We would use personal protective equipment to handle the object.

How to clean leather that has sticky stuff on it?

Chamberlain’s Leather Cleaning Advice

Gunk - Sap, Tar, Gum - If it’s a small leather piece, then put it in the freezer and let it get nice and hard and then chip off the gunk. You can do that with books that get really wet too. Pull them out of the fridge and shake the ice out of the pages. Do this several times. If the leather piece is too big to get into the fridge, then put a bag of ice on it to harden the gunk and then pick it off when it’s hard. Then rub it with a general leather cleaner and conditioner.

Goof Off is great for removing sticky marks on leather. But be careful since it can clog the pores of the leather. Depending on the quality of the finish on your sofa, WD-40 can also clean off gunk, but it can dissolve wax and the dye leading to further damage like your leather going hard and cracking over time if not conditioned and the oils replenished after the cleaning. 

How to Clean Dirty Leather?

How about the age old problem of criminals, how to clean Mace or Pepper Spray off your leather after a date? Or Tear Gas? Or, how to clean general dirt and grime from leather? Or saltwater? How to clean leather that has diesel or gas or kerosene or rat poop or pesticides or fire extinguisher stuff or smoke and soot on it? Keep reading and we’ll tell you how.

Chamberlain’s Leather Advice

General Dirt and Filth - The best thing is just use distilled water and rub it down with a soft cloth. Spray inside and outside evenly and then let it dry. Maybe a dab of baby shampoo. Baby shampoo is gentle and nicely PH balanced. Remember, you’re dealing with skin. I personally use Chamberlain’s Leather Milk Straight Cleaner if it’s really dirty and then I put on their Conditioner Cleaner to restore the moisture.

Dave’s Leather Cleaning Advice from Experience

How to Clean Leather from Salt Water - I took my leather bag shark diving on my honeymoon in Bora Bora and the divemaster told me to fill the tub with fresh water and soak it for a few hours. I let it dry overnight and then conditioned it when I got home. I later used it as my diaper bag for our two kids. 

My leather satchel got saltwater spray all over it in heavy surf searching for whales off the coast of Gabon recently and I cleaned the leather by wiping it with fresh water when I got back to shore. I just remembered this story and am going to condition the leather when I get home. I forgot.

SERVPRO’s Advice

How to Clean Tear Gas, Mace or Pepper Spray from Leather?

These are guides to clean leather from any of the following three (3) types of tear gas.  CN (Chloroacetophenone or Mace), OC/OR (Oleoresin capsicum or Pepper Spray), and CS (O-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile). 

We recommend getting your leather professionally cleaned from this material. A professional restoration company should call a Certified Industrial Hygienist to verify their work by testing the surface of the leather post-cleaning and ensure that no harmful residue is left behind. The steps below are what a professional restoration company would do to clean leather:

CN/OC

  1. Mix proprietary carpet and upholstery cleaning chemical with rubbing alcohol and warm water. 

  2. Wet area of leather with mixtures.

  3. Hot water rinse / extract.

  4. Dry leather with heat, or overnight if vegetable tanned.

  5. Moisturize with Leather Conditioner

CS

  1. Mix proprietary blood and stain remover with warm water. 

  2. Spray mixture onto leather. Allow a dwell time of 30 minutes. 

  3. How water extract.

  4. Dry clean leather.

  5. Moisturize with a Leather Conditioner

SERVPRO’s Professional Leather Cleaning Advice

How to Clean Pesticides off Leather

  1. Dampen with Extreme Laundry Detergent. 

  2. Hot water rinse.

  3. Dry the now clean leather.

  4. Moisturize the leather with a Leather Conditioner

SERVPRO’s Advice

How to Clean Leather from Bird, Rat, Rodent Dropping

Due to the hazardous nature of these types of animal droppings, professional leather cleaning is recommended. Did you know that some leather in Morocco is traditionally tanned with pigeon poop?

