Leather consists of thousands and thousands of intertwined fibers, with penetrable pores throughout–just like skin. Proper maintenance starts with cleaning the fibers. Cleaning removes fiber-severing abrasives and pore clogging dirt and dust, both of which will breakdown the leather over time and give it a less than pleasing texture and appearance.
If you have pets, then you may want to invest in pet pads or pet seat covers for your interior. You will also want to look into a good reflective sun shield.
With regular cleaning and conditioning, a leather interior will last for the life of the vehicle. Leather is tough and abuse resistant. The main concern is to determine is what type of leather interior you have, then choose cleaners and conditioners designed specifically for the task. Traditional leather interiors are made of 100% leather, where as some modern interiors are leather coated with a supple vinyl.
A quick test to determine which type you have is to use a small amount of cool clean water. Traditional leather will absorb water, where vinyl coated leather will repel it. Either way, a few drops of water won’t harm your interior.
The next step is to determine the right cleaners and conditioners for your leather. Saddle soap and conditioners, while good for your baseball glove or go-go boots, are not to be used on automotive leather of any kind. The soap contains alkalis, which can permanently damage the material in your seats. Household detergents and cleaners can damage leather as well. Always use only a product designed for the type of leather your vehicle has.
Removing harmful oil and dirt deposits is the crucial first step. Always use clean soft cloths to prevent damage to, or inadvertent removal of the leather dye. Stubborn dirt lodged into crevices may require the use of an upholstery brush. Removal of gunk and grime must be done before conditioning the leather, as you don’t want to permanently push these contaminants into the pores.
The next step, probably even more important, is conditioning. This nourishes and moisturizes to lubricate individual fibers, keeping them from becoming brittle and dry. It replaces essential, natural oils that evaporate. How can you tell a good conditioner? A good conditioner will offer UV protection. Like human skin, ultra-violet rays will quickly cause deterioration of the leather and shorten its lifespan significantly. A good conditioner will be absorbed into the leather, not sit atop the surface or leave residue behind. The surface should not be oily after application. The very best conditioners are pH balanced, have stain repellants, waterproofing agents to protect from accidents.
While cleaning and conditioning your interior be sure not to leave any tools or sharp objects in your pockets that could put a hole in your seats and your good time. As with any cleaner, conditioner or chemical that involves the potential for ruining something really expensive, always test first in a small, inconspicuous area.
Inexpensive leather cleaners and conditioners will contain petroleum distillates, silicon or silicon oils, and gloss agents that deliver an inferior, greasy finish that does nothing for the leather, and transfers to anything that the leather comes in contact with. These chemicals are harmful to your leather.