Need to know how to clean a leather steering wheel? Follow these 8 easy steps:
- Cover the dashboard gauge cluster with a towel
- Place a towel over your lap
- Apply leather cleaner to a soft bristle brush
- Scrub the surface of the steering wheel
- Wipe away the cleaner with a microfiber towel
- Let the steering wheel dry
- Apply leather protectant / sealer
- Remove excess leather protectant / sealer
This is the method I use to keep the leather steering wheel in my Lexus GS looking new. It’s also the proven method widely used by professional detailers.
Table of Contents:
- Tools & Products List
- 8 Easy Steps for Cleaning a Leather Steering Wheel
- Maintenance & Best Practices
- Warnings / Things to Avoid
- How to Remove Spots & Stains from Your Leather Steering Wheel
- How to Remove Water Spots from Your Leather Steering Wheel
- How to Remove Grease Spots from Your Leather Steering Wheel
- How to Remove Scratches from Your Leather Steering Wheel
- How to Restore a Dry Cracked Leather Steering Wheel
- How to Clean a Faux Leather Steering Wheel
- How to Clean an Alcantara Steering Wheel
- What’s Next
Tools & Products List
- 1 towel large enough to cover the dashboard cluster
- This towel will block any droplets of cleaner flung by the brush.
- 1 towel to place on your lap
- This towel will protect your pants as you clean the steering wheel. Excessive dripping should not be a problem, but this towel will keep you clean just in case.
- 1 leather brush (soft bristle), or detail brush
- A proper leather brush is ideal. If you don’t have one, any soft bristle brush will work. If you’re unsure, test a small area on the back of the steering wheel.
- Leather cleaning solution
- Use a leather cleaner formulated to clean automotive leather. Other cleaners and solvents can dry out and damage the leather. Play it safe and use an automotive leather cleaner.
- 1 microfiber towel
- Use this microfiber towel to wipe away the cleaner after you’ve worked it into the leather. Any clean microfiber towel will do.
- Leather protectant / sealer
- A high quality leather protectant will protect the leather against UV rays, dirt, and oil.
- 1 leather protectant / sealer applicator pad
- Use an applicator pad or microfiber towel to apply the leather protectant.
8 Easy Steps to Clean a Leather Steering Wheel
Step 1: Cover the Dashboard Gauge Cluster
The purpose of this step is to protect your dashboard gauge cluster from getting dirty while you clean.
Place a towel over the dashboard gauge cluster. Make sure it covers the area completely.
Step 2: Place a Towel on Your Lap
While sitting in the driver’s seat, place a towel over your lap. The purpose of this step is to avoid getting leather cleaner on your pants.
You will not be using excessive amounts of leather cleaner, so this is more of a precaution than anything.
Step 3: Apply Leather Cleaner to Your Leather Brush
Do not spray the leather cleaner onto the steering wheel directly. Doing so is messy. Applying the leather cleaner to the brush eliminates overspray, keeping your interior surfaces clean.
Apply enough leather cleaner to the brush to make it wet, but not so much that’s it’s dripping off. Apply more leather cleaner to the brush as needed.
Step 4: Scrub the Steering Wheel
Using your leather brush and leather cleaning solution, lightly scrub the steering wheel. Let the cleaning solution do the work. Aggressive scrubbing can damage or scratch the leather.
If you’re seeing a light lather build up, you’re doing it right.
Scrub the entire steering wheel thoroughly. Spend more time on heavily soiled areas. Apply more cleaning solution to your brush as needed. Continue scrubbing until the dirt and grime is no longer visible.
Step 5: Wipe Away the Cleaner with a Microfiber Towel
Using a microfiber towel, wipe away the cleaner from the steering wheel.
Pro tip: cover the leather steering wheel with the towel. Using a twisting motion (as you would a motorcycle throttle), scrub and dry the surface. This will lift the cleaner and dirt from the leather.
Do not allow the leather cleaner to dry on the steering wheel. It will leave a residue and spots.
Once you wipe the leather cleaner away, the leather should have a matte finish. This is the desired look.
If the leather is still shiny after wiping the cleaner away, repeat steps 3 and 4 until you see a matte finish. Repeat as needed on heavily soiled areas.
Step 6: Allow the Leather Steering Wheel to Dry Completely
Allow for some time (a few minutes) before applying the leather protectant / sealer. Dry leather will draw in the protectant better than wet or damp leather.
Once the leather looks and feels dry, proceed to the next step.
