how to clean a leather steering wheel

How to Clean Your Leather Steering Wheel in 6 Simple Steps

The steering wheel of a car is the part of the vehicle that is most used and touched by our hands. Over time, the grease, dirt, and body oils from our hands can begin to accumulate on the steering wheel’s leather, making it look unclean, and leaving an oily residue on it.

Moreover, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can also affect the color of the steering wheel and cause cracks and wrinkles in the leather material. If your leather steering wheel is glossy, it probably indicates that there is an excess of grease or oil on it.

Since a leather steering wheel should have a smooth and matte appearance, you should clean your leather steering wheel regularly and protect it against dirt and sun damage. We recommend cleaning your leather steering wheel every few months to discourage the buildup of impurities on the leather.

The best way to clean your leather steering wheel is to cover all areas of the car, brush the steering wheel, use a suitable leather cleaner, and lastly, apply a sealant layer for protection.

Here’s a quick summary of how to clean a leather steering wheel:

  1. Cover Areas of Your Car for Protection
  2. Apply Leather Cleaner onto a Cloth
  3. Wipe & Brush Your Leather Steering Wheel Thoroughly
  4. Let Your Leather Steering Wheel Dry
  5. Apply Leather Sealant onto Your Steering Wheel
  6. Remove Excess Sealant From Your Steering Wheel

1. Cover Areas of Your Car for Protection

As you’ll be working exclusively on the leather steering wheel, you must protect the other components of your car from accidental sprays or slinging residue. We recommend placing a spare soft cloth on the dashboard to cover it.

Similarly, you should also consider using a larger cloth to cover the gauge cluster, the levers for the turn signals, and the windshield wipers, as well as the front part of your seat. If you don’t have a large enough cloth for your seat you may also use a towel.

This practice allows you to properly clean the steering wheel without affecting any other areas of the car. It also protects against overspray and keeps the car clean as you work to clean the steering wheel.

2. Apply Leather Cleaner onto a Cloth

Before moving to clean your leather steering wheel, you need to choose a suitable leather cleaner for the job. The leather used in the automotive industry has a pH level of 5 which means you must choose a leather cleaner close to the same pH value.

To get the job done, we prefer using the Chemical Guys Sprayable Leather Cleaner, as it is 100% pH neutral, has a natural leather scent, and works great on leather steering wheels. However, anything similar can get the job done too!

We recommend using spray or foam-type leather cleaners for easier cleaning. Both types of leather cleaners have a good consistency for use inside a car. They can also speed up the cleaning process as they are much easier to spread on the leather surface using a lint-free cloth or a fine horsehair brush.

Apply the leather cleaning solution directly onto the leather cloth. When using a spray cleaner, you may need to be a little more careful and spray from a closer distance to avoid any spillage.

3. Wipe & Brush Your Leather Steering Wheel Thoroughly

Now, begin cleaning your leather steering wheel by gently rubbing the cloth with the cleaning solution into the leather using circular motions. Ensure to use gentle pressure while cleaning to prevent any damage from rough handling and make sure that you clean the entire leather surface of the steering wheel.

For hard-to-clean spots or stubborn stains, you should consider using a fine horsehair brush. There are plenty of different kinds of brushes in the market (horsehair brush, boar hair brush, and even goat hair brush), and each has its unique function.

The leather brush should have soft bristles so that you don’t accidentally damage the leather. You must cover all the surfaces completely, which will bring out the embedded oils to the surface.

We advise working slowly to clean more challenging spots rather than applying excess pressure to prevent damage. Ensure not to oversaturate the leather with the cleaner as you wipe and brush it.

4. Let Your Leather Steering Wheel Dry

After the leather steering wheel has been cleaned properly with your preferred leather cleaner, you must use a microfiber cloth to wipe it dry. If the leather steering wheel still looks grimy or has an unwanted sheen on it, you should repeat the cleaning process.

