A handsome leather couch is luxurious, for sure, but it’s also pricey. In other words, that thing better last a lifetime. Of course, wear and tear is inevitable—we’d never tell you to stop with the Netflix binges—but ideally the leather will only improve with age. You know, like a fine wine. “The best way to think of leather is that it is like your skin. Good-quality aniline leather is a natural, breathable material; it changes over time,” says furniture designer and RH artisan Timothy Oulton. And just like skin, leather requires regular care to look its best. Not sure where to start? We asked Oulton and Christophe Pourny, a New York–based restoration expert and the author of The Furniture Bible, to share their advice for how to clean leather furniture, plus the secrets to bringing those seen-better-days pieces back to life.
How to clean leather furniture
According to Pourny, the only regular maintenance your leather sofas and chairs need is a good dusting with a dry cloth every once in a while and a monthly application of a leather cream to keep the material soft and moisturized. Actually, this same product can help you clean up any dirt or stains that crop up, too. Here’s what to do, step by step:
- To tackle mild stains, dip a clean, damp washcloth in warm soapy water, and use it to wipe away the stain. “Specific leather soaps exist, usually called saddle soaps,” says Pourny. Darker stains, like those from an ink pen, are another story. According to Pourny, “a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol can do the trick.” Just be careful to apply it directly on the stain spot, so the alcohol doesn’t spread the stain onto more of the leather.
- “Be sure to carefully dry the leather with another clean, dry cloth to avoid any mildew,” Pourny notes. For best results, leave the spot alone overnight.
- Re-moisturize the material by applying the leather cream with a clean cloth. Let it sink in, then buff to a shine if you’d like.
- If that doesn’t work, go to a respected shoe repair shop or leather care expert for help. “Even if it’s a bit controversial, avoid bringing your garment to your local cleaner, even if they advertise suede and leather care,” says Pourny. “I do not know anybody that had great luck with them and the damage will be irreversible.”
How to avoid cracks and distressed spots
Assess the leather quality
Aniline-dyed leather furniture, where the dye penetrates the entire material, is not only durable but is actually meant to look lived-in, says Oulton. “Rather than covering and sealing the surface with a colored coating, we work dyes and waxes into the leather by hand. As a result, we feel like the furniture wears in and not out. It’s very easy to live with, and it develops a rich patina over time.”
Consider your room layout
“In most cases, it is ambient conditions that will lead to the cracking of leather—extreme temperatures and lack of moisture,” says Oulton. “Placing a sofa right under your air-conditioning or next to a radiator or in front of a roaring fire is going to dry out the leather.” Sunlight can also have this effect, says Pourney, so avoid putting furniture right next to a window or glass door, or hang light-blocking curtains.