When it comes to cleaning leather, there’s no shortage of products on the market that promise they can clean your leather safely, easily, and quickly. One option someone may suggest is coconut oil. But is coconut oil actually good for leather?
The answer is a bit murky. On the one hand, coconut oil – and yes, its derived from the coconut – has admirable properties that make it an ideal cleaner. On the other, there are better, safer products that can provide superior leather protection.
Let’s consider what coconut oil is in more depth to understand why it can stand in as a leather cleaner and conditioner.
What is Coconut Oil?
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Coconut oil is a natural, edible product created by pressing and liquefying the white meat found inside a coconut.1 Above 76 degrees it is a liquid; colder than that and it hardens into a paste that can keep for an extended period of time in your cupboard. People use it for everything from cooking to sunscreen. You’ll find it not in the car care section of the auto parts store but in the baking aisle of your local grocer.
Coconut oil has gotten mixed reviews lately. Some extoll the virtues of the stuff to no end; others eye it warily and aren’t yet convinced by all the hype. Whether it is the magic, all-purpose, cure-all superfood and household cleaner some claim is far from settled.
Is it Safe to Use on Leather?
When it comes to upholstery, coconut oil is safe to use – provided you use it correctly. Done right, coconut oil will protect the leather and give it a degree of waterproofing it otherwise wouldn’t have.
Because it hardens at room temperature, you have to be judicious of the weather when you choose to apply it. Lather it on as the afternoon turns to dusk and the air cools and you may end up with a pasty coating atop your seats. Your garage is likely warmer than 76 degrees in the summer months, but be careful during the shoulder seasons, as choosing a cooler day or cooler time of day might beget unpleasant results.
What are the Drawbacks of Using Coconut Oil on Leather?
One problem, besides its low liquefying point, is that coconut oil has a tendency to darken the leather. This is more likely to happen if you apply the oil on the leather liberally and frequently but is a side effect nonetheless.
Of greater concern is that coconut oil sometimes doesn’t absorb well into leather. The problem with this is twofold: the leather is deprived of the proper conditioning it needs and the unabsorbed residue will stubbornly cling to the leather’s surface. Nobody wants to get into their car and sit on a seat still sticky and damp with coconut oil.
Between the two of these issues, coconut oil can be finicky to work with, making it less appealing than other leather cleaning and conditioning products. Beware, though. There are some drawbacks of certain oil-based leather cleaners.2
How to Apply Coconut Oil to Leather
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To illustrate the correct application process, we’ve outlined the basic steps:
Wipe down the seats. Before applying coconut oil, give the seats a quick wipe with a dry or damp cloth. This serves to remove any excess dirt or grime that’s sitting on the surface of the leather, which will allow the coconut oil to better penetrate the upholstery.
Apply a small amount of coconut oil directly to the seat or cloth. The keyword here is ‘small.’ Apply too much and the seat will feel greasy; the oil won’t all penetrate the leather, leaving the excess to pool atop the leather and eventually harden. It’s better to work with a smaller amount that you can vigorously work into the leather.
Wipe dry. Once done, go over with a dry cloth to remove anything that wasn’t absorbed by the leather. You don’t want to leave splotches of excess oil, which, as we mentioned, will happily transfer from the seat onto your pants when you go to sit down. The unabsorbed amount may also hasten leather’s natural propensity to darken as it ages.
What are Alternatives to Coconut Oil?
Natural oils as a whole are beneficial to leather upholstery, as they feature the right sort of properties that rejuvenate and protect the leather. Neatsfoot oil is also naturally occurring – created by boiling the meat found on the ankle and shin bones of cattle – but doesn’t suffer from the same drawbacks of coconut oil. It is more absorbent than coconut oil and just as beneficial, if not more.
The best alternative might be a pre-mixed, all-natural leather conditioner sold by brands such as Lexol and Weiman. These products steer clear of synthetic chemicals, such as petroleum jelly, that are known to damage leather over the long term.
Notably, these specially-formulated products typically feature a bit of a potpourri of substances known to be beneficial for leather. Beeswax, neatsfoot oil, and castor oil are all commonly found in many high-quality leather cleaners.
Individually, these ingredients provide the same restorative benefits as coconut oil – but together they create a more potent mix that only needs to be reapplied to your seats once or twice a year. Though these cleaners can be a bit pricier than other conditioning methods, it may be worth it for the superior protection they provide.
Coconut oil works alright as a leather protectant, but better options are out there. Our favorite solution is the pre-made, all-natural products made by companies whose chemists did the hard work of determining the right formula and ingredients to best preserve leather.
If you do choose to use coconut oil, apply it to the seats sparingly and be sure to wipe off the excess. Don’t let any residue linger or it might make the seats look and feel worse than they did before. Applied properly, coconut oil can result in renewed luster and newfound softness for your leather seats.
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.
- Kady, Matthew. The Truth About Coconut Oil. WebMD.com. Reviewed 29 Jan 2019. Accessed 24 Sept 2021.
- Dan. Leather Oil – The Right Ones to Use & When to Use Them. libertyleathergoods.com. Accessed 24 Sept 2021.