How To Clean Vegan Leather [Step By Step Guide]

  • Author: Ben
  • Date: June 25, 2022
  • Time to read: 8 min.

Cleaning vegan leather is totally different from doing so with patent leather or suede. Therefore, if you’ve made the switch to a vegan, then do not forget to change your cleaning practices too. In this article, we will take you through how to clean vegan leather. This will ensure your items last as long as possible, making them sustainable, as well as vegan. Win-win!

Animal Leather vs Vegan Leather – What’s the Difference?

Before we get started, let us get some basics out of the way. Here we cover the key differentiators between animal leather and vegan leather:

Animal Leather

Traditional leather is primarily from the outer skin of animals. A wide variety of animals are used to support the leather industry.

For a leather coat, the outer skin of a cow or another animal provides a tougher material to work with and makes it longer lasting.  

Suede, on the other hand, is the other side – the inner side if you will – of the animal’s skin.

Check out our article for more on vegan suede.

It is less weathered, softer, and can be brushed to create a different feeling on the hands. It is less durable, especially in climates that see considerable rainfall.

Vegan Leather

Vegan leather is mostly produced using polyurethane. There are other materials now in use, but they’re on a much smaller scale, so this is the main material for vegan leather today.

Check out this article for more on non-vegan fabrics to avoid when shopping.

Vegan leather is referred to by several names including Eco PU, PU leather, vegan leather, fake leather, and others.

Vegan leather tends to be softer than ‘real’ leather

Nevertheless, it’s all the same thing, i.e., NOT from an animal or animal byproducts like real leather.

As we will go into further below, there are a whole host of products that are made from these synthetic leathers.

If you’ve invested in one of these pieces, you will probably want it to last as long as possible, either for yourself to use, to trade on, or donate to charity so somebody else can enjoy the product.

Sustainable fashion is something that everybody should be taking more interest in, not just those who live a vegan lifestyle.

To make it last, you will need to know how to clean your vegan leather in order to keep it looking like new for as long as possible.

How to Clean Vegan Leather

There is no end of vegan leather products which you may need to clean, these can include, but are not exclusive;

  • Vegan leather shoes
  • Vegan leather jacket
  • Vegan leather bag
  • Vegan leather furniture
  • Vegan leather accessories (e.g. a jewelry box, a notebook, etc)

Here are 7 effective ways how to clean vegan leather:

#1: Dust

Cleaning is never going to lead to a positive result when the item is dusty and grimy.

Any cleaning will push dirt or dust further into the vegan leather, making any stain even harder to remove.

Firstly try using a soft clean cloth, like a microfiber cloth, and see if this will remove dust and light dirt. If this does not work, move on to trying a damp cloth.

If this does not work, try dusting your vegan leather with a baby wipe or similar.

If you are not a fan of baby wipes going into the environment, use some gentle micellar water on a cotton pad, or reusable makeup pad. It will do the job of cleaning off the dust from your vegan leather, without causing any damage.

This might be enough if the PU leather only needs a wipe-down.

If further cleaning is required, move on to #2.

#2: Wipe with Soft Cloth and Warm Water

Soapy water and a good soft cloth can do wonders for the vegan leather fabric. It can encourage any dirt accumulated from use to stop stubbornly clinging to the vegan leather.

The cloth needs to be moved slowly over all the places that require cleaning in small circular motions.

Make sure that you are only using a mild detergent such as washing up liquid.

If you have some ‘hard to reach’ spots, you may want to use a bamboo cotton bud or similar to do the more detailed work.

Be sure to dry the fabric fully after it’s been cleaned. Soap left for too long on vegan leather will damage and potentially crack it.

There are some faux leather cleaners on the market, including faux leather furniture cleaner, it may be that you want to invest in one of these.

#3 Use a Different Approach for Textured PU Leather Surfaces

For textured vegan leather that’s been designed to resemble a certain leather type more closely, like crocodile or snake, etc. This creates issues with cleaning because dirt can get between the cracks and grooves.

For this, you need the bristles of a soft toothbrush that can get into those crevices or depressions.

It will be best to attack these first because any dirt will travel from the tiny spots to the surface of the PU leather.

So, if you’ve just cleaned that, you’ll be doing the job twice over.

Start with the textured bits, clean, and wipe these off. Double-check they’re now clean. Then clean everywhere else. And then dry the material thoroughly, removing any excess water.

