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Hands-On Review: The Best Leather Cleaners and Conditioners to Ride Like Royalty

Clean and condition your leather upholstery for comfort and luxury.

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BY Mike Bumbeck / LAST UPDATED ON May 17, 2021

Leather automobile upholstery has been around since Bertha Benz fired up her Benz Patent-Motorwagen and logged its first long-distance journey in 1888. Automobile technology has thankfully moved beyond the Motorwagen’s leather-lined brakes and 2/3 HP engine, but leather is still the premium choice for luxurious cabin comfort. 

 

Unlike durable modern plastics and synthetic fabrics, leather requires more frequent care to prevent irreparable damage. It’s prohibitively expensive to repair leather seats once extensive damage sets in, but it’s easy, inexpensive, and satisfying to keep leather upholstery in like-new condition. Cleaning removes dirt and oils, and conditioners moisturize and protect. 

 

The best leather cleaner and conditioner depends on what kind of leather upholstery you have and its condition, so we got our hands on some leather care products and put them to the test.

Best Overall
Mothers VLR
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Summary
Summary

Versatile and easy to use all-in-one spray liquid cleans, conditions, and protects leather, vinyl, and rubber.

Pros
Pros
  • Outstanding performance on multiple surfaces
  • Excellent cleaning power
  • Perfect for combination leather and vinyl seats and upholstery
Cons
Cons
  • Some prefer using a separate cleaner and conditioner
  • Not compatible with hard plastics, painted trim, or window tint
Best Overall
Mothers VLR
Best Value
Lexol Leather Cleaner and Conditioner
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Summary
Summary

Traditional two-step cleaner and conditioner that leaves leather supple and clean with excellent protection.

Pros
Pros
  • Two-step cleaning and conditioning process 
  • Softens and conditions leather without excessive shine
Cons
Cons
  • Separate cleaner and conditioner requires two steps
  • Classic leather scent not for everybody
Best Value
Lexol Leather Cleaner and Conditioner
Honorable Mention
Armor All Leather Care
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Summary
Summary

Disposable leather care wipes that clean, condition, and protect out on the road or back home in the driveway.

Pros
Pros
  • All-in-one leather care on the go
  • Disposable
  • Compact package is easy to stow
Cons
Cons
  • Not ideal for larger jobs
  • Can dry out over long periods
  • May need a separate cloth to remove excess
Honorable Mention
Armor All Leather Care
Cleaning leather car seat with leather conditioner
Mike Bumbeck

THIS IS A DRIVE HANDS-ON REVIEW

Mike Bumbeck

When he’s not wrestling with one or more first-generation Mitsubishi Monteros and other fine ‘80s-era Japanese cars and motorcycles, Mike Bumbeck evaluates a constant variety of automotive products from The Drive’s clandestine Science Barn testing facility in New England.

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About Our Leather Conditioner Review

We chose a range of leather cleaning and conditioning products for this review, from dedicated cleaners and conditioners to new products that do it all on leather, vinyl, and rubber. We already had a few personal leather care favorites in our collection, so we purchased a couple of new all-in-one products, and received some samples directly from manufacturers. 

We tried out the lot on the leather interior of a 1987 Mitsubishi Starion. Since it was time for a deep interior clean and detail, all the seats came out of the car and went up on sawhorses and service carts. The last time this car had no seats was on an assembly line back in Japan! 

The upholstery is a blend of pigmented leather and matching vinyl. Burgundy was big in the Eighties, and Mitsubishi put plenty of it into their flagship turbo specialty sports coupe. We’ve always used a separate cleaner and conditioner on these seats over the years, but we were amazed at how well the new all-in-one products performed. 

Which one did we think is best? That’s a tough call to make. They all worked very well. The differences come down to application methods and fragrance. Choose a leather care product you’re most likely to use, and you can’t go wrong. 

