Is there really any benefit to rubbing magic lotions, potions creams & cleaners into automotive leather?
Now that may sound silly to some as I suspect plenty of people (including those behind the manufacture of leather conditioning products) would say yes of course it should be, call yourself the Guru? pffft! However the answer is actually no, at least not for modern leather anyway. Allow me to explain…
New cars today come with factory coated leather kind of like how automotive paintwork is protected by a layer of lacquer or clearcoat. This coating is non-porus and provides an invisible yet impenetrable barrier and so any supposedly magic lotions, potions creams or cleansers that are rubbed into the surface are merely being smothered all over the coating rather than into the leather itself.
Older or more heavily worn leather where the protective coating may have been compromised can sometimes benefit from a conditioning product but even then there’s better options to treating neglected or uncoated leather than massaging some smelly old cream into it.
In the same way you might wax or seal your clear coat to protect it and the paintwork underneath, leather should ideally be treated the same and while technically you don’t even have to do that as the top coating is designed to provide adequate protection, it can deteriorate over time therefore there’s no harm in prolonging the life of it and ensuring the precious leather underneath remains in good shape.
Before rubbing any cleaners conditioners or sealants into the surface of the leather it needs to be free from loose dirt and debris so a thorough vacuum of the interior should be carried out. This preliminary clean is pretty self explanatory, I generally go with a soft brush attachment for more open areas and switch to a crevice tool used alongside a soft detailing brush to access any tight or awkward parts. If you do use a crevice tool just be gentle with it as you don’t want to scuff or scratch the surface of the leather before you even get a chance to clean and protect it.
The first type of product I want to talk about then is the all in one which is designed to both clean and condition leather simultaneously. Now despite claiming modern leather doesn’t need conditioning I do still sometimes use products like this Chemical Guys Sprayable leather to help maintain the look and smell of it as you’re not going out of your way to apply a conditioner separately.
They can be great for quickly sprucing up lightly soiled leather and in my experience the ingredients that supposedly condition it instead serve to restore it’s colour, leaving a rich look behind which can be useful in treating hyde that doesn’t receive much attention. This particular product also smells really leathery and while you can never truly restore that new leather scent, something like this can temporarily give that effect which plenty of automotive leather lovers certainly seem to appreciate!
For quick maintenance work I simply spray onto a towel and work it over the surface until the desired finish is achieved, however for leather that hasn’t seen any kind of product for a while I spray directly onto the surface, spread with my hands and then buff off with the towel.
Due to the fact modern coated leather technically only needs cleaning, a quality product like this Dodo Juice Supernatural leather cleaner can be used to gently rid the surface of any grime and unlike the previous product, leave it with a perfect factory finish.
A gentle pH neutral cleaner like this can be safely used to maintain the protective coating of the leather on a regular basis with a quick once over, or it can be worked into the grain of the coating every once in a while with a soft bristled detailing brush to lift out any deeper dirt if needs be.
It’s the perfect type of product to be used with a magic eraser to remove stubborn scuffs from heavily trafficked areas but you’ve got to be gentle as too much rubbing could compromise the thin protective coating, just like how too much aggressive cutting and compounding can compromise the clearcoat of your car.
I went with this product to clean the majority of the red leather in this Bentley and although it wasn’t too dirty to begin with, it still helped to transform the finish which hopefully you’ll be able to see for yourself later on in the video.
Staying with the British Dodo Juice brand then we move onto their Supernatural synthetic leather sealant which represents the kind of product I’d recommend for use on modern leather over conditioners as unlike those, these are specifically designed to preserve the protective coating, something this product actually makes a mention of which suggests those behind it know what they’re talking about!
It’s intended to be used in addition to the cleaner shown previously and so long as its not being applied in the blistering sun, it can be sprayed straight onto surface of leather and lightly worked in with a microfibre towel to leave a lasting synthetic barrier you won’t even know is there – just like the protective factory coating itself.
And in the same way that it’s not necessary to protect your paintwork every time you wash it, it’s not necessary to apply this every time you clean your leather either however it’s nice to have to hand for more in depth detail scenarios.
Older or worn leather would also benefit from being sealed with a product like this once it’s been thoroughly cleaned and it would actually be more appropriate than a conditioner which wouldn’t provide any protection for exposed leather at all.