Do not be tempted to put your vegan leather through the washing machine (unless the washing label states you can)

#4 Apply Rubbing Alcohol on Lipstick Stains

Lipstick and similar common stains can be a nightmare to remove from any fabric, let alone vegan leather. 

For vegan leather with a lipstick stain, apply rubbing alcohol sparingly to get it to shift.

It may require more than one attempt. Be careful to remove all the rubbing alcohol once you’re done with a soft dry cloth, or it can damage the PU leather’s finish.

Do not rub too hard, if your vegan leather has a color stain on it, this could remove the color. 

If you are going to attempt this, please do it gently and gradually.

#5 Eucalyptus Oil for Persistent Stains

Applying some eucalyptus oil to the fabric – not any hardware or metal – should be done gently. It can be effective but must be pursued with due care.

We’d suggest trying it out in a pocket or similar area that cannot be seen if it discolors the vegan leather. Try it first to test the results before applying it to any dirty spot.

#6 Cleaning Non-Oil Stains

Any non-oil-based stain such as one from makeup blush, for example, can be cleaned using baby shampoo.

It will help encourage the cleaning process. A sponge is a good one to use. Add some baby shampoo and gently move it over the unclean spot.

#7 Oil-based Stains

With oil stains from makeup or other items, then you’ll need something to get the stain out. Common kitchen dish detergent works just as well on vegan leather as for your dishes!

Special Note

A couple of points to note here:

Firstly, always test any cleaning solution on an inside pocket or elsewhere on the vegan leather that’s unobservable to other people.

That way, should it discolor or otherwise stain the leather instead of cleaning it, you’ll know never to use it again.

Each vegan leather is different, so a little trial and error may be required. Do not clean an outside part of the vegan leather before knowing that the cleaning method won’t make matters worse!

Secondly, removing the chosen cleaning solution and thoroughly drying the leather fabric is essential.

Any moisture can seriously damage the leather, and reduce the sustainability of the material. Dry the material out without leaving it in the sun; this could strip the coloring from the vegan leather.

How to Clean Hardware

The hardware – the exterior, hard surfaces – is different from the faux leather surface.

Usually made from metal, such as handles, these need a delicate touch and careful observance of the small details too.  Also, be aware of the potential for scratches.

Use a Q-Tip to Clean It

Cleaning hardware, it’s difficult to get into the smaller areas, especially the tiny crevices. For this, we’d suggest trying a cotton Q-tip. These cotton buds come in different sizes including ones for kids. If you have one of these, then they’re smaller and more useful.

Use soapy water to dip into. Move around any handles, metal logo branding, and the like. It may involve some degree of pressure or scrubbing. Not easy to do with a breakable Q-tip but do your best. Then dry the area off thoroughly to avoid water damage or potential future rust.

A toothbrush is a possibility, but at best, we’d look at the softest bristle ones to avoid scratching any metallic surfaces. Also, if they make you nervous to use them, then stick with the Q-tips.

A final wipe-down with a soft, non-abrasive cloth is valuable too. It can catch any spots of moisture that you missed. Let the bag dry in a warm environment to remove any residual moisture, but out of direct sunlight to prevent discoloration.

How to Remove Ink Stains from Vegan Leather

Ink stains are difficult to get out of any material, including vegan leather.

We find that white vinegar is a very effective cleaner and likely you already have some distilled white vinegar in the cupboards at home.

Add just a tablespoon of white vinegar and dilute it with two generous tablespoons of water. Using an unused, non-patterned cloth, give it a good soak for a few minutes.

Now using the cloth, rub over the area by working in tiny circles over and around it. The point is to hit the spot circularly, rather than to work across a wider area.

Now use a second cloth to dry the area. Inspect it to see how it looks. Should ink remain, repeat the cleaning process with white vinegar until the ink stain is no longer visible.

Also, if white vinegar isn’t working, then try rubbing alcohol instead. Use minimally and see how it works on your version of PU leather. Test that it won’t stain the vegan leather first though.

Final Thoughts: How To Clean Vegan Leather

There you have it. our step by step guide to cleaning vegan leather. Although there is no number of products available out there unless your vegan leather needs a particularly deep clean, you can probably do this with household items. This will extend the life of your vegan leather items, meaning you, or others can enjoy them for longer. 

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