how to remove sunscreen from leather car seats

How to Remove Sunscreen Stains from Leather Car Seats: 5 Methods Revealed

Nothing can make your car look more luxurious than a supple, glossy leather interior. Leather car seats are designed with the utmost care to give your vehicle’s interior a classy look and feel. 

However, leather needs to be maintained properly, to ensure it remains supple and in good condition. This also means that all forms of substances it comes into contact with need to be removed as soon as possible. 

A substance that most people don’t realize can harm their leather interior is sunscreen. Picture this, you’re having a great day at the beach with your family and friends, and when you arrive home you notice white sunscreen stains on your leather car seats.

Sunscreen stains can damage leather and need to be cleaned immediately. After several meticulous tests, we found that the best ways to remove sunscreen from leather car seats are to use either white vinegar, baking soda, rubbing alcohol, a leather cleaner, or a degreaser.

In this article, you’ll learn how sunscreen stains can affect your leather car seats over time and why they can ruin them if you’re left untreated. We’ll also guide you through the process of removing sunscreen from leather car seats and share some helpful tips to ensure that they stay well protected. Let’s dive in!

How Sunscreen Stains Affect Leather Car Seats

Since leather is a premium material when it comes to car upholstery, it calls for regular upkeep to maintain its luster, softness, and classy appeal. Its sensitive and porous properties mean that it can easily absorb impurities. This means you should keep all harmful substances away to ensure longevity.

Although sunscreen is excellent for our skin, it can be highly damaging for leather since it leaves a white residue that can cause lasting stains. Sunscreen commonly contains titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and polyethylene glycol.

sunscreen stains on leather car seats
Sunscreen Stains on Leather Car Seats

These ingredients can be hard to remove, as these inorganic compounds penetrate the pores of your leather car seats if left untreated. Moreover, since many sunscreens are resistant to water, you’ll have a tough time simply wiping them off. 

The most common way sunscreen can get onto leather car seats is through hand and body transference. When you have applied sunscreen on your body and hands, some of it may inevitably get onto your car’s leather seats if you don’t remove them before entering your car.  

Sunscreen may not only stain your leather car seats but also your steering wheel, console, controls, and other parts of your car’s interior. Other ways people can leave sunscreen residue behind is by wearing sunscreen-stained clothing in the car or placing a bag or other belongings that may have sunscreen on them.

Here are some general points on why sunscreen and leather car seats don’t go well together:

  • They’re Tricky to Remove – Sunscreen can be extremely difficult to remove if you only use conventional cleaning methods. Since many sunscreens are resistant to water and contain inorganic compounds, you need to use effective cleaning solutions that can lift them from leather without damaging the material. Don’t worry, we’ll guide you through this. 
  • They’re Easily Visible – Sunscreen is easily visible as white, greasy, and shiny streaks and splotches on your leather car seats. These stains can become impossible to remove if you leave them untreated.
  •  They’re Sticky – Leather has a smooth, luxurious feel that everybody loves to touch. However, sunscreen residue on leather can cause it to become sticky and leave an unpleasant odor. The sticky residue can also turn viscous over time and make your leather car seats appear dirty and uncared-for.
  • They Can Discolor – Sunscreens are high in oil content, making their stains impervious to lift or clean using common methods. Moreover, cleaning sunscreen stains with water can cause further staining. This is because avobenzone, a chemical that absorbs ultraviolet light, can react with iron in water to leave behind a rust-colored stain.

Therefore, we highly recommend that you clean your leather car seats as soon as you spot any sunscreen stains. And when you do, don’t panic! We’ve tried countless methods and we’ve come up with a simple 4-step process that you can follow, which features the 5 most effective ways in cleaning sunscreen off your leather car seats. 

1. Blot Up the Excess Sunscreen Lotion

Blotting sunscreen is the best way to ensure you do not spread it to other clean areas of your car seats. Use a soft dry cloth and blot the sunscreen stain until the excess is removed. 

We recommend against wiping or rubbing the cloth since it will cause the sunscreen to seep further into the leather and make it more difficult to remove later on. Light dabbing motions should ensure that you’re left with a thin layer. 

2. Selecting a Sunscreen Cleaning Method

There are many different cleaning solutions that we’ve experimented with. The following five methods have proven to be very effective in cleaning sunscreen from leather car seats. Each method has its own level of effectiveness depending on the type of leather and the sunscreen lotion. 

Method 1: White Vinegar

White vinegar is an extremely mild acid that is highly effective in removing oil-based substances like sunscreen. Spray or pour white vinegar on the sunscreen stain to lightly wet the leather. 

Use a non-abrasive sponge to scrub the sunscreen stains with the vinegar and immediately blot the leather with a dry microfiber cloth to remove it. Vinegar is known to dry out the leather material if it is left on it for too long. 

