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Cleaning leather upholstery

It’s wise to test cleaning products intended for use on leather for both effectiveness and compatibility with the leather finish.

There are numerous sources of soiling and staining, and different ways in which they can affect leather upholstery. General grubbiness can build up over weeks, months and years of use; some soiling occurs by chance such as dirt from pets and children, and spillages from food and drink.

There are many products available today for cleaning and for general up-keep of leather upholstery. This article covers how SATRA can help by first establishing how susceptible a sample of leather is to general grubbiness or soiling and secondly how easy it is to subsequently clean it.


Our test method for resistance to soiling is SATRA TM296:2011 – 'Visible soiling of upholstery materials'. This involves artificially ageing the leather using flexing and abrading techniques, followed by soiling. Felt pads which are soaked in our soiling medium (a mixture of oils and a carbon marker) are sent tumbling against the leather to give a gentle soiling action. The degree of soiling is then assessed against a Grey Scale.

The soiled test specimens can then be treated with a selection of cleaning products to establish which is best for a particular leather. The products are used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Cleaning is also carried out using water and a soapy water solution as these may be all that is required.


Conducting the SATRA TM 296 soiling test

Possible damage

As well as the effectiveness of the soil removal, this test can be used to identify any detrimental effects on the leather to ensure that the cleaning treatment has not done more damage than the soiling. When cleaned with incompatible products, or cleaned/rubbed vig­orously, the top finish of the leather may be removed revealing another finish or the leather underneath. It may also be that the finish starts to flake off or delaminate. There could also be a colour contrast between the different layers of the finish, and this can make any damage even more noticeable.

Instruct the user

Full, unambiguous and yet simple instructions are essential on all care products for leather upholstery.

With any treatment, the onus is on the user to ensure that it is compatible with the leather on which it is to be used. However, manufacturers need to explain exactly how to use the product and exactly what types of leather finishes it is suitable for. Also that it should be tried on a small, less visible area of the furniture to ensure no unacceptable effects occur. It should also be remembered that ‘less is best’. Any product, even water, should be used sparingly and the leather should never be completely wetted or scrubbed harshly.

How can we help?


Please click here for information on SATRA's furniture testing services. Email to discuss how SATRA can assess the soiling resistance of leather and how care/cleaning products can be assessed.