How to Clean Leather Car Seats and Impress Every Rider

By: // Updated: September 17, 2020

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Driving for a high-end rideshare service like Uber Black has tremendous perks for your wallet, but cleaning luxury vehicles is no easy chore. No matter what part of your car you’re cleaning, you always need to be mindful of what products can damage your vehicle, or just aren’t compatible with its design. One of the most important things to consider is how to clean leather car seats properly and effectively.

Everyday products, like multipurpose cleaner and dish soap, can damage leather seats in the long run. Even if it gets the job done right away, you’ll be left with faster wear and tear that will eventually render your leather seats unfit to pass rideshare companies’ cosmetic guidelines. Fixing actual surface damage will end up increasing your expenses immensely.

Being proactive goes a long way for your leather seats. In this article, we’ll walk you through how to clean leather car seats (or leather car seat covers) and maintain them in the long term.

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How Often Do I Need to Clean Leather Car Seats?

How to clean leather seats in a car

Unlike traditional car seats, cleaning leather seats must be part of your ongoing rideshare maintenance routine. This is because the material is susceptible to scratches and cracks. Even if it’s not enough to be noticeable, abrasive materials like dirt will naturally be brought in by the large amounts of riders you accept every single day.

In addition, leather can easily take on stains when spills occur. Even unavoidable sweat stains during the summer will be absorbed by the material.

That said, experts recommend following a full deep cleaning routine every three months and light cleaning once a month. However, because of the amount of passengers you’ll have as a rideshare driver, you may want to consider deep cleanings once every two months. You’ll definitely want to do light cleaning once per week.

Also make sure to clean anytime you see noticeable stains or dirt. Riders who request luxury car services (and even economy services) expect spotless vehicles to impress their dates, business partners, and more.

How to Clean Leather Car Seats

Achieving consistently clean leather seats isn’t an unattainable task. However, you may need to gather a few specialty materials that will be well worth the investment, as you’ll be using them on a regular basis. These products include:

  • A vacuum with a car-friendly attachment (ex: vacuum hose, extension wand, or crevice tool)
  • At least six microfiber cloths
  • Warm water
  • A soft-bristled brush (professionals prefer horsehair brushes)
  • Leather cleaner
  • A spray bottle (if your leather cleaning solution doesn’t come in one)
  • Leather conditioner

Most of these products can typically be found at your local auto parts store or on Amazon. Buying your leather cleaner and conditioner together, like in this kit, can often help you save.

Before purchasing your materials, make sure to consult your owner’s manual about leather upholstery upkeep. Depending on the type of leather your seats are made of, the manufacturer may recommend choosing or avoiding certain cleaning products.

Light Cleaning

Cleaning the dashboard of a car

As we mentioned previously, light cleaning is something that you’ll want to do every week as a preventative measure when you’re constantly inviting passengers into your vehicle. This is a simple process that’s easy to complete.

To complete your weekly light cleaning;

  1. Use your vacuum and attachment to suck up loose debris from your seats. Get into the crevices and folds as necessary, but be careful about digging too deep or using too much pressure, as this may scratch your leather.
  2. Wet one of your microfiber towels with your warm water, then ring out the water so it is just damp.
  3. Using the damp towel, wipe down your car’s leather surfaces to remove any bits of dirt and grime. The water should dry within seconds and never soak.

If you don’t have a vacuum that will work well in your vehicle, many car washes have self-service stations with vacuum hoses you can use for free or for a few cents. If using public vacuums, make sure to check for any sharp parts on the hose before vacuuming to avoid scratching your leather.

Deep Cleaning

Light cleaning will take away the majority of the day-to-day damaging materials, but stubborn spots will naturally accumulate over time. To get rid of these, you need to use high-quality cleaning agents to extract the grime without putting too much pressure on your car’s sensitive leather interior.

