When I was looking for a new car a few years ago I have to admit that finding one with leather seats really wasnít much of a priority. I couldnít have cared less if it had cloth or leather. I ended up buying a car that did have leather. At first I didnít really have an opinion of if it was better or worse than cloths. After having sat in those seats for nearly 70,000 miles now, I can say with a certainty that I would much rather have leather seats than cloth. It is more durable and far easier to care for than cloth seats. I only had 50,000 on my last car when I sold it and the cloth seats were already showing wear. There isnít anything you can do for cloth seats except to cover them with some ugly seat covers. My leather seats look almost as good today as the day I bought the car. I have only been able to keep them that way because I am an obsessive compulsive detailer who cleans and conditions the seats regularly. I have seen cars newer than mine with leather in far worse shape than it should be simply because the owner decided that leather was somehow indestructible and didnít need to be maintained.
I wanted to preface this article with that experience because I feel that people who read this article will fall into either the category of those who properly maintain their leather, or the other category of people who figure it will last forever and donít care for it. While there are many ways of fixing neglected leather, this article is directed at those who are searching for advice on how to properly maintain it. The cracks and tears in your seats are not something that can be fixed simply by conditioning the seats. That is an article for another time.
Automotive seats are usually made out of one of the following materials. Leather, Cloth, or Vinyl. Vinyl and Cloth are pretty easy to identify and care for. Depending on what kind of car you have there could be one of a few different types of leather in it. Identifying the type is important when you are trying to care for it. You wouldnít use the same product on the velvety suede on your arm rest as you would on the much tougher leather of your steering wheel for example. Nearly all auto leather is a pigmented/top coat dye. The products suggested in this article are made on that assumption. If you feel that you may be dealing with another type of leather, then I would suggest that you consult your car ownerís manual to identify the type of leather and then do some research on the proper care of that leather. These are some of the leathers I have seen in cars and how you can identify them:
This is a top quality type of natural leather. You can see the grain of the leather very well. It is not typically used for seats just because it is very easy to scratch and it does stain easily. They are usually colored with a transparent leather dye. It is very porous and would require different cleaning procedures than with the more standard Protected Leather. It is also very prone to sun fading and is another reason why you wonít find it often in cars. You may find it around the dash or someplace else on the car that doesnít get sat on or touched a lot, but I have found that the next leather is more commonly found in those places.
This would be comparable to suede. It is very fuzzy and soft. It scratches easily and will stain. It is basically Aniline leather that has been brushed to make it fuzzy. You will very often find this type on the doors and other areas of the car that are relatively ďlow traffic areasĒ as far as touching goes. You might find it around the dash or even the headliner. It is not something you want to use standard leather conditioner on. There are special cleaners and conditioners for NuBuck leather. Usually you will use a sponge and a brush to bring back the nap of the leather along with the cleaning and conditioning products. Again, itís not a common type of leather to be found in a car and not the focus of this article. I just wanted you to be aware of it so you donít slop a bunch of leather conditioner all over a clientís car assuming that all leather can be cared for the same.
This is the most common type of leather you will find. Probably 90% or more of the leather you see in cars or furniture is treated this way. The leather is very uniform in appearance and color. You canít really see any natural leather markings in the leather because of the top coating. That protects the leather from staining or fading. After it receives a top coating it will usually be sealed or coated with a durable finish. The leather usually has great color and a very definite grain to it. Depending on the quality of leather you will notice a difference in the feel. It may be very glossy and hard or it maybe supple and feel very soft. While soft leather can be just as durable as a harder leather, it is most common to find the stiffer kind. As the leather ages you will see cracking and perhaps even splits in the grain appearing. Proper leather care can avoid those types of things.
Tools of Leather Care
The tools of leather care can be summed up in one word. MICROFIBER Between the use of microfiber applicators and microfiber towels, you will be able to clean and condition your leather with ease. I would suggest taking a look at the applicators on www.DetailCity.com They have some great applicators for applying the cleaner or conditioner.
Whether you are using cleaners or conditioners, you should always buff the leather with a dry and clean microfiber towel after the product and prior to the next step. Just be sure to use a clean towel when working on any part of your automobile.
As with everything else in car care, there is a process to follow. Leather care is a fairly basic process with few steps to follow. The first step is to vacuum any crumbs or dirt off of the seats. The back seats are usually the worst for this. Its funny the types of vehicles that leather comes in now. It used to be a product only for luxury cars, but now you can find it in many other cars as well as trucks and SUVs. Large family vehicles like an SUV are usually the worst when it comes to cleaning the crumbs out. The leather attracts family minded buyers because they can appreciate the ease of wiping spilled drinks off the leather instead of dealing with stained fabrics. However, leather doesnít care for itself and I often find that the very spills and disasters that attracted the buyers to the product are the same events that end up destroying the leather in the future. Leather is nice and everything, but it can stain and it can be ripped and scratched. Car seats and kid messes are a major factor in damaged leather. Cleaning cracker crumbs and melted Skittles out of the seats is what you will spend a lot of time doing at first before you can even get started with the actual cleaning of the surface.
Once you have cleaned out the crumbs and debris from the seams and cracks, now you can start cleaning the leather. There are many fine leather care products that you can use. Most of the leather care products that we carry here are lotions or gels. To apply them you just pour some on an applicator and wipe down you leather with it. Try to avoid wiping down the seams of the leather because gels and lotions may build up around threads and weaken them. Always check those areas for excess product after you are finished. What I would suggest is to use most of the product on the large areas of the seats and then wipe down the seams when there isnít as much product on the pad.
Many cars have perforated leather seats. That is leather with lots and lots of holes in it. Most of the leather care headache you will have involves getting either cleaner or conditioner in those holes. It doesnít hurt the leather, but it will eventually dry and look kind of crusty. What you want to do in order to avoid that is to apply the majority of the product to the sides or head restraint section of the seat first and then wipe down the areas with perforations last. Basically you just want to avoid having too much product on the applicator and you will have much success at cleaning and conditioning those areas.
After you are finished wiping down the leather with the cleaner product you should buff the leather with a dry microfiber towel. That will help remove any excess cleaner from the seams and crack as well as dry the surface and prepare it for the conditioner.
Apply the conditioner in the same way you applied the cleaner. Many of the conditioners that we carry at OCD Pharmacy provide a natural leather smell as they are applied. There is nothing better than the smell of new leather in your car and products like Pinnacle, Wolfgang, and Four Star Ultimate leather conditioners give your car that fresh from the factory smell. Again, after applying this product remember to buff the leather with a dry microfiber towel. Any excess product in the seams and cracks can easily be removed with a light spray of water and a dry towel.
Keeping your leather clean and conditioned will rejuvenate your leather and return the softness and flexibility that it once had. It will help your leather resist cracking and wearing. If you clean and condition your leather on a monthly basis then you can expect it to last probably longer than the car. Your leather interiors are a large part of the value of your car and proper maintenance will ensure that your car retains that value and give satisfaction to you for tens of thousands of miles.