SERVPRO’s Advice

How to Clean Fire Smoke and Soot from Leather

Washing the leather that’s covered with smoke and soot particles is not recommended because the agitation may cause the contaminants to embed themselves further into the leather, if it’s cheap leather. But…

For consumers, we recommend using a dry-chemical sponge to wipe the leather. Start from one end and wipe the sponge to the other end. The sponge will pick up the particles and start to turn gray/black. Once the sponge is dirty, use another one.  Repeat all over the leather until the dry-chemical sponge stays clean after wiping the leather clean.  

If the sponge isn’t picking up any more soot but the leather still smells, we recommend ozone treatment. 

We prefer these dry chemical sponges. They can be broken into pieces, so you can get a lot of great use out of just a few. 

https://www.jondon.com/dry-cleaning-chemical-sponges-various-sizes.html

Note: Soot is acidic and will eventually cause a yellow-tinted discoloration if it’s left on textiles for an extended period of time. Leather is tougher and may last longer, but smoke and soot affected textiles and leather should be cleaned as quickly as possible. 

SERVPRO’s Advice

How to Clean Gas, Diesel, or Kerosene from Leather

  1. Do this in a ventilated area. Use a fan. Remove excess liquids by blotting the leather with a towel. Use protective, liquid resistant gloves (Nitrile gloves are great). 

  2. Use Ultra Content Cleaner or Shampoo Super Concentrate and flush the leather area with the detergent cleaner. 

  3. Agitate with a soft bristled brush or sponge.

  4. Rinse with hot water.

  5. Dry with a blow dryer or fan. 

  6. Moisturize once dry with a quality Leather Conditioner.

SERVPRO’s Advice

How to Clean Fire Extinguisher Stuff from Leather

  1. Vacuum to remove as much material. To vacuum, push vacuum down and then pick back up. Do not run back and forth because this will push the dust further into the leather. 

  2. If needed, beat the surface with a brush. 

  3. Clean using Orange Plus. 

  4. Rinse leather with distilled water.

  5. Dry with a blow dryer or with a fan. 

  6. Moisturize with Leather Conditioner

How to Clean Leather with Mold or Mildew on it?

Chamberlain’s Leather Cleaning Advice

How to Clean off Mildew and Mold from Leather - Put rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball or cloth and dab leather with it. Then dab Hydrogen Peroxide and see what happens. A good leather cleaner like Chamberlain’s Leather Milk for a good wipe down and then let dry. Once the leather is dry, condition again with our leather conditioner.

SERVPRO’s Professional Leather Cleaning Advice

How to Clean Mold Infestation from Leather

Some people are allergic to mold and others have a high tolerance. Different people will react in their own way.  When cleaning mold, we recommend going outdoors. When the spores are disturbed, they will fly into the air and it’s better for them to fly outdoors than into your carpet and air duct system. 

  1. Use a damp towel (regular water) to get as much of the contaminant off the leather. 

  2. Lightly put some hydrogen peroxide onto a new towel and use it to wipe off the leather.  It’ll foam when it reacts with the mold. The reaction is caused by rapid oxidation which causes the mold to decompose. The foaming action helps lift the mold off the leather and makes it easier to clean. This may cause bleaching, so this should be tested in an inconspicuous spot first. Over the counter hydrogen peroxide has the lowest incidence of this. If you use janitorial grade or laboratorial rate hydrogen peroxide, then bleaching will likely happen and you should definitely use chemical resistant gloves. We recommend the regular OTC to clean leather. If the hydrogen peroxide works well, you can continue with the rest of the leather. 

  3. Dry the leather.

  4. Moisturize the leather with a good leather conditioner. 

On a professional level, we use the Esporta to clean mold-infested leather items.  Our first step is to clean leather with pro-grade Concrobium (buy here).  

How to Clean Bad Odors out of Leather?

Smells - So great uncle Henry died in his car and they found him five weeks later. And they found his cool leather briefcase in the back seat, but it smells really bad now. So how do you get dead body smell out of leather? How do you clean a leather couch if you found it on the side of the road, but it smells like an ashtray? Or if there’s fire smoke damage? How to clean cat spray off of a couch? Or spoiled milk from a baby bottle?