Step 7: Apply Leather Protectant / Sealer
Leather is porous and will absorb its environment. A high quality leather protectant will:
- Seal open pores
- Moisturize the leather
- Protect it from UV rays
Apply the product directly to the applicator pad or microfiber towel. Start with a small amount. Wipe an even layer onto the leather. Add leather protectant to your pad or towel as needed. Continue until the leather is evenly coated.
Quality leather protectants will dry with a matte finish. Shiny and greasy is not the desired result. After applying the leather protectant, it will look shiny for a moment but will dry with a matte finish.
Step 8: Remove Excess Leather Protectant / Sealer
Using a clean microfiber towel, wipe away any excess leather protectant. You can spot excess by looking for areas that still look wet.
Once the entire leather steering wheel has an even, clean, dry, matte appearance, you’re done.
Maintenance & Best Practices
The best way to ensure your steering wheel stays looking new is to clean it often.
You should repeat the steps above once every 2-3 months, or once you notice that it’s beginning to look shiny. A shiny steering wheel is the most obvious sign of oil, dirt, and grime on leather.
Warnings / Things to Avoid
- Harsh Chemicals: Leather is a durable material, but it’s not indestructible. Using chemicals that are not specifically formulated for leather, can damage it. Invest in a quality leather cleaner, and leather protectant / sealer.
- Stiff Bristle Brushes: A brush with stiff bristles can scratch and damage leather. Only use soft bristle brushes when cleaning leather. Ideally, use a brush that is specifically designed for cleaning leather.
- Allowing Leather Cleaner to Dry: This will give the leather an uneven appearance. After cleaning, be sure the wipe the cleaning solution away quickly.
- Excessive Steam: If you use a steam cleaner to clean your leather steering wheel, be careful to not over do it. Steam will soften the leather, and when combined with abrasion can damage the leather.
- Using Rubbing Alcohol as a Leather Cleaner: Isopropyl alcohol will dry out leather. Most sanitizing wipes are alcohol-based, and when used to clean will dry it out over time. Avoid using alcohol-based cleaners when cleaning a leather steering wheel. The one exception is if you’re trying to remove a water stain. In that case careful use of rubbing alcohol can be effective.
How to Remove Spots & Stains from Your Leather Steering Wheel
Stage 1: Leather Cleaning Solution & a Microfiber Towel
As a best practice, always begin with the least aggressive method first. In this case, first try to remove the spot or stain using a leather cleaning solution and a microfiber towel.
Spray the solution directly on the towel, and gently work the stained area. If it appears to be working, continue. Be sure to incorporate the steps and best practices found above.
If the spot or stain remains, move on to stage 2.
Stage 2: Leather Cleaning Solution & a Detailing Brush
Spray leather cleaning solution onto the brush, then work the stained area with the brush. You should begin to form a lather. The brush will work the solution deep into the leather, and should produce better results.
Be careful to not work the area too aggressively as it can damage the leather.
If the spot or stain remains, move on to stage 3.
Stage 3: Leather Cleaning Solution & a Scrub Pad
Spray leather cleaning solution directly onto the scrub pad, then begin to work the area.
Warning: The scrub pad can damage the leather if you scrub too hard.
Let the cleaning solution and the scrub pad do the work. Do not press too hard. You should see the stain begin to lift. If it doesn’t, move on to stage 4.
Stage 4: Leather Cleaning Solution & a Steam Cleaner
Spray leather cleaner directly onto a microfiber towel. Wrap the towel around the end the the steam cleaning tool. Give it a shot of steam while scrubbing the surface. Do not over saturate with steam, and do not rub too hard.
Once the spot or stain is gone, treat the area with leather conditioner and a leather protectant.
How to Remove Water Spots from Your Leather Steering Wheel
To remove water spots from your leather steering wheel, you’ll need:
- Rubbing alcohol
- Cotton swabs
Soak a cotton swap in rubbing alcohol and lightly rub the edges of the water spot. Dab the area with a clean microfiber towel, and let dry. Continue to do this until the spot is gone.
Re-moisturize the area with leather conditioner to avoid drying out the leather.
How to Remove Grease Spots from Your Leather Steering Wheel
If you’re faced with a grease spot on your steering wheel, first hit it with leather cleaner and a leather brush. Most leather cleaners are designed to break down oils from your skin, so it often works for grease as well.
If the grease stain is deep into the leather, try leather cleaner and a steamer. The steamer will open the pores of the leather, allowing the cleaner to break down the grease.
Don’t be too aggressive with the steam or the abrasion as this can damage the leather.
