Nothing adds a splash of class to your vehicle's interior like leather seats. They look and feel great, last a long time, and help resale value down the road. You want to keep those leather thrones looking as spiffy as possible, and luckily they're easy to clean. A simple vacuum session is a good start, and a wipe with almost any interior cleaner can't hurt.
However, leather seats do need some extra care to keep them looking and feeling their best. Cleaning your seats with leather-specific products can help remove a build-up of body oils, stains, and other grime, while also working to prevent cracking, discoloration, and other wear. For best results, always use leather conditioner in conjunction with leather cleaner. Some of the products in this list include conditioning properties, while others do not. Always double-check labels and purchase accordingly.
So if you really want that cowhide to pop, leather cleaner is what you need. But which one should you buy? There are many different brands to choose from, so we assembled 10 of the most popular to find out which ones work best.
Our Top Picks
Best OverallWeiman Leather Cleaner Read More
A Close SecondMeguiar's Ultimate Leather Detailer Read More
Best for Quick ResultsGriot's Garage Odor Neutralizing Leather Cleaner Read More
Best Feel & FinishLeather Honey Leather Cleaner Read More
Most ConvenientInterior Cleaner Car Leather Wipes Armor All Read More
Denizens of the Road & Track garage naturally keep their interiors clean, so it took some digging to find a vehicle with appropriately grubby leather seats. We decided on an old off-roading gladiator, a 2004 Land Rover Discovery, nicknamed "Timex," used in a beater test years ago. The tan interior leather was quite grubby, and our eyes grew wide with anticipation as we peered into the cabin. This would work well.
We taped off 10 sections along the rear seat to give the cleaners a level playing field. We also wanted to test out various types of stains on the leather seats in addition to the accumulated crud, so we picked up some brown crayons and lipstick and added a scribble of each to the various sections.
To test each product's ease of use and cleaning time, we kept the testing process simple: spray each cleaner onto its square, wait 10 seconds, rub for one minute with clean microfiber, and wipe clean. We took notes on each cleaner and determined which ones truly cleaned up the mess.
Here are our choices for the best car leather cleaners.
Weiman Leather Cleaner left behind a noticeable shine, along with a slightly dark finish. It truly made the leather look 10 years younger.
A combination of the sheen and smell left us daydreaming about a shirt-shined apple in a crisp October orchard.
If you look closely, you can see slight remnants of the lipstick and crayon left behind after a minute of cleaning.
There wasn't much of a change in the darker staining, but the seat felt brand new.
The wipes seemed to transfer the cleaner and grime right to our hands—yum.
You can still see quite a bit of the crayon top-left corner of the post-clean square.
In this case, the shine you're seeing is from a light residue left behind.
Yes, those stains did get darker, somehow.
This stuff somehow replaced unblemished leather with new stains. Yikes.
This stuff didn't make stains worse. Rejoice!
The leather seats in our vehicle of choice, an infamous Car and Driver 2004 Land Rover Discovery, were dirty but not uniformly so. Taking this into account, we brought in some brown crayons and a stick of bright red lipstick to test the power of each cleaner.
We taped off 10 equal sections of the rear seat—one for each cleaner—and set to work. Unless a bottle's instructions told us otherwise, we sprayed each cleaner generously onto its square or directly onto a clean microfiber cloth, let it sit for 10 seconds, scrubbed for a full minute, and wiped dry.
While any cleaner might eventually work with unlimited time to sit or scrub, we also wanted to test how quickly these products would be effective. This is why we kept the cleaning time low and judged each cleaner equally in this metric.
In total, we noted each product's
- Smell or scent
- Hydration properties
- Residue left behind, and of course
- Performance on dirt and stains
Once the testing was completed, we felt satisfied that each cleaner was judged equally without bias.
How do I know if my leather seats are dirty?
Leather seats do a nice job concealing grime that builds up over time, especially naturally occurring staining from body oils. (You might not even notice your car seats getting dirty.) But leather seats need extra care, which is why you should clean them routinely—even if they don't look too bad.
Why should I clean leather seats?
Stains and other crud can seep into leather if left unchecked, making future cleaning difficult. Ignored dirt and grime can cause deep stains and cracking, which will require some heavy-duty scrubbing or even repairs. You can avoid this with routine cleaning and conditioning with products formulated for leather care.
What is leather conditioning?
It's very important to include leather conditioning in your routine, whether it's bought separately from your cleaner or included. Leather conditioner is a product that nourishes the leather by seeping inside and preventing it from drying out and becoming damaged. Some of the leather cleaning products we tested here have conditioning properties, but some did not.
What household items can I use to clean the leather in my car?
Unless it's a household leather cleaner, we don't recommend using any household items to clean the leather in your car. It's popular to see vinegar, lemon juice, and even toothpaste suggested as ways to clean leather, but you can easily damage your seats further using these things. Protect your vehicle's resale value and take care of your leather seats properly by simply buying a cleaner that's specially formulated for the job.
Why Trust Us?
This test was conducted in an environment that provided equal testing procedures for each product: the Car and Driver garage. We tested each leather cleaner on a dirty leather seat with equal taped-off sections and measured how well each section was cleaned. We took detailed notes on performance, along with smell, residue, and hydration. Upon tallying up our findings, we agreed that our test was fair and legitimate and provided the best information for us to recommend our picks to our readers.
Hearst Autos combines the talent, resources, and expertise of three of the largest, most influential automotive publications in the world. We don't need to game search engines to get traffic or promote lousy products just to make a sale. We're far more concerned with our legacy, our reputation, and the trust that our readers have in Autoweek, Car and Driver, and Road & Track to deliver honest evaluations and expert opinions.
Read more about our product testing and evaluation process here.