Chamberlain’s Leather Cleaning Tips on Getting Most Bad Smells out of Leather

Buy a leather cleaner that has Deconcentrate Personal Care - odor neutralizer in it. Leather Milk’s Straight Leather Cleaner has that. Find something with an odor neutralizer but that is not a masking agent like cinnamon oil or something derived from a purified fatty acid is. Because those just cover the smell, but don’t remove it. It’ll come back later. Or...

  1. Take it to an Air Scrubber, De-ionizer or Ozone machine or rent one.

  2. Go ask a crime scene clean up or disaster restoration company like SERVPRO and they can help you out too. It’s what they do.

SERVPRO’s Leather Cleaning Advice 

How to Clean Nicotine and Marijuana Smoke from Leather?

The longer the presence of these substances on the leather, the harder it will be to remove.

  1. Spray Pre-Spray and Traffic Lane Cleaner plus Solvent Additive with hot water onto the leather. 

  2. Agitate with soft bristle brush.

  3. Rinse leather with distilled water.

  4. Dry leather.

  5. Moisturize with Chamberlain’s Leather Milk Conditioner

If this doesn’t clean the leather enough, you can try this process again with the Smoke Deodorizer.

Free cleaning bonus: How to get skunk smell off the dog? Maybe off Leather too.

Cleaning Skunk Off of Dogs 

Cleaning Advice by Dave from Personal Experience

Our Chocolate Lab, Wonder Woman, just got sprayed by another skunk tonight for about the 150th time in 3 years. And it happened about 3 minutes after I got my pajamas on. And she sleeps next to our bed. Here’s what we always use to clean skunk smell off our dogs. 

8 Steps to Cleaning Skunk Smell From Dogs

  1. Put 2 cups of hydrogen peroxide in a container with a lid that you can shake up.

  2. Dump in ½ cup of baking soda into the hydrogen peroxide. 

  3. Mix one tablespoon of liquid dish soap

  4. Shake like crazy. Note: The baking soda will sink to the bottom so keep it mixed up.

  5. Wash dumb dog with liquid dish soap

  6. Rinse dumb dog

  7. Dump it all over dumb dog, especially the face and chest where they got sprayed the most. The mixture doesn’t bother dumb dog’s eyes. 

  8. I wash the dumb dog again but with normal human shampoo and conditioner. 

Wonder Woman still smells a little like skunk until she dries. If you’re going to toss a leather couch in the dump because of the stink, then it’s worth a shot cleaning the leather like you’d clean said dumb dog.

SERVPRO’s Advice

How to Clean Skunk or Cat Odor from Leather?

Note: a skunk is a type of cat with a slightly tweaked smell profile and that’s why dogs chase them.

If the consumer cleaning solution described below doesn’t work, then professional laether cleaning is necessary. 

  1. Wet with Bio Odor Neutralizer. 

  2. Agitate gently with a soft bristled brush. 

  3. Rinse leather with hot water. 

  4. Dry with a blow dryer or fan unless it’s vegetable tanned leather, then air dry.

  5. Moisturize with Leather Conditioner.

SERVPRO’s Leather Advice

5 Steps to Clean Dog Pet or Human Urine Smell from Leather?

  1. Mix Urine Odor and Stain Remover with water and spray it onto the leather. 

  2. Agitate with soft bristle brush.

  3. Rinse with Water. 

  4. Dry leather overnight.

  5. Moisturize with an excellent Leather Conditioner

SERVPRO Advice

8 Steps to Clean Mothball Smell from Leather

Mothballs contain Naphthalene, which is oil-based. This is why the odor remains on the surface of the leather even after the mothballs have been removed. To clean the leather of this odor, you need to remove all the residue. Ventilation is necessary. 

  1. Remove all mothballs. 

  2. Go to a well ventilated area. 

  3. Wet area with Solvent Additive. 

  4. Hot water rinse.  Extraction is better

  5. Dry with a blow dryer or with a fan. 

  6. Moisturize the leather again with a nicely PH balanced leather conditioner.

  7. If the scent remains, ozone is necessary. 

  8. After ozone, seal the leather.

SERVPRO’s Advice

How to get rid of Dead Body (Human) Decomposition Smell from Leather?