You must ensure that the leather steering wheel is completely dry before moving on to the next step of the process.

Quick Tip: You can accelerate the drying process by leaving your car doors open and letting your steering wheel air dry. You can also use a hair dryer on a ‘non-heat’ setting to speed the process up.

5. Apply Leather Sealant onto Your Steering Wheel

It is crucial to protect the leather material of the steering wheel using a dedicated leather sealant after cleaning. A leather sealant can be applied to pigmented leather and semi-aniline leather to nourish it and seal it against damage.

For this, we recommend the Chemical Guys Leather Protectant, as it protects the leather steering wheel again abrasion damages, discoloration, cracking, dye transfer, and also sun damage.

We recommend using a sponge to apply the leather sealant and protectant on top of the leather steering wheel. Ensure to apply a light, thin layer of the sealant (don’t forget to also cover the front of the steering wheel and the back of it).

Be sure not to overdo the sealant application and only use a small amount of product. Take note that while we do recommend a sponge, you’ll also be able to use a dry, lint-free cloth for the application.

6. Remove Excess Sealant From Your Steering Wheel

After applying the sealant, take the dry side of the sponge or a dry cloth, and use it to wipe off the excess sealant on the leather. This step will give your leather a buffed and polished appearance without streaking or unsightly marks.

After you have cleaned the excess sealant using the sponge, you can use a dry microfiber cloth to give it a final buff. Wiping your steering wheel with the microfiber cloth will give it a clean, dry, and polished finish.

Best Practices and Useful Measures to Keep your Leather Steering Wheel Clean

Apart from cleaning your leather steering wheel regularly, you should also make use of best practices and additional methods so that it stays clean. We’ll share this information and more in the next section.

How Often Should You Clean Your Leather Steering Wheel?

In general, you should clean your leather steering wheel every few months. However, if you notice dirt, grime, and oil buildup on your steering wheel you should clean it immediately. 

In moist, damp, and even warm environments, leather steering wheels tend to trap dirt faster, due to excess moisture in the air and sweat from your hands. If you live in these types of environments, we encourage you to clean your leather steering wheel more frequently.

What are some suitable products that can be used to clean leather steering wheels?

There are various types of products that you can use to clean your leather steering wheel. We provided some recommendations throughout the guide that we’ve tried and tested over longer periods. 

However, you’re free to use similar products as long as they are leather-friendly. Always carefully check the list of ingredients and ensure that they don’t contain harmful chemicals, as that could lead to peeling and discoloration.

How to Disinfect Your Leather Steering Wheel

If you have already cleaned your leather steering wheel, you may have already disinfected it from germs and harmful viruses. This is because leather cleaners already have disinfecting ingredients and properties.

However, regular disinfection of your leather steering wheel is crucial for your safety. We advise against using a regular disinfection solution or product since it may contain isopropyl alcohol in high concentrations.

disinfecting leather steering wheel
Disinfecting a Leather Steering Wheel

Isopropyl alcohol is a highly effective disinfectant and is excellent for killing all kinds of bacteria and viruses. However, it can be an extremely harmful ingredient for leather, as it can affect its protective coating and cause it to dry out. It can also discolor the leather causing its color to fade away.

If you want to easily disinfect your leather steering wheel at home, we suggest using a gentle soap and hot water mixture. Apply a light layer of the solution to disinfect your leather steering wheel and ensure to lightly condition it after it dries (use a leather-friendly conditioner for this).

You can also use a hot cloth to wipe the surface of your leather steering wheel since the heat can eliminate most germs and viruses. Please be reminded to also condition your leather steering wheel after this.

Should You Clean a Damaged Leather Steering Wheel?

If your leather steering wheel is damaged, we suggest that you repair it first before thoroughly cleaning it. Cleaning a damaged steering wheel may cause it to peel further and damage it further. 

Feel free to check out our guide on how to fix a leather steering wheel that is peeling for more information.