Benefits of Leather Conditioner

  • Clean and Condition. Removing dirt and grime prevents damage, and a conditioner moisturizes and protects leather against dirt and grime. A deep clean and conditioning can restore dried out and dirty leather. 
  • Protect Your Investment. Cracked, chapped, or shabby leather seats won’t help you sell your car, and new leather upholstery is prohibitively expensive. 
  • Ride In Comfort. You didn’t get leather seats because you wanted a backache or clammy legs. Cleaning and conditioning leather car upholstery preserve the supple, breathable comfort you deserve. 
  • Pleasant Fragrance. Cleaned and conditioned leather looks, feels, and smells like luxury. Removing rancid sweat, oils, and grime is crucial to successful leather cleaning and conditioning. Don’t let the funk turn your leather seats into junk.

Types of Automotive Leather

Automakers have myriad names for their different types of leather, but automotive leather falls into two general categories when it comes to cleaning and conditioning: finished or porous. The majority of modern car leather is finished, with color and protective coatings for durability and easy cleaning. Porous leathers, like true aniline or suede, are easily damaged by liquids or oils and require special care. 

Finished, Pigmented, or Coated

Automakers have been using various combinations of pigments, dyes, and protective coatings on car leather for over a century, and this type of leather is collectively referred to as finished. Premium semi-aniline or top grain leather is the least processed of the bunch, with only a thin coating on top of natural texture. Thicker synthetic coatings are often embossed with a simulated grain to add a more natural look and feel to lower-quality leather. 

Aniline or Natural Leather

Aniline leather is the most natural and expensive automotive leather upholstery. The name refers to the soluble aniline dyes that give the leather a natural look and warm, supple feel. Authentic uncoated aniline leather is porous and requires special care, cleaning, and conditioning. A tiny drop of water in an inconspicuous area can help identify porous aniline leather. If it soaks in, you have an answer. 

Imitation Leather

Automaker marketing departments have created plenty of leather-like names for these synthetic imposters through the years, but this type of material isn’t leather at all. Pontiac’s Morrokide sounded exotic but was grained vinyl all the same. Uniroyal even dreamed up the fictional Naugaas the source for their Naugahyde material. Today’s faux leather is better than yesterday’s leatherette and is increasingly used with finished leather on automotive upholstery. 

Featured Brands

Lexol

Lexol has been in the car care business since the early Eighties, and its premium lineup of cleaners and conditioners carries on today as part of Energizer Brands. We’ve used its leather cleaner and conditioner for over a decade with excellent results. 

Chemical Guys

California-based Chemical Guys is a relative newcomer to the car care industry and has become a major player thanks to its innovative product lineup and extensive library of instructional videos. We gave their leather cleaner and leather conditioner creme a try and were impressed with its quality and predictable results. 

Mothers

Mother’s built an empire from a single can of wheel polish. The California company still makes its world-famous Mag and Aluminum polish and a full range of high-quality car care products. Check out Mothers how-to section for expert guidance. 

Meguiar’s

Meguiar’s celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2011, and the California company continues its legacy with a full line of traditional and cutting-edge car care products. Their Gold Class Cleaner Conditioner Protectant performed with the consistent and forgiving qualities shared across the entire product line. Check out their how-to videos for car care knowledge.

Aero Cosmetics

Aero Cosmetics has got you covered by land, air, or sea. The Texas-based company makes a full line of products for automobiles, aircraft, recreational vehicles, and watercraft. Their Leather Soap and Leather Care conditioner delivered premium results, and the company hosts instructional videos for all its products over at washwax.com

Leather Conditioner Pricing

  • Under $10: Most single bottles of cleaner or conditioner, quick wipes, and the majority of all-in-one products can be yours for under a sawbuck. 
  • $10-20: Larger quantities of all-in-one and separate cleaners and conditioners can crest ten bucks, but they’re still a great deal compared to new leather upholstery. 
  • $20 and up: Complete leather care kits with everything you need to get the job done along with boutique or specialized products that demand a premium price. 