Method 2: Baking Soda

Baking soda has fantastic absorbent qualities and can easily remove moist substances from its surroundings. Sprinkle a small quantity of baking soda on the sunscreen-stained area of your leather car seats and allow it to absorb the oily substance for about 6 – 12 hours. 

After having waited for a couple of hours, blot the residue away with a warm damp cloth when the white stain on the leather begins to turn yellow (an indicator of baking soda having absorbed all of the stains). 

Method 3: Rubbing Alcohol

Similar to white vinegar, rubbing alcohol can be used to break down and remove oil-based sunscreen easily. Spray or pour a small quantity of rubbing alcohol on the sunscreen stain. 

Then, rub the stain with a non-abrasive sponge to get the absorbed sunscreen out from the leather pores. Blot the residue immediately and clean the leftover with a microfiber cloth, in order to prevent the leather from drying out.

Method 4: Leather Cleaner

Another great method that works well is a high-quality leather cleaner or leather-friendly wipes. A leather cleaner is a cleaning product that is designed to clean leather (they’re also effective in removing sunscreen spots) without damaging it. 

Apply some cleaning solution to a sponge or microfiber cloth and apply this to the sunscreen stain. Use soft and circular motions to slowly lift the sunscreen out. Make sure that you use several applications if the stains are persistent. 

Method 5: Degreaser

A degreaser can help dissolve the inorganic compounds of the sunscreen from leather, similar to the way rubbing alcohol or vinegar can. However, it is much more effective and can deliver quick results. 

Keep in mind that not all degreasers are suitable for leather. If you need one that is leather-friendly, you can consider the 3D Orange Degreaser. Simply, pour some of your preferred degreasers on the stain and remove it using a non-abrasive sponge. 

After you have removed all the leftover sunscreen, blot the residue away from the leather with a dry microfiber cloth. It’s best to use a leather cleaner after using a degreaser to ensure that your leather car seats remain well protected. 

3. Remove the Sunscreen Stain from Your Leather Car Seat

No matter which method you choose, ensure that it is safe to use on leather. The last thing you want to do is select a cleaning solution with harsh chemicals, as that will only ruin your car seats. 

Remember to allow the solution ample time to lift the compounds out of the leather, so that you don’t have to repeat the process over again. We advise using gentle pressure to clean your leather car seats to sure that you don’t cause any further spread or discoloration. 

4. Condition Your Leather Car Seat

After your leather car seats are free from sunscreen stains, apply a small amount of leather conditioner with a dry cloth. Conditioning your leather car seats with a leather-friendly conditioner can prevent drying and cracks due to sun damage. 

It can also keep the material nourished and supple, adding to the leather’s overall lustrous appearance and feel. Moreover, it will also help to protect your car seats from future sunscreen stains, by coating them with a protective layer. 

5. Let Your Leather Car Seat Dry Naturally

After applying a leather conditioner, allow the leather to absorb and dry naturally. Avoid using the affected car seats for a couple of hours so that they can dry completely. A great way to dry your freshly cleaned and conditioned leather car seats is to open your car doors for ventilation.

Make sure that you are parked in a dry and clean environment. The best location for that is in a shaded area, away from direct sunlight (as this can damage your leather). 

Important Tips & Tricks for Removing Sunscreen Stains on Leather Seats

Although removing sunscreen stains may be simple, there are some things you need to consider for effective and safe cleaning. The following tips and tricks will help you prevent damage to your leather seats and even avoid the transference of sunscreen on the material in the first place.

  • Don’t Use General Cleaning Products – Avoid harsh cleaning agents and products that are not suitable for leather, such as detergents or soaps. Water used in these products can cause the Avobenzone to react with iron in the water and deepen the stain to a dark orange color. Moreover, harsh chemicals may discolor and dry out your leather. 
  • Blot Up Sunscreen Before Cleaning – We recommend dabbing or blotting the sunscreen spot for cleaning it. This is because wiping it can cause the oily substance to spread to other parts of the leather, resulting in bigger splotches.
  • Don’t Use Too Much Pressure – Use gentle to moderate pressure to blot away the sunscreen from your leather car seats. By using excess pressure, you risk pressing the sunscreen deeper into the leather material.
  • Treat According to the Type of Leather – Using a cleaning method based on the type of leather is extremely important, as you don’t want to risk affecting its texture. Use specialized cleaning products for suede and nubuck car seats. 
  • Use Preventive Measures – Always use preventive measures to avoid skin-to-leather transference of sunscreen. We advise wiping off sunscreen before getting into the car, wearing long sleeves and pants to cover your skin, or covering your leather seats with a towel beforehand.

About Gerrit

Co-Founder, Researcher & Writer At Leatherskill

I’m a leather enthusiast who spends most of his free time crafting, researching, and writing about the many facets of this versatile material. Thanks for reading!