How do I Clean Distressed Leather?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Care and cleaning for distressed leather items can be tricky, and if you aren’t careful, you could wind up with a bigger mess than when you started. For instance, attempting to wipe away spills is more likely to spread the mess than clean it, and using inappropriate cleaners, including soap and water, might create new stains. You are more likely to get good results by dabbing at the stain with a damp cloth.

Distressed leather gets its rugged, “lived-in” look by being treated with chemical pigments that bring out the leather’s flaws. The idea is to create an item that looks antique or rustic. Protective coatings, which give other leather items a polished sheen, are rarely used.

Without this coating, your leather items are more vulnerable to staining. Spills that could be easily wiped off polished surfaces are more likely to seep into distressed leather. Cleaning leather that's been distressed requires different techniques and a gentler approach.

When a spill or similar accident occurs, begin by removing as much of the material as possible as quickly as possible. Items that might cause stains will continue to do damage until removed. To minimize staining, pick up fallen items such as food immediately.


You should not attempt to wipe your distressed leather clean. Wiping up spills will most likely spread the damage further. Instead, blot at the spill with paper towels or a clean cloth to absorb as much liquid as possible.

Water can damage distressed leather, and attempts to clean with soap and water can leave stains more noticeable than the original spill. You can, however, use a damp cloth to dab at the stain. Do not scrub at the stain. Rubbing is likely to work the stain deeper into the leather rather than cleaning it away.

A number of leather cleaners are also available. Damping a cloth with cleaner rather than with water might give you good results. Before using any chemical cleaner, check the packaging to make sure that it is safe for use on distressed leather. Leather cleaners are recommended only for treating stains, and if used for general cleaning and care, they might cause the leather to fade.

After dabbing away as much as possible, allow the stain to fully dry. The stain will fade with drying, and you might find that it disappears into the grain of the leather. This fading will continue with time, and the stain will continue to become less noticeable.


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Post 2

@graovis - I know exactly what you mean. I have a leather jacket that had been around the block one to many times and it is definitely not what it used to be. But it's supposed to be distressed leather right? The whole point is that it looks kind of beat up and worn in. No one expects it to be shiny and new.

Post 1

The frustrating truth is that there is really no good way to clean distressed leather. If you get a stain on your leather furniture or garment you will probably just have to learn to live with it.

As the article mentions, blotting with a damp rag can help a little in certain cases but it's definitely not a miracle cure. I have an old leather couch in my office that I have had forever and love. But at this point it looks terrible. Years and years of soda stains and spilled soup have taken their toll. I can't bring myself to get rid of it and I really wish there was a good way to clean it.

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