How to clean leather and restore its shine

Brown leather jacker, bag, shoes
Brown leather jacker, bag, shoes (Image credit: Shutterstock)

If your favorite leather jackets, shoes, or bags have unsightly marks, you'll need to know how to clean leather to get them looking new again. While leather is one of the most durable materials, it does require a little TLC to last a lifetime.

Luckily, learning how to clean leather to remove marks and stains is not as hard as it seems. Similar to knowing how to clean a leather couch, you can easily clean leather items naturally. All you’ll need are some homemade cleaning solutions or products that you’ll probably find in your kitchen. 

Best of all, you don’t have to spend a fortune on harsh leather cleaners. So, if you want to keep your leather looking in top condition, here’s how to clean leather to remove marks and stains. 

For more cleaning tips, check out how to remove oil stains from clothes, or how to remove red wine stains from carpets. If you're dealing with sneakers, here's how to clean sneakers in 4 easy steps.

How to clean leather with white vinegar and water

1. First, create a mixture of  50/50 distilled water and white vinegar in a bowl. It’s important to dilute the vinegar with water, as vinegar on its own can be too acidic for leather, and damage it.

2. Then, gently wipe the leather with a microfiber cloth to remove any marks or stains. Always follow the grain of the leather, rather than wiping against the grain. 

Wiping black leather jacket

Wiping black leather jacket (Image credit: Shutterstock)

3. Once the stain is removed, leave the leather item to dry naturally, away from direct sunlight. Then wipe with a leather moisturizer such as a natural oil to protect the material.

TIP: Before cleaning with any solution, always do a spot test on your leather item to make sure it will handle it well, and not damage.  

How to clean leather with a natural oil

1. For general cleaning, wipe it down with a natural oil. This could be either lanolin, mink, almond, and coconut oil, or you could even make your own. Simply mix  two parts oil with one part water or lemon juice in a bowl before dipping in a microfiber cloth. Apply directly onto the leather to remove stains or wipe clean.  

Buffing a brown leather handbag

Buffing a brown leather handbag (Image credit: Shutterstock)

2. Then, buff with a microfiber cloth to get a shiny finish. The oil will help to polish the leather, while the lemon is a natural disinfectant. For stubborn stains, you could also mix lemon juice with cream of tartar to create a paste. Apply the paste directly onto the leather, and leave for about 10 minutes. Then wipe the paste away with a damp microfiber cloth before drying. 

TIP: Avoid using olive oil as this can also stain leather. In addition, your leather might end up too greasy and result in spots. 

How to clean leather with laundry detergent and water

1. First, mix one part mild laundry detergent with eight parts distilled water. Pour the mixture into a clean spray bottle, spray onto a microfiber cloth or sponge. 

2. Gently remove any stains or marks with a clean cloth or soft bristle brush until removed. Once all clean, leave to dry naturally, away from direct sunlight. 

Cleaning a beige shoe

Cleaning a beige shoe (Image credit: Shutterstock)

3. After drying, apply a leather moisturiser or natural oil to hydrate the leather.

TIP: Try not to oversaturate your leather with excess water as this could damage the leather finish.  

How to clean leather with beeswax 

1. If you prefer a solid cleaning solution for leather, apply beeswax into the leather with a microfiber cloth, and rub in a circular motion. You can buy beeswax specifically for leather goods such as this All-Natural Leather Cream ($16, Amazon). 

Applying beeswax on black shoes

Applying beeswax on black shoes (Image credit: Shutterstock)

2. Next, get a fresh cloth to lightly buff the excess beeswax off the leather. Try not to remove all of the beeswax coating as this is necessary to condition, and preserve the natural grain and texture of the leather item.

TIP: Never use ammonia or bleach-based products to clean leather. These are too harsh and can damage its natural finish. 

Tips on maintaining your leather

Brown leather wallets

Brown leather wallets (Image credit: Shutterstock)
  • Regularly clean your leather items with a soft brush or cloth (using the above methods)
  • Always air out leather, and blot away any water or moisture immediately
  • If wet, always let your leather dry out naturally, and away from direct heat or sunlight 
  • Keep leather soft with a specialized leather conditioner every 3-6 months 

If you want to know more cleaning hacks, here are 9 things you didn’t know you could clean with a lemon, or 11 things you didn’t know you could clean with toothpaste when. These could come in handy when you’re cleaning every room of your home. Remember that even your cleaning products need cleaning, so you might also want to learn how to clean a microfiber cloth.

Cynthia Lawrence
Content Editor, Homes

As the Homes Content Editor, Cynthia Lawrence covers all things homes, interior decorating, and garden-related. She has a wealth of editorial experience testing the latest, ‘must-have’ home appliances, writing buying guides and the handy ‘how to’ features. 

Her work has been published in various titles including, T3, Top Ten Reviews, Ideal Home, Real Homes, Livingetc. and House Beautiful, amongst many.

With a rather unhealthy obsession for all things homes and interiors, she also has an interior design blog for style inspiration and savvy storage solutions (get rid of that clutter!). When she’s not testing cool products, she’ll be searching online for more decor ideas to spruce up her family home or looking for a great bargain!