We use Bio-Odor Neutralizer which specifically addresses sulfur and amine based odors. There is not a consumer chemical that we know about that addresses both of these at the same time.  

First, we recommend you remove all of the debris from the material.  

Then, use a consumer-grade leather cleaner. 

Then, apply an encapsulate to seams, threads, and anything else that you can’t easily wipe off. Febreeze is the most popular encapsulate. Don’t spray the leather -- get the liquid out of the pocket and put it onto the area that you’re trying to deodorize. Dry.  

Taking it one step further, if the encapsulant doesn’t work, you can also put baking soda on those same threads and let it sit overnight. Clean again with the leather cleaner and then let dry and moisturize with Leather Conditioner.

If this doesn’t work, then we recommend professional cleaning. We’d use our SERVPRO-proprietary chemical first and then put it through the Esporta Wash if the odor lingered. 

There is a highly-emotional element when we are helping clients with anything involving a deceased person or even pet. Because of this, we don’t usually recommend them cleaning the leather themselves. Instead, we pick it up from their home, take it from them, and clean the leather so they don’t have to smell or handle it themselves. Then, we deliver it back to them when we’re done. 

SERVPRO Advice

Ozone Machine

Note: Ozone is not effective in temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit or very humid environments. The leather must be dry or the ozone will bleach it. Safety glasses, rubber gloves, and a respirator are needed. We do not recommend an untrained person do this, although ozone machines can be bought on Amazon. This needs to take place in a sealed, closed environment. No animals, people, or plants should be in this area when the ozone takes place. The ozone smell should not be inhaled. 

This step should only be done after all residue has been removed from the leather and it needs to be further deodorized. 

  1. Apply leather conditioner to the leather. Allow it to completely dry. 

  2. Place the ozone machine X feet away from the leather. 

  3. Close all the room’s seals. Turn on the ozone machine and leave the room.  Make sure it is sealed. If you can smell ozone, the room is not properly sealed.  

  4. Allow ozone to run for 30 minutes. 

  5. Turn off ozone. Open room’s windows and doors and allow the smell to dissipate for at least 20 minutes. A fan can help. 

  6. If the leather still smells, repeat up to 4 times. 

  7. Clean the leather, let dry, and then condition the leather. 

How to Disinfect Leather?

SERVPRO’s Professional Advice on how to Disinfect Leather

Sewage and other Contaminated Water

With enough time, sewage and any other liquids will fully penetrate a textile, including leather. Hand washing or even throwing these types of contaminated leathers into a consumer-grade washing machine will not be enough to guarantee that the entire leather has been sanitized and is safe to use again. For this reason, we can’t recommend any consumer products or techniques for this kind of loss.

SERVPRO Advice

Dead Body (Human) Fluid

Same as sewage.  

How to Clean Leather Shoes and Boots?

Obviously, this depends on what you’re trying to clean off of the leather shoes or leather boots. Tar, ink, blood, skunk, mold or just general dirt? That’s the bigger question that you’ll need to read our leather cleaning guide to get specific answers to those questions. 

But for just a general cleaning, you can use baby shampoo mixed with water. Then condition it with a PH balanced leather conditioner. If you spent good money on your leather shoes or boots, then don’t mess around. Buy some leather cleaner and leather conditioner. There are some good ones on the market that will clean off most things. I personally use Chamberlain’s Leather Milk Straight Cleaner and then I use their Leather Conditioner after the Straight Cleaner dries.

How to Clean a Leather Couch?

This depends on what you’re trying to get off of the couch. Our guide to cleaning off all kinds of stinks, stains and stickiness will walk you through how to specifically clean those things from leather.

You’re in luck because upholstery leather is almost always Chrome Tanned Leather and pretty durable to clean. But ALWAYS clean a sample area where nobody will notice if it discolors. Not all leather is quality leather and dyes may be low quality. 