A completely different variety of leather cleaning product is the wet wipe. These ones from Dr Leather are specifically formulated for use on modern hide and again its good to see mention of the “all-important” top coating I’ve been speaking about on the back of the tub.
Wipes like these are ideal for light maintenance duties where a basic once over is all that’s needed and they can be neatly nestled in the glovebox or boot for ease of access.
They’re obviously not going to provide as thorough clean as a dedicated sprayable product worked in with a towel or brush but in a similar fashion to how you might use a detail spray to remove light contaminants from paintwork in between washes, these can be perfect for preventing dirt from settling on the protective coating of the leather in between more thorough cleaning and sealant top-ups.
Although they are designed to just be wiped over the surface and left at that I did follow with a clean dry towel here just to ensure all the residue was removed from the luxurious leather which was now being exposed to some spring sunshine.
These wipes are strictly for cleaning and don’t condition or protect the leather in any way, they just help to keep the top coat free from dirt and debris which is worth keeping in mind if you intend to use them on a regular basis.
Dr Leather also produces this Dye Block product which is a unique sealant intended to protect the top coat from becoming ingrained with pigment from heavily coloured clothing like denim.
This particular car didn’t need it though plus for some strange reason the product wasn’t supplied with an application trigger so I couldn’t demonstrate it here but these kinds of products are a definite consideration if you have light coloured leather, as a conditioning product won’t in any way protect against dye transfer and may in some respects even serve to encourage it.
Sticking with the synthetic sealants this semi-permanent leather and textile coating from Nanolex, like some of the previous products shown, aims to fully seal and protect the leather rather than feed or condition it.
It’s application differs slightly to other leather sealants in that it isn’t buffed off but instead spread by hand after being sprayed directly onto the surface which makes it incredibly quick and easy to use.
Despite the lack of buffing it’s chemical composition ensures it doesn’t smear or stain, with any excess residue simply evaporating from the surface as it cures.
Synthetic sealants like these are great for providing extra protection for worn or scuffed areas where the top coating may have been compromised like the drivers side bolster of this Continental GT, which was treated to a fairly heavy application.
You might assume that rubbing a conditioner into these kinds of worn areas would help prevent it from getting any worse but in fact doing that can have the opposite effect as the thin top layer becomes more supple and susceptible to damage once soaked in cream. You put a plaster over a graze to protect it, you don’t rub moisturising cream into it!
Again, routine application isn’t necessary for most well kept leather interiors, simply use it every once in a while to ensure the protective top coat is kept in tact.
Last but not least then we have 303 Aerospace Protectant, an interior dressing product you may have seen me using before.
While generally you don’t dress leather some hide can benefit from a good coating of a product like this as it provides all-important UV protection to help prevent exposed leather from cracking and fading in the sun.
And while I wouldn’t necessarily advise going out of your way to treat your leather with a dressing product like this, if you happen to be doing the rest of the interior surfaces with it you’ve got nothing to lose coating the leather at the same time to ensure that stays safe too.
It can be used as a one off or on a regular basis depending on your preference and is great for protecting full leather-bound dashboards like the one in this Bentley which is obviously exposed to more sunlight than the rest of the interior.
Being a dressing though and not a dedicated leather protectant it can leave a slight sheen on the surface so I tend to reserve it for use on light coloured leathers only.
To wrap the video up and answer my original question of “does leather actually need conditioning or not” once more then I’d say generally, no. Some older, unprotected or excessively worn leather may temporarily benefit from being conditioned but there’s really nothing to be gained from conditioning most modern leather.
Why? Because it’s coated from the factory with an impenetrable layer of protection and therefore any conditioner applied won’t be soaked in but will instead sit on the surface and while being more of a waste of time and money than anything else, unabsorbed products can serve to attract dirt and debris potentially causing premature wear so you could actually be doing more harm than good by conditioning modern leather.
In my opinion it’s much better to simply keep leather clean with a quality product and let the protective coating do its job as the factory intended. You can use a dedicated leather sealant to boost that protective layer or recoat any worn parts and with a myriad of products now available to choose from, my advice is just to do your research and go with something that suits your vehicle’s specific requirements as well as your own personal preferences.
Follow the simple clean – protect – maintain approach for leather as you would with any other part of the detailing process and all will be good in the leathery hood.