Key Features

Cleaner 

Cleaning is a crucial first step to leather conditioning. The mild ph-balanced cleaner removes oils and potentially abrasive crud without damage and prepares the leather for conditioning. Using a leather soap or cleaner first and then applying a dedicated leather conditioner has its advantages, especially if the leather is neglected and filthy. 

Conditioner

Dirty and dried-out leather is a bad combination. Conditioner moisturizes and protects the leather from damage and maintains its original combination of breathable comfort and support. Using a dedicated conditioner gives you complete control over the application process. A microfiber cloth full of conditioner can double as a cleaner, but use a new clean cloth as needed to prevent reintroduction.

All-in-One 

All-in-one products offer a one-and-done approach and are an excellent option for regular cleaning, conditioning, and protecting leather and vinyl. All-in-one conditioners are an increasingly popular choice as automakers use leather and vinyl together on car seats. Use a brush, vacuum cleaner, or both.

Other Considerations

  • Condition. Choose leather care products based on leather condition. All-in-one products shine for regular maintenance. Separate cleaners and conditioners are better for dirty, aged, or dried-out leather. Neglected or damaged leather may require repair.
  • Full Kit. A complete leather care kit with everything you need to get the job done can save time and money. Using manufacturer-recommended brushes, applicators and microfiber cloths can deliver superior results. 

Best Leather Conditioner Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Leather Conditioner Overall
Mothers VLR

Mothers VLR earned our best overall choice for its versatility and performance. The all-in-one cleans, conditions, and protects leather, vinyl, and rubber. What we liked about this product is its balance of cleaning and conditioning power. After a vacuum and brush cleanup, we applied the product to a microfiber cloth and barely had to use another to remove any excess and buff the seat. VLR simultaneously lifted off unseen dirt and moisturized with each pass. 


Our Best Overall award winner is well suited to most of today’s automotive leather seats and upholstery with adjacent vinyl panels like the vintage seats we used for testing. The pH-balanced formula contains lanolin and neatsfoot oil and has a fresh, clean scent that doesn’t overwhelm the senses. Mother’s VLR is easy to use and doesn’t leave too much of itself behind in the process. A single application left our leather seats and vinyl clean, supple, and quiet with a perfect level of shine.

Best On-the-Go Leather Conditioner
Armor All Leather Care Wipes

Armor All Leather Care Wipes are a self-contained all-in-one leather care kit that you can easily stow on board for quick cleanups. Leather and vinyl can dry out, especially if you’ve been detailing your dash and seats with hand disinfectant wipes while waiting for a Filet-o-Fish at the drive-thru. The disposable wipes clean, condition, and protect in just one step. They lifted off hidden grime with ease and conditioned the leather to a rich sheen. Disposable wipes have a cleaning advantage that’s easy to see, and easy to use. For best results, use one wipe for cleaning and a fresh one for conditioning. 


The main drawback to all of these disposable wipe products is that, like leather, the wipes can dry out over time. We experienced this first-hand after we pulled our car care products out of winter storage and discovered a dry canister. We picked up a fresh one for the review and the future.

Best Value Leather Conditioner
Lexol Leather Cleaner and Conditioner

Lexol leather cleaner and conditioner is an old favorite, and my 30-year-old leather seats are a testament to Lexol quality and performance. We picked up Lexol cleaner and conditioner shortly after purchasing this car over a decade ago, and have been a fan ever since. The pH-balanced cleaner is powerful but still gentle, and the conditioner leaves leather supple with a natural look. Lexol penetrates and softens the leather without leaving behind an excessive shine even after long-term use. The formula knocks down glossy buildup and gives the leather a quality look and feel with a classic scent reminiscent of a well-kept vintage Jaguar. 


Over the years, we’ve found that we go through more conditioner than we do cleaner, so it’s a good thing they’re available separately. If you do go looking for Lexol, be advised its packaging looks a bit different these days; the company has redesigned its branding since we purchased the orange and brown bottles in the photographs above.