For a general dirty grime spring leather cleaning, first wipe it down with a hot wet towel (distilled water if it’s really dirty). Sometimes that’s enough. If that’s not enough, then use a little Baby Shampoo mixed with water. Let it dry overnight. The next day, condition the leather with a PH balanced leather conditioner. Don’t skimp on this step. Chances are, if it’s that dirty, then it’s dry and hasn’t been cleaned or conditioned in a long time.

The easy button would be rubbing it down with Chamberlain’s Leather Milk Straight Cleaner. Then let it dry overnight and then rub it down with a nicely PH balanced Leather Conditioner. 

How to Clean Leather Car Seats? 

Automotive leather is chrome tanned and heavily coated to put up with a lot of rubbing, coffee spills and warm moist air that hits it in bursts now and then. So, it’s pretty durable stuff and hard to clean wrong. I’m not suggesting you try, by going straight bleach or Ajax with stainless steel on it. You would damage it. But good old Baby Shampoo mixed in warm water is a fine leather cleaner. 

Even better is Chamberlain’s Leather Milk Straight Cleaner and then their Leather Conditioner. They’re both nicely PH balanced. And I don’t think it matters if you scrub around in circles or side to side. I think people just make that stuff up to sound smart. You can also use white vinegar mixed with equal part water. Also, Saddle Soap is a good mild leather cleaner. It’s basically just pumpkin. 

But here’s the important part about after cleaning leather car seats. You need to condition them with a conditioner that has a UV protectant in it since car seats are in the sun a lot. Leather Milk has a recipe with that in it especially for cleaning leather car seats. 

I’m not a big fan of Armor All or Lexol for sure. A lot of cheaper leather car seat cleaners are silicon-based and so clog the pores of the leather and cause permanent damage. Waxes do that too. And you don’t want to oil leather car seats. 

Be sure not to plug the little holes in the leather on heated and cooled seats. When you put your cream on the rag, rub the first few times in places that don’t have those holes and then rub over the holes.

How often should you clean or condition leather car seats? It’s important that you clean and condition leather car seats once a year. 

How to Clean Leather Jacket?

Luckily, most leather jackets are made with Chrome Tanned Leather instead of Vegetable Tanned Leather so it’s easy leather to clean. A little rainwater won’t hurt those leather jackets.

If you want to know how to clean a leather jacket, then my question to you is, what are you trying to clean off of the leather? Bug juice, gum, cigarette smoke smell, blood or just general dirt and grime? Whether you’re cleaning a leather jacket or couch or leather boots, the cleaning agents and techniques are generally the same. Read our leather cleaning guide to get off of the leather what you’re needing to. 

For a general spring cleaning of a leather jacket, it’s pretty easy. ALWAYS try hot water first. Rub it down with a hot wet towel then let it dry. Afterwards, rub a good PH balanced leather conditioner on it. For leather jackets, you may want to put a water protectant conditioner on it since it’s leather. If the water didn’t clean it well enough, then you can always use a light soap like baby shampoo diluted with water. 

If you don’t want to mess around because you really like your leather jacket, then buy some good quality leather cleaner and also some leather conditioner. There are a lot of good ones to buy. I would personally use Chamberlain’s Leather Milk Straight Cleaner to start. Let it dry overnight and the next day rub it down with Chamberlain’s Leather Conditioner. If you want to go all out, you can use their Water Protectant too. But only after it has dried from the conditioner. 

It’s important to clean and condition a leather jacket once a year.

How to Clean Leather Cow Hair on Furniture or Rug?

I’ve heard that Windex does the job for spots on Cow Hair. But a light shampoo like Baby Shampoo should do the trick.

SERVPRO’s Advice

General Animal Hide Rug

  1. Vacuum to remove loose particles.

  2. Dip towel into Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner RTU and wring to a damp state.

  3. Very gently wipe the surface in the direction the animal fur is laying.

  4. When the area is wet, gently brush to remove remaining particles.

  5. Dip towel into clean, warm water and wring to a damp state.

  6. Very gently wipe the surface again in the direction the fur is lying to remove detergent residue.

  7. Use a hair dryer and dry soft bristled brush to dry the area completely and quickly. Brush and dry at the same time to keep the fur soft. 

