How do I clean body oil residue from a leather couch
September 29, 2009 10:27 AM   Subscribe

How do I clean body/hair product residue buildup from a leather sofa?

The backrest on my leather sofa has accumulated a thick waxy residue on the places where people's necks/heads rest. Yeah, it's gross, but the couch is dark brown and I just noticed it when I accidently scratched the couch with my fingernail and instead of scratching the leather, I got a dark waxy residue under my fingernail. It's only in the places where heads/necks rest, so I am assuming it is from body oils and hair products. It's pretty thick. I "clean" the couch with a leather conditioner, but I never noticed this as you can't really see it on the dark sofa so it has been building up for years.

How do I get it off? Some warm water and mild dish soap? I have no idea what kind of leather it is, so my internet surfing is frustrating as everyone has a different method depending on the type of leather it is.
posted by archimago to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
Try saddle soap. It's alkaline and will break down the sludgy oils. It's made specifically for leather, and contains beeswax to protect the leather while you clean it. As with anything recommended to you here, try it in an inconspicuous spot first.
posted by iconomy at 10:32 AM on September 29, 2009

Since I always forget to pick up saddle soap when I'm shopping, I usually end up using a Mr. Clean magic eraser on our light grey leather loveseat - test it first, since yours is darker and might show a residue, but it works really well on ours.
posted by annathea at 10:54 AM on September 29, 2009

Mr. Clean magic eraser?!

That seems like it would rip leather apart. It makes my hands hurt when I use it, and they're essentially covered in leather. I would be very, very cautious if you try this approach.
posted by runningwithscissors at 11:18 AM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

seconding saddle soap. I just used it to clean the gunk off of a leather watch strap, and it did a fine job, and made me feel all cowboy-like in the process.
posted by reverend cuttle at 11:26 AM on September 29, 2009

runningwithscissors - yep, I was leery to try it. It worked...magically. But as I mentioned, I have a lighter color sofa than OP. Also, I didn't scrub it, I dampened the eraser and wiped the sofa down pretty gently - it didn't require any force to get a lot of smoke and crud off of it when I took possession of it.
posted by annathea at 12:28 PM on September 29, 2009

leather cleaner.
posted by violetk at 12:38 PM on September 29, 2009

In case it helps, here's how to tell what sort of leather you have:

Is it very uniform in appearance, even in colour, and glossy? You probably have a pigmented leather with a polyurethane finish.

Did it come with an intentionally distressed appearance (i.e. a worn-in, slightly scuffed look)? You probably have a semi-aniline wax pull-up leather (i.e. with a wax surface protectant).

Is it very matte, soft, and natural, with the occasional subtle mark/scar on the hide? You probably have a lightly oiled, fully aniline leather with no surface protectant.

I would try leaning this first with leather wipes, or a baby wipe that contains lanolin. Failing that, try a leather cleaning kit.
posted by hot soup girl at 4:32 PM on September 29, 2009

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