Best All-in-One Leather Conditioner
Meguiars Gold Class

Meguiars Gold Class is a premium leather care kit in a single bottle. The 3-in-1 formula cleans, conditions, and protects in one step and predictable liquid spray is an excellent choice for overall maintenance. Testing Gold Class on one of the rear seat panels proved that it lived up to its all-in-one promises. We sprayed the product on a bright yellow microfiber cloth for cleaning, and it extracted unseen crud and dirt like a boss. 


Flipping the towel over to a clean section with each pass shifted cleaning to conditioning and allowed the product to penetrate into the leather. We gave things a few minutes and then buffed off any excess. Gold Class left the leather soft and clean with a moderate level of shine that was easy to adjust with additional buffing. Meguiars Gold Class has a fresh, clean scent with a touch of fruity citrus.

Best Premium Leather Conditioner
Aero Cosmetics Leather Care

We used Aero Cosmetics Leather Soap and Leather Care conditioner on the driver's seat and came away impressed. The driver’s seat sees the most use and was the worst of the bunch in our car (and probably in yours, too). The seat came with some scuffing on one of the side bolsters and a puncture hole near the headrest. Neither has gotten any worse, so we’d just learned to look at the wear as patina. 


Aero’s premium products are highly effective and leave leather and vinyl with a natural look and feel. A brush and the cleaner lifted off dirt and grime and prepped the leather. We applied the conditioner on a microfiber cloth, worked it into the upholstery, let it soak in for a couple of minutes, and then wiped off the excess with a damp and then dry cloth. Aero Cosmetics leather care left the leather soft and supple without unwanted noise or excessive sheen. The conditioner has a fresh, slightly gourmand scent that lessens with a buff.

Best Creme Leather Conditioner
Chemical Guys Leather Cleaner and Conditioner

Chemical Guys leather cleaner and conditioner uses a slightly different approach to leather care and delivered superior results. The odorless, colorless, and pH-balanced cleaner removes dirt and leaves nothing behind to get in the way of conditioning. We used the cleaner with a brush and bright yellow microfiber cloth. The results were easy to see. Chemical Guys leather conditioner creme goes on differently than liquids and a little goes a long way. 


We applied the conditioner with a microfiber applicator and a folded microfiber cloth and found the creme conditioner is easier to control than liquids. The more we worked it, the better it got. We gave it time to penetrate in between applications and used just enough for a soft touch and satin finish. Use a little more if you like more shine. Chemical Guys leather conditioner has a fresh scent of new leather without the overwhelming olfactory assault of new car smell.

Best Packaging Leather Conditioner
Aero Cosmetics Leather Care Kit

The Aero Cosmetics Leather Care Kit is the way to go for an all-inclusive leather cleaning, conditioning, and preservation package. The kit comes in its own carrying bag with a spray bottle of Leather Soap and Leather Care, blue microfiber AeroTowels, a mini Aero Scrubber pad that punches way above its size, and a sample size bottle of the company’s world-famous Wash Wax All waterless wet or waterless car, boat, or airplane cleaner.  


The AeroTowels worked well for cleaning, applying, and buffing, and the non-scratch Aero Scrubber gently lifted off stubborn grime. A complete car care kit can save time and money. Getting everything you need at once makes it easy to get the job done without an additional order or trip to the store. The package deal is an economical way to try out some Aero Cosmetics or any car care product without the commitment of buying a larger size.

Best Fragrance-Free Leather Conditioner
Carfidant Ultimate Leather Conditioner

We liked Carfidant’s professional-grade leather cleaner and conditioner as much for what it had for what it didn't. Carfidant does not add any fragrances or artificial colors to any of their car care products. The cleaner and creme conditioner was easy to work with and left the upholstery with a consistent medium to a satin sheen, a natural feel, and nothing more than the traditional scent of clean and conditioned leather. 