How to Clean Sheepskin or Shearling

This cleaning tip was given to me by an American woman who has a wool weaving cooperative in Southern Mexico for 40 years. I asked her how to clean my new wool sweater.

Here are the 6 easy steps to clean sheepskin

  1. Gently hand wash it in the sink with a light shampoo, 

  2. Rinse it thoroughly.

  3. DO NOT ring water out. Only squeeze the excess water out.

  4. Lay it on a towel on the floor and roll it up with towel.

  5. Stand on the towel to transfer the water from the sheepskin to the towel.

  6. If the wool is still attached to the skin of the sheep, then put a leather conditioner onto the bottom side that is sheep leather only. 

How to Clean Suede or Microsuede

  1. Lightly spray with Shampoo Super Concentrate. 

  2. Gently agitate with soft bristle brush.

  3. Dwell for 5 to 10 minutes.

  4. Hot water extract. Do 2 wet passes.  Turn on a fan and blow the air into it as you do 4 more dry passes.  This will help avoid over wetting and make it dry faster. 

  5. Once dry, brush gently with a soft bristled brush. There are brushes made specifically for suede.

How to Condition Leather? 

Can you condition leather with olive oil, baby oil or coconut oil? I’ve done it before and it seemed to work. I also rubbed in Baby Oil on my original Saddleback Leather Briefcase. I don’t think it hurt it, but it could have. A lot of people do it.

If you live way far away from civilization on a deserted island and you absolutely need to condition your leather after the shipwreck, then try a light oil like olive oil, baby oil or coconut oil. But not just any coconut oil. It’s best to use an organic cold press coconut oil to condition leather because it’s the lightest. It hasn’t been heated up and processed yet. That’s food grade cosmetic oil like what Leather Milk uses. The lighter the oil, the easier and more evenly it permeates and conditions the leather.

How to waterproof leather?

Mink oil, duck oil or other animal fats can darken it. Leather Milk Water Protectant does this too. Be sure not to use a cheap chemical to waterproof leather because it can clog the leather and then it won’t breathe. It’ll be like wearing a plastic bag and you’ll sweat.

Scratches and Cracked Leather - If leather furniture has a lot of cracks in it, a lot of times it’s because the leather has a lot of wax on the top and that just happens. But the leather fibers have not cracked. I think it looks cool. 

But if you’re asking, How to repair dry cracked leather? Then try one of these tips. If it happens to just be the wax cracking then put a dry towel over a cracked area and put a hot iron over the towel and see if the heat sort of melts the wax back into shape. If it’s an open crack on a couch or jacket then look for “FC-2 Leather Filler” or if just a light cracking, use the Chamberlain’s Leather Milk Healing Balm which is a deeper heavier leather conditioner.

If it’s not that bad, then rub it down with a cleaner, then let it dry overnight. Then do a light conditioning treatment always testing in an inconspicuous space. And if it still looks dry after overnight, then apply a heavier conditioner like a Chamberlain’s Water Protectant which is of a heavier oil base. 

Our list of the Top 10 Leather Cleaning Products Consumer and Commercial Grade Chemicals

  1. Solvent Spotter is a rapidly drying solvent blend to remove oil based stains. - stand in, consumer solvent spotter. ( order online- closest to SERVPRO https://dscprod.com/products/spotters/trounce/) ( in store, not the same but easier to get  - https://www.walmart.com/ip/RENOWN-SOLVENT-SPOT-REMOVER-AEROSOL-20OZ-CAN-per-3-Each/37934120?wmlspartner=wlpa&selectedSellerId=1293&adid=22222222227000000000&wl0=&wl1=g&wl2=c&wl3=42423897272&wl4=aud-430887228898:pla-51320962143&wl5=9026793&wl6=&wl7=&wl8=&wl9=pla&wl10=113137480&wl11=online&wl12=37934120&veh=sem&gclid=Cj0KCQiA7aPyBRChARIsAJfWCgJp7DmnlCiDcCxXZvhUp53wBLIIv3axp87l-rrjKcKXIk3iL3F9r3QaAt9VEALw_wcB)

