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Leather care

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Most upholstery leather is finished leather, which means it's been given a protective coating. Many of the ingredients found in commercial leather cleaners are common items you may have lying around the house, so it's really not necessary to buy store-bought cleaners. Here are some simple, natural ways to keep your leather furniture looking as good as new for years to come.

Tip: Before you begin: Always check the manufacturer's label for recommended care, and test cleaning methods on an inconspicuous area first.

Stain Removal: (*Note that these tips apply to ordinary finished leather; they do not apply to suede. Read a little further down for tips on cleaning suede.)

Ink: Ink is one of the most difficult stains to remove. A ballpoint-pen mark is much easier to eradicate than a huge saturated blob (which may never come out). For superficial scribbles, try one of two home remedies: Either dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and rub until the marks disappear (this may take several tries), and then dry with a hair dryer on its lowest setting. Otherwise try rubbing out the stain with a non-acetone nail polish-remover pad. For more serious staining -- or if you're worried about ruining the leather -- consult a pro.

Mildew & mold: Mix one part rubbing alcohol with one part water and spray onto a dampened cloth. Wipe surface with a lint-free cloth, and use clean portions of fabric as you go along.

Newsprint: Spritz the marks with aerosol hairspray. Wipe clean with a soft cloth.

Protein-based stains (blood, food, mud): Typically dark, these stains are especially noticeable on light-colored pieces. Make a paste of one part lemon juice and one part cream of tartar; apply and let sit for about 10 minutes. Then, put another layer of paste on top, and remove it with a wet, wrung-out rag dampened with Castile soap. Buff dry with a soft cloth.

Water: If your leather is marred by water stains and rings, try applying mayonnaise. Let sit for a few hours, and then wipe it off with a dry rag.

Removing Stains from Suede

Suede should treated differently than typical leather, as it can ruined much more easily. Avoid using chemical stain removers on suede. Since most suede has been chemically pretreated, spot-cleaning is really your only option. Remove dried-on stains with a clean pencil eraser; rub it over the spot until the offending substance is gone. Restore the nap by rubbing it gently with an emery board. Blot up wet messes with a paper towel. For oil-based stains, use a commercial suede cleaner that's designed specifically to degrease.

Cleaning & Conditioning Leather:

Finished leather: A gentle plant-based detergent like Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap can effectively clean and condition leather upholstery in one shot. Swirl two drops soap in one quart warm water. Work it into the leather in sections using a well-wrung sponge; don't soak the leather. To restore shine, buff leather surfaces with a soft cloth.

Suede: As discussed, suede is delicate, so cleaning and maintenance should be gentle. Prevention is key: protect suede from stains and water damage by applying upholstery protector every six months or so. Dust suede regularly with a dry, microfiber to ward off discoloration, and use a suede brush to keep the nap looking fresh.

Patent leather: Although you won't find many pieces of furniture made of this, you may come across the odd patent seat cushion that needs a little freshening up. Douse a lint-free cloth with distilled white vinegar and wipe down. Likewise, a thin application of petroleum jelly (just buff it out before sitting) brings back shine -- and repels water, too.

Tips & Tricks:

- Leather furniture is usually a big investment, so if you aren't sure how best to tackle cleaning and stain removal, always call a pro first.

- Avoid placing leather furniture in direct sunlight, as it causes fading, drying, and cracking. Also, keep it at least two feet away from any heat and air conditioning sources, as fluctuations in temperature cause the same problems.

- Dust and vacuum leather regularly to extend its life.