To complete your bimonthly deep cleaning process:

  1. Complete the three-step light cleaning process. This will remove the abrasive debris, so you won’t be scratching in damaging materials when you deep clean.
  2. Test the leather cleaner by spraying a small spot of your leather seats. Be aware of any discoloration. If there are no issues after the spot test, wipe away and continue.
  3. Spray the cleaner onto a small section of your leather seats. Don’t spray so close to the seat that the liquid ends up soaking a spot.
  4. Use your soft-bristled brush to gently scrub in the leather cleaner and bring any stubborn dirt and grime to the surface. “Gently” is a key word here. Even though you’re using soft bristles, high pressure can still cause scuffing.
  5. Use a second dry, clean cloth to immediately wipe away the leather cleaner and dirty remnants.
  6. Repeat steps 3-6, continuing to work in small sections, until your leather seats are fully cleaned. Whenever your cloth becomes too wet or dirty to worth with, switch to a new one. You’ll probably end up using at least three towels, depending on the size of your vehicle.
  7. Make sure all your leather surfaces are dry before continuing. Wipe down with another microfiber towel if needed.
  8. Spot test your leather conditioner by squeezing it onto a small part of your seat and rubbing it in gently with a clean microfiber cloth. Again, be aware of any discoloration or similar issues.
  9. Apply your leather conditioner to your seats and gently rub it in with your microfiber cloth, according to the instructions on your bottle. Make sure you spread the conditioner thinly enough that it doesn’t cause the seats to get greasy.
  10. Continue applying leather conditioner until all your leather seats are treated.
  11. Let the conditioner work in overnight, preferably in the shade.
  12. Use a dry cloth to remove any leftover conditioner and buff out your leather seats.

Other Leather Car Seat Maintenance Tips

Audi parked in a driveway

Cleaning your car seats regularly will already do wonders for the life span of the material, but elements like heat and sunlight can still wear on your car.

As a rideshare driver, car seat covers aren’t a feasible source of protection, as they must be removed before you accept ride requests — and who doesn’t want to show off their clean leather seats anyway? Luckily, you still have a few options for protection. We recommend:

  • Using a sun shade whenever you’re parked for long periods of time.
  • Waiting for requests and parking in shady or covered areas whenever possible.
  • Leaving your window slightly cracked to release hot air in the summer.

If you don’t already have tinted windows on your high-end vehicle, also consider investing in a protective tint. This will keep interior temperatures cooler, especially if you live somewhere that tends to be on the hot side.

Frequently Asked Questions

Closeup of leather car seats

Cleaning leather car seats can be done fairly quickly at home and just requires a bit of extra knowledge to find the right products. Here are a few frequently asked questions on how to clean leather seats:

1. If I’m on a budget, can I make my own leather cleaner with household products?

The most commonly recommended household cleaners to use in place of leather cleaner are solutions of:

  • One part vinegar, two parts linseed oil
  • Three parts vinegar, one part water

These solutions can be sprayed on where leather cleaning spray normally would be used. Always test on a small spot first to ensure discoloration won’t be a problem. Baking soda can also be a good solution for cleaning stains. Rub it in with a damp cloth and leave it in overnight before wiping off (again, with a damp cloth).

However, we highly recommend leather cleaning products as the safest and most effective solutions. If you’re not in an immediate need to save, these are usually tax deductible purchases for rideshare drivers.

2. Is leather conditioner necessary, if it’s not cleaning my car?

While leather conditioner is not necessarily a cleaning agent, it is an important part of the cleaning process that you should complete at least a few times a year, especially if you live in a dry environment. This is because it will act as a protective coating that prevents dryness, which causes cracking and flaking.

3. Can I purchase two-in-one leather cleaners and conditioners for my cleaning process?

While this is a budget-friendly option that speeds up the cleaning process, we don’t recommend using two-in-one products. Doing so is fine for cleaning, but it decreases the effectiveness of your leather conditioner. Without the separate application and buffing process, you’re not really protecting your seats with anything.

Another plus of using a separate leather conditioner is the fact that it will even out any streaks left from the leather cleaner, especially when you’re driving for a black car service, as dark seats make spots easily noticeable.

Give Your Riders a Taste of Luxury

Leather seats are always a sign of luxury, but an unappealing stain or scratch can quickly dampen the experience. Show your passengers a grime-free high-end experience, so they’ll be inspired to tip more and rate you well. For a pretty minuscule investment of time and money, you’ll be able to earn more as a rideshare driver and be driving around a car you’re proud to show off.

Committed to keeping up with your car cleaning routine? Read this guide on cleaning car windows, so you don’t damage the tint on your windshield that’s keeping your leather seats safe.

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