  1. Citrus Solvent 100% organic and biodegradable way to remove adhesives and other solvent needs. Used in place of solvent spotter when ventilation or bioimpact concerns are present. Made from orange oil. https://www.walmart.com/ip/CitraSolv-Natural-Cleaner-and-Degreaser-Valencia-Orange-8-fl-oz/21369105?wmlspartner=wlpa&selectedSellerId=0&adid=22222222227015295787&wl0=&wl1=g&wl2=c&wl3=51792054431&wl4=aud-430887228898:pla-83195494631&wl5=9026793&wl6=&wl7=&wl8=&wl9=pla&wl10=8175035&wl11=online&wl12=21369105&veh=sem&gclid=Cj0KCQiA7aPyBRChARIsAJfWCgLozefF2R-PE4SqCA9_g_x1vja62ZRUvyMmYTUpl0_Xm63MoOQXAMsaAmuYEALw_wcB

  1. StainZap oxygen based stain remover and deodorizer. Used to clean directly or boost detergent based cleaning. Consumer - Oxiclean. 

  1. Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner (RTU - Ready to Use) A broad spectrum blend of detergents, solvents, and other cleaning agents to be a general purpose stain remover focused on fabrics. General purpose carpet stain remover of various brands would be equivalent. 

  1. Bio Odor Neutralizer Specially formulated chemical to combat odors related to sulfur and amine-based odors. The chemical is designed to bond and neutralize the odor particles in those chemical categories. The most common bad smells in those categories are skunk, fish, cabbage, spoiled food, and human dead body. There is not an easy consumer solution to this product. It is an actual proprietary chemical. https://cleanfax.com/diversification/the-advancement-of-odor-control-chemistry/  Article on different ways of attempting to clean when you don’t have this product. Mostly focus on removing as much as possible and treating with chemicals to encapsulate the odor particles not removed. 

  1. Urine Odor and Stain Remove Environmentally friendly mix of bacterial cultures and enzymes to breakdown natural odors caused by organic residues. Focused on pet odors but good for anything that nature would break down ( feces, vomit, food, human odor) https://www.homedepot.com/p/Nature-s-Miracle-128-oz-Stain-and-Odor-Remover-P-98124/304495197

  1. Shampoo Super Concentrate This is the concentrated version of Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning. It is a broad spectrum cleaning chemical for fibers. Concentrates are generally not sold to consumers but can be bought at janitorial supply stores. 

  1. Leather Spotting Agent SERVPRO Proprietary leather cleaner when stains are stubborn. It is drying and requires reconditioning and a blotting cleaning process. There is not an easy consumer equivalent. This is the closest I have found to have similar claims. https://autoleatherdye.com/products/leather-master-leather-degreaser?gclid=Cj0KCQiA7aPyBRChARIsAJfWCgLx-bN8RXeQRVzFBFh3cHIuSBS7eXhimyMDOkFz_pL1j7_qbWUjvwwaAtmwEALw_wcB 

  1. Natural Fabric Brightener Very light bleach used to lighten or brighten fabrics that are already a light color. Since we can’t promise a level of bleaching in someone else's chemical I’d recommend a shift to oxiclean or an oxygen based cleaner. 

  1. Pre-Spray and Traffic Lane Cleaner A blend of mild detergent and surfactant to help break soils bond to whatever surface it's on and emulsify with the cleaning solution. This helps remove all the soils from a surface instead of leaving a residue. Because consumer products usually don’t focus on surfactant the best equivalent would be detergent based cleaner or dish soap. IT will take more work but get the same effect. 

Another Disclaimer: Don’t come whining to us if you ruin your leather because you didn’t clean it right. There are a lot of different types and grades of leather and dyes that react differently to what we suggest. We recommend you send your leather to a professional to clean. But if you don’t have the time, here are some tricks and tips. Be careful.

Serv Pro North Irving