How to remove grease and grime from leather trim

Keep your plush interior clean
by Manskee Nascimento | Dec 16, 2017

Basically, your car’s leather, aside from giving your interior a plush and luxurious look, is prone to grease stains and embedded dirt from use or abuse. Whether it’s made from authentic animal skin or synthetic materials, it is porous and can absorb anything from bodily fluids to whatever filth it comes in contact with.

Just like caring for your skin, approaching leather detailing should come with a great deal of care and reserve—tackling issues from the simplest, most cost-effective approach to more advance methods until a favorable result has been reached. In light of such issues, here is a short guide to hacking your filthy leather woes.

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*Always start with a pH-neutral leather cleaner and a soft microfiber towel. Say you have embedded dirt or grease on your leather-wrapped tiller, seats and sidings, this approach is by far the simplest way to bring back that fresh, clean look. When dealing with dark colors, always do a spot test in an inconspicuous area first to check for colorfastness. Spray cleaner onto a towel then wipe down affected area, especially if you need pinpoint detailing like in the case of your steering wheel. Have a second clean towel for drying.

*When dealing with larger areas like your front and rear seats, soak surface with leather cleaner and wipe in various directions. Push down on areas that are more soiled to bring dirt or gunk to the surface as you wipe along. Don’t forget to tackle creases and areas where portions are stitched together as these act as dirt traps. Remove excess cleaner with a dry towel and check if more work is needed. Make use of natural light to see your progress.

*For the more stubborn stuff, especially in perforated leather, add a soft-bristled brush like a shaving foam applicator or lush paintbrush and leather scuff pad into the mix. After soaking the leather surface with cleaner, brush the area in small, circular strokes so you can penetrate the pores and perforations of the material. Same goes for creases and fissures in your trim. For problem spots, use the scuff pad after wetting the surface with the cleaner and rubbing only the stains themselves, avoiding the unaffected areas surrounding them. Never use the scuff pad on dry leather as this can eat away the epidermal layer of the material and make it look faded.

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*Applying steam to draw out deep-seated grease and grime is my favorite approach. Just like a good facial wherein steam is used on your skin to draw out impurities, adding a steam cleaner (same thing used on clothes) into the aforementioned steps will yield the most favorable results. This is great for leather that has been neglected for prolonged periods as it loosens grease stains and caked-in dirt within the material, drawing them outward as you clean with the cleaner.

Special notes:

*Always work a small section at a time. This will also allow you to gauge your progress so you can immediately compare results versus the rest of the untreated surface.

*When purchasing leather cleaners and conditioners, select products that provide UV protection and wear/cracking resistance.

*Never let cleaner dry. Wipe to dry upon application.

*Never use soap or solvents to clean leather. This will just make matters worse.

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Now that your leather feels like Rhian Ramos’s skin fresh from the spa, you can finish the job with a leather conditioner that will retain the suppleness of the material and resist wear for many days to come.

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PHOTO: Manskee Nascimento
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