“How should I clean my leather furniture?”
It’s a common question from our clients.
As a leather furniture repair and restoration specialist, I hear over and over again from my clients that they have been using saddle soap on their fine leather upholstery. After all, it seems like the right thing to use, as certainly saddles are made from leather.
Despite what it seems like, it’s a mistake! You see, leather intended for saddles and leather intended for furniture are processed very differently.
Saddles are made from heavy-duty leather which is vegetable tanned to withstand the harsh environment of the outdoors. It’s tough, highly durable leather and can stand up to the use of chemically harsh leather cleaners, like saddle soap.
Upholstery leather is processed differently. Using chromium tanning chemistry, the end result is soft, supple leather that is much more sensitive to harsh cleaners like saddle soap. Here’s the reason why.
Think about your own skin. Would you wash your face with a strong household cleaner? Certainly it would clean your face, however the drying and chaffing effect it has on your skin is not desirable, particularly with repeated use. The same is true for upholstery leather. The fact is that upholstery leather is acidic. It has a pH of 4.5 – 5. Harsh cleaners are highly alkaline. Consequently a chemical reaction occurs in the leather that breaks down its fibrous structure. Therefore it’s important to use leather cleaners
that are chemically engineered (pH balanced) specifically for upholstery leather.
And, then there is the question of the type of leather you have. Leather cleaners are not appropriate for all types and grades of leather. For example, suede, brushed leathers, fine lamb or calf skin are aesthetically delicate and should be treated very carefully. Leather cleaners or conditioners may stain such delicate leather.
Generally speaking, leather furniture doesn’t need a lot of attention. A simple maintenance procedure is to wipe the piece down with a lightly dampened cloth at the same frequency you dust the wood furniture in your home. Then, periodically (every 3 – 4 months) apply a quality leather conditioner
to instill moisture into the leather. Regularly conditioning your leather will prolong the life of the piece.