Finish with a leather conditioner and a leather protectant / sealer.
How to Remove Scratches from Your Leather Steering Wheel
Most scratches in leather steering wheels can be removed with leather conditioner.
First clean the area. Refer the the steps above.
Once clean, apply leather conditioner liberally to the leather. Let it sit for 30 mins before wiping away the excess. This will reduce the appearance of the scratch.
If the scratch is deep, you may need to use leather filler. In this case, I suggest hiring a professional to fix it properly.
How to Restore a Dry Cracked Leather Steering Wheel
To restore a dry cracked leather steering wheel, first assess the severity of the cracks. If the cracks are deep, you’ll need to replace the leather. Some leather is beyond repair. Hire a professional.
If the cracks are light, you should see excellent results with a high quality leather conditioner.
Carefully clean the area. Please refer to the steps above. Take extra care to not further damage the leather during the cleaning process.
Once the leather is clean, apply leather conditioner liberally and let stand for at least 1 hour. Wipe away the excess.
How to Clean a Faux Leather Steering Wheel
Faux leather is durable and is not as sensitive as real leather.
You can clean Faux leather with most all purpose cleaners (APC) and a microfiber towel. For heavy grime, agitate the cleaner with a soft bristle brush. Wipe way with a clean microfiber towel.
Once clean, apply leather protectant. This provides UV protection and stain resistance.
Repeat every 2-3 months, or as needed.
How to Clean an Alcantara Steering Wheel
Alcantara is an artificial suede fabric, and is not leather. Cleaning it requires a very specific process.
Step 1: Get a general purpose automotive interior cleaner and a microfiber towel. Spray the cleaner on the towel and work it into the Alcantara using a twisting motion. You’ll begin to see the fabric color darken and the pile begin to fluff up again. Be careful not to get the fabric too wet as it can soak through to the glue and foam underneath.
Step 2: Spray the interior cleaner onto a proper leather brush and scrub the surface. Wipe with a microfiber towel. The brush will further pull the up dirt, and the towel wipes it away.
Step 3: Use a steam cleaner with a soft bristle attachment. Lightly scrub the Alcantara while giving it shots of steam. Be careful and don’t be too aggressive. Wipe and dry with a microfiber towel.
Step 4: Using a suede brush, brush the Alcantara to give it a final fluffing.
Can I use a steam cleaner on my leather steering wheel?
Yes, but don’t over do it. If you use excessive steam and scrubbing you will damage the leather. To be safe, test a small area first to make sure you like the result.
How do I clean a Tesla steering wheel?
Teslas come with two steering wheel material options: leather & “Tesla Synthetic Material”. Unless you specify, the default option is leather.
Follow the leather cleaning steps above for both materials.
How often should I clean my leather steering wheel?
You should clean your leather steering wheel every 2-3 months, or as needed. A shiny surface is the best sign that it need to be cleaned.
Can a worn and damaged leather steering wheel be cleaned and restored?
Yes, but if the damage is extensive, hire a professional to perform the repair or restoration.
If the damage is not extensive, clean the leather steering wheel as described above. Take extra care to not further damage the leather.
How do I make my shiny leather steering wheel look new with a matte finish?
Leather steering wheels get shiny when they get saturated with oil and dirt from our hands. The best way to make a shiny steering wheel look new again with a matte finish is to clean it properly. Use a good leather cleaner, a leather brush, and microfiber towels. Follow the steps above to clean and protect your leather steering wheel.
How do I clean a white leather steering wheel?
When cleaning a white leather steering wheel, dye transfer becomes a concern. Only use dye-free products, towels, and brushes. To be on the safe side, only use white towels. When in doubt, test a small section that is out of normal view to ensure you like the result. Follow the steps above to clean and protect your white steering wheel.
Can I use disinfecting / sanitizing wipes on a leather steering wheel?
Yes, but use them sparingly. Be sure to use leather conditioner regularly to restore the moisture in the leather. Disinfecting / sanitizing wipes often contain alcohol which tends to dry out leather. Frequent use can damage the leather. Occasional use is not problematic.
Make cleaning your steering wheel part of your regular routine. Repeat every 2-3 months to keep it looking new, with a nice matte finish. Remember shiny leather is dirty leather.
Only use quality leather cleaner and a proper leather brush. Always apply a leather protectant / sealer after cleaning. Use leather conditioner on dry leather.
Now that your steering wheel is clean and protected, move on to another area of your vehicle and make it great. Explore our other interior detailing guides here.