In the past couple of years I have had a number of friends mention a problem they are having with their leather furniture. And they all seem to be having the same problem and saying the same thing: “I have a leather sofa that is wearing pretty heavily on the arms. The leather is cracked and is peeling away. What is wrong with it?”
While I do not claim to be an expert about leather goods, I have put a lot of thought into the problem and its solution. And I own a vintage leather chair and a custom leather sofa, so I have put a lot of thought into how to care for them. So today I am going to share with you my thoughts about the proper care and maintenance of leather furniture. I have a number of things to say about it before we get to the care part.
First, there is something to be said of the design of a leather sofa.
I don’t know how to say it any other way, but the sofa you chose may not be the easiest to care for because of its shape. You know those really fluffy couches with the poofy arms? I have noticed that they are the ones that get the most complaints over time. The sofas that keep their shape (the ones that are more structured and oftentimes, less comfy are less likely to experience heavy wear.
Why? Well, here’s my theory (and I think it is a good one). The structure provided for by a more structured sofa (this includes the tufted ones, too) does not cause the leather to have to sink very much when one sits down on it. The poofy, comfy couches have LOTS of sinkability – I made that word up – to them, meaning when you sit down, the leather stretches further. And what is more, when you stand back up, there is nothing telling the leather to go back to its original position, like the structured sofas.
This further stretch of the leather can obviously wear the leather more over time.
Second, there is something to be said about the quality of a leather sofa.
When you go shopping for leather furniture at a big box store (you know one of those room to go, one price for the room stores), you usually do not have a LOT of options for the leather you get on the pieces you pick. But when you go shopping for custom furniture, you discover that there are many different qualities of leather available out there. Typically to keep costs low for the big-box, one room, one price places, they use a lower quality leather – usually noted as bonded leather.
Thus, if you have any say at all in the quality of the leather on the sofa you are choosing, you should opt for a more durable leather, like a full grain, a top-grain, or a split grain leather. These are the more durable choices for leather furniture. If you can go custom when you purchase, I highly recommend it because these pieces will be around for longer than the lesser pre-fab pieces.
And lastly, there is something to be said about the maintenance of a piece.
This is almost less important than the previous two considerations. If you have chosen a piece that has good structure and good quality leather, you will be able to care for it a lot easier. That is not to say that you can’t take care of the lesser quality pieces. But the durability of the lesser pieces will just not be there. Remember those cracking and peeling issues I talked about at the top? These problems will arise over time with the bonded pieces.
Alright, so enough of the nerdy stuff.
Here’s the best way to care for your leather furniture pieces.
Caring for your leather is a lot less scary than you might think. Even the big spills and messes can be cleaned up rather easily. You can clean up messes two ways. One uses something you likely have around your house, Dove soap and a microfiber cloth. And the other is the product I recommend and use because it WORKS! I have used both cleaning processes in the past. When the Dove soap just doesn’t get the stain out, I switch to the Chemical Guys products to get the results I am after.
To clean leather using Dove soap:
Dampen (do not soak) your microfiber cloth with water and rub the bar with the cloth. You don’t want a ton of soap on the cloth, just a little bit. Massage the leather with the microfiber cloth and soap. As you do this, your leather will actually start to look worse than when you started. You will see the dirt coming out of the leather and it will look a LOT darker. Make sure you get all the areas that are touched with hands the most. You can either spot clean with this process or clean the entire leather pieces this way.
To clean with the Chemical Guys leather cleaning products:
Spray the leather cleaner on a microfiber cloth and rub over the surface of the leather. You can use the cleaner to spot clean or you can clean the entire surface of the leather. It is not necessary to “rinse” the surface of the leather after using the cleaner. Note: This product says, “Shake well” before use.
While the leather is drying after cleaning, you may want to go over all the nooks and crannies (including the stitching) of the sofa with a q-tip. This is also a good time to pull away the cushions (if possible and vacuum under the cushions).
After it dries, apply the Chemical Guys leather conditioner to another microfiber cloth and rub over the surface of the leather. You do not have to wipe it away and you can do another application if you want to. When you use the conditioner, you will notice that it makes the leather much softer and more natural. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP FOR MAINTAINING YOUR LEATHER! This is so necessary that I recommend you condition your sofa 2 times a year (at least depending on your climate). If you are wondering how much leather conditioner to use on your sofa, think about it like your own skin and apply a shot glass full of conditioner over the leather surfaces of your couch.
For more weekly and daily maintenance, be sure to dust your sofa often by running a dry microfiber cloth over it. One of the things I noticed when we purchased our custom leather sofa a couple of years ago is how much dust it gathers. It is easier to see than with fabric sofas because it sits right on the surface, rather than sinking in. I have written a few of the things I have learned about leather here, if you would like to read more.
I hope this tutorial helps you to care for your leather. And I hope that your leather pieces last a really LONG time!
P.S. This is the same process I use to take care of my expensive leather purses, too!
NOTE: this post includes affiliate links. That means if you click through and make a purchase as the result of my recommendation, you get a great product at no extra cost and I get remuneration. No pressure. I only share things I love and use in my own home.