New cars – or new-to-you cars – are a big deal, even if you’re not a gearhead. After all, they represent the most expensive asset you’ll likely ever purchase aside from your home. And with leather upholstery more common than ever, you’ll want to learn how to protect leather seats so they remain soft, supple, and pristine for as long as possible.
A word of caution: it’s worth getting up to speed on leather conditioners before proceeding to read up on the tips and suggestions collected here. These potent chemical solvents are specially designed to pull dirt and grime out of the pores of the leather. Purchasing a quality leather cleaner and conditioner is the first step to protecting your leather for the long haul.
But enough about prerequisites. Let’s get into why and how to protect leather seats.
Why Should I Protect My Leather Seats?
Image courtesy of Pixabay
Your car is your commute pod – but it is also your personal RV, school bus, dump truck, mobile cafeteria, and gosh knows what else. Your car, in short, has a lot of shoes to fill. And odds are that your car interior will see the brunt of the inevitable wear and tear.
Leather isn’t exactly designed to hold up to that kind of usage over time.1 After enough cargo, passengers, and spilled food – not to mention snow, slush, mud, and relentless sunlight – leather seats will begin to show signs of aging. First, they’ll start to show signs of cracking and wrinkling. Then they’ll grow brittle. Eventually, they’ll discolor and start to split at the seams.
This aging process is avoidable with the proper preventative treatment. Kept up with any form of regularity, leather seats that are cleaned and protected will maintain their luster and softness. The result is a cleaner car that’s more appealing and more comfortable, not to mention worth more at trade-in than an otherwise identical car with a worn interior.
Considering the paltry cost of today’s leather-cleaning solvents and the relatively infrequent applications required per year, the upside of maintaining your leather is very much worth the investment in money and time.
How to Protect Leather Seats
There are a few strategies to protecting your leather seats. The most common? With commercially available cleaners or seat covers.
Cleaners and Solvents
Walk into any auto parts store and you’ll find whole aisles dedicated to cleaning solvents for leather interiors. These chemical products are the most common and often the easiest way to clean and protect the leather. Their exact recipes are guarded secrets, but all of them contain similar concoctions of both natural and synthetic ingredients which work to penetrate the leather and extract deep-seated dirt and grime.
Once the product has pulled up the dirt, it can be wiped away, leaving a clean surface to apply a conditioner. These conditioners create a chemical barrier that helps prevent a buildup of dirt. It also acts as a sort of sunscreen for the leather, protecting it against damaging UV rays. This is especially important down south, where the sun beats relentlessly.
Not a fan of the mass-produced synthetic stuff or want to minimize the impact on the environment?2 You can also make homebrew leather solvents using ingredients you can buy at the grocery store. These homemade solutions are often safer for babies and pets and may even be cheaper per ounce.
Not to say the store products are expensive. About $10 or $12 is enough to purchase a quality product that will last you for multiple cleaning sessions. Since most conditioners only need to be applied a few times per year, the monetary investment is minimal.
If you’re ready to purchase a leather-cleaning product, there are plenty of excellent conditioners on the market.
Image courtesy of Pixabay
Okay, maybe this option is cheating a little. But if you don’t want to run the risk of ruining your leather in the course of everyday driving, seat covers offer an excellent layer of protection. These covers sit over the seat and conform to the seat design, leaving you with a comfortable, flush surface that won’t bunch or deform every time you slide in and out of the car.
Seat covers come in a variety of styles, but our favorites come designed with side airbags in mind. If you don’t know, side airbags are commonly built into the side of the front seat cushions in modern vehicles. Seat covers not designed for these airbags will impede their inflation in the event of an impact. For more information on the potential dangers of seat covers that aren’t compatible with side airbags, make sure you’re checking out details on seat covers.
The right seat covers, however, pose no danger. These covers also sit snugly on the seat and provide a solid, impermeable barrier between the leather and damaging dirt or UV rays. There’s also the option to either spruce up your car with patterned seat covers or purchase a seat cover designed specifically for pets or the sweaty post-gym drive home. Finding the seat cover that fits your specific needs is easier than ever.
Leather looks great when kept up. Abused leather, on the other hand, is a sad sight to see, and nobody – from your spouse to prospective buyers – will be impressed. Luckily, protecting your leather is easy thanks to the number of excellent cleaning products on the market. And if you’re not down to start scrubbing your seats every so often, seat covers are another great option to protect your leather. Both solutions will keep your leather looking great for years to come.
Ride Digest uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- Liu, C., Latona, N.P. 2003. Application of tocopherol to improve the durability of leather. Journal of American Leather Chemists Association. 98(10):400-407.
- Raghava Rao J, Chandrababu NK, et al. Recouping the wastewater: a way forward for cleaner leather processing. Journal of Cleaner Production. 2003; 11(5): doi: 10.1016/S0959-6526(02)00095-1