With nothing to mask the scent of its high-quality ingredients, Carfidant leaves your leather upholstery with a classic look and feel that imparts a rich bouquet reminiscent of walking into the comforting warmth of Leavitt & Peirce Tobacco in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from a cold winter day. Reach for Carfidant leather conditioner and roll with the royal luxury of Lord Hesketh’s Rolls Royce Corniche or the Duke of Edinburgh's Aston Martin Lagonda 3-liter drophead coupe.

Best Leather Conditioner and Accessories
Mothers

Mothers VLR earned our best overall choice with its versatile multi-surface performance, and the company also offers a full range of leather care products and cleaning accessories. Mothers sent along their standalone cleaner, conditioner, and some additional tools from the lineup. The premium microfiber towels, detailing brushes, and microfiber applicators proved a pro-level leather cleaning and conditioning tool team. 


Using a detailing brush and vacuum cleaner together extracted unseen dirt from folds, and the stitching and the brush handle end doubled as a crevice cleaning tool. We loaded up a brush with Leather Care cream like a giant toothbrush, hit all the creases and stitching, and then worked the rest of the seat with the microfiber applicator. The tools, cleaner, and conditioner together delivered superior results.

Leather Care and Conditioning Tips

  • Always test leather cleaners, conditioners, or any car care product in a small inconspicuous area. We can’t stress this first step enough. Use a light cloth for testing and check for color or pigment bleed. 
  • Clean and condition leather often. Frequent light applications and attention are better than infrequent heavy assaults. Dirt buildup and body motion abrade color and texture, and harmful oils require immediate removal. 
  • Brush and vacuum. Don’t grind dirt and oil into your leather. Make sure the tips of any vacuum attachments are smooth to prevent scratches. Use soft bristle brushes to lift dust and dirt out of folds, creases, and grain. 
  • Microfiber towels and applicators are indispensable leather and interior care equipment. Get different colors. Use a bright-colored cloth that makes it easy to see dirt for cleaning. Use a different color for conditioning and buffing. 
  • Don’t overdo it. Apply leather conditioner onto a cloth and work it into the leather a little at a time. Remove excess product as directed. Avoid overspray. Do not spray leather conditioners directly onto the upholstery. 

FAQs

Q: What kind of leather does my car have?

Unless you’re rolling in a vintage Rolls Royce Silver Shadow with Connoly upholstery, your car’s leather is likely finished and compatible with most automotive leather cleaners and conditioners. That said, always test the leather conditioner on a small, inconspicuous area before use. Do not use anything wet on porous leather. 

Q: What if my leather is cracked, discolored, or peeling?

An extensive cleaning and conditioning can salvage dried-out or dirty leather, but it won’t fix tears, delamination, pigment loss, cracks, heavy abrasion, or punctures. Look into a leather repair and pigment kit for minor pigment loss, abrasion, or peeling. Consult a professional upholsterer for more severe damage.

Q: Can I use a household furniture leather conditioner in my car?

You could, but an automotive interior is a far harsher environment than your living room. Your car seats are not the same as your sofa. Automotive leather upholstery and conditioners have to stand up to searing heat, sub-zero cold, relentless direct sunlight, flying fast food, and miles of road grime. 

Q: Can I use leather conditioner on vinyl?

Yes. Automotive leather conditioners will not harm vinyl, and most all-in-one conditioners are formulated for use on leather and vinyl. The ever-increasing demand for leather upholstery means automakers use vinyl and leather together on the same seat. Avoid overspray; leather conditioners can cause spotting on hard plastic and painted surfaces. 

Final Thoughts

Choose a leather care product that works best for you. Disposable wipes are great for quick detailing and onboard emergencies. All-in-one products excel at regular maintenance. Separate cleaners and conditioners can work miracles on dirty or dried-out seats. Leather deserves the best. If you’ve got it, flaunt it!