How to Clean Faux Leather Naturally
By Marilee Nelson |
Faux leather is a material commonly used in clothing, furniture, and cars.
It gives the appearance of genuine leather yet is more affordable than the real thing.
Faux leather is also vegan and easy to clean with the right products and techniques.
In this article, we share how to clean faux leather naturally using non-toxic laundry and stain removers, plus how to keep it looking newer for longer.
What is Faux Leather?
Faux leather is an artificial leather product made without animal products.
Due to its lower cost and cruelty-free manufacturing (it’s not as durable as leather, but new faux leathers can last many years), it’s become a popular material for use in vehicles, furniture, and clothing.
Some sources claim faux leather is more environmentally friendly than genuine leather.
This point is debatable.
There’s no denying faux leather does not come from animals, which is a good thing.
However, most faux leather is made with either vinyl or plastic, both of which are made with toxic chemicals that continue leaching into the environment after manufacturing.
These chemicals, such as BPA, BPS, phthalates, VOCs, and PFASs to name a few, wind up in the environment, our homes, our places of work and education, and our waterways, causing big problems for aquatic life, wildlife, and humans.
DMFa is another toxin used in the production of faux leather that has been listed as a Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC) under the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) legislation since 2008. Due to a growing awareness about its harms, many large-scale clothing brands are phasing it out.
Fortunately, some innovative companies are making faux leather out of natural substances, such as cactus leaves, pineapple leaves, or cork.
However, most faux leather is still made with plastic or vinyl.
If you want a vegan or more affordable option, faux leather is the clear winner. However, it pays to take precautions when washing faux leather or bringing it into your home.
Outgassing is a great way to reduce some of these toxins and is highly recommended for new cars, clothing, etc., with faux leather.
Tools & Materials You’ll Need
Here’s what you’ll need to clean faux leather clothing, furniture, or car upholstery naturally.
- A gentle soap or detergent. We recommend Branch Basics Laundry or All-Purpose
- A microfiber cloth
- Washing machine or large sink for handwashing
- Baking soda (for odor removal)
- Olive or coconut oil (for conditioning)
- Rubbing alcohol (for stains)
- Distilled white vinegar (for stains)
How to Clean Faux Leather Clothing Naturally
Faux leather is not complicated to clean at home.
However, always check the cleaning instructions on the garment, as some faux leather clothing is best left to the experts (ideally, a non-toxic dry cleaner).
1. Decide on a Washing Method
Most faux leather garments can be hand- or machine-washed on a gentle cycle. Always check the tag with washing instructions to be sure.
If it says to “hand wash,” then follow that advice.
Since most faux leather is made with plastic or vinyl, we do recommend using a Guppy Friend wash bag to prevent the release of microplastics and help protect the garment.
If you choose not to use a Guppy Friend, consider a mesh bag to protect the garment, and reduce the spin cycle speed if possible.
2. Turn Garment Inside Out if Machine Washing
Turning your faux leather garments inside out before washing helps protect the material and extend longevity.
3. Use Cool Water
Water temperature is important as hot water can cause faux leather to crack, shrink, or even melt.
Cool or cool/warm water is recommended for hand or machine washing.
4. Choose a Natural, Gentle Detergent
A gentle, natural detergent or laundry soap will clean your faux leather beautifully without the risk of damage from harsh chemicals.
Branch Basics Laundry is an excellent choice. Made from natural, oil-based soap, it gently cleans, freshens, and destains faux leather without drying it out.
Other natural laundry soaps for faux leather include:
- Soap nuts
- Pure castile soap, diluted for laundry
- Other gentle and non-toxic Laundry soaps
- See 5 Best Laundry Detergents Without Chemicals for helpful tips and resources for vetting the best natural, non-toxic laundry products
5. Rinse well with cool water
Excess laundry soap can cause the leather to dry and crack.
6. Always Air Dry
Faux leather is made of plastic or vinyl, therefore it must always be air-dried to prevent damage, melting, or shrinkage.
Air dry your faux leather indoors to prevent sun damage or fading.
It’s also important not to wring faux leather, as this could cause cracking and wrinkling.
If you’re hand-washing, place the faux leather garment between two towels and gently press out the excess water.
If machine washing, the spin cycle should take care of excess moisture.
Place garments to dry on a flat surface or hang on a sturdy hanger. Drying may take up to 24 hours. To speed up the process, wipe down with an absorbent cloth.
What About Ironing Faux Leather?
Most wrinkles will come out during the drying process.
However, you can iron faux leather by turning the garment inside out and placing a thick folded cloth or pressing cloth between the iron and the leather.
Use the lowest setting possible and iron over the cloth to remove wrinkles.
How to Clean Faux Leather Upholstery Naturally
Faux leather upholstery is also easy to clean, another reason for its popularity.
Here’s how to clean your faux leather upholstery at home, at work, or in your car naturally.
1. Vacuum And Clean Off Surface
Use a HEPA vacuum with upholstery attachment to remove dirt, crumbs, and debris.
2. Create A Water + Detergent Mixture
If using Branch Basics, select All-Purpose dilution and spray directly onto the faux leather.
If using another non-toxic product, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for appropriate dilution.
Less is more here. Remember, excess soap can cause faux leather to dry out, crack, or become sticky. So, err on the side of less is more, and add more if needed.
3. Wipe With Microfiber Cloth
Wipe clean with a microfiber cloth.
4. Condition Your Faux Leather
Adding a small amount of olive oil or coconut oil is an excellent way to condition your faux leather. This will extend its life, enhance its appearance, and help keep it supple to prevent cracking.
To condition your faux leather, add a small amount of olive or coconut oil to a cloth and wipe directly onto the leather. Remove any excess with another microfiber cloth.
It should look clean and shiny but not feel oily or slippery.
How to Care For & Maintain Faux Leather
Part of faux leather’s appeal is its low-maintenance nature. However, a little extra care can go a long way in maintaining the beauty and life of faux leather.
Here are some tips:
- Clean your faux leather regularly, but not too often.
- Garments can usually be washed after a few wears.
- Condition faux leather regularly to lock in moisture and prevent wear and tear.
- Turn garment inside out when washing
- Wash using cool water, gentle natural detergents, and gentle machine or hand-washing methods.
How to Remove Tough Stains
Generally stains, even tough stains, should be easy to remove from faux leather. Here are some tips:
- First, try a microfiber cloth and water. Most stains will come out using this method.
- If the former didn’t work, use a small squirt of Branch Basics All-Purpose on the stain. Rub with a microfiber cloth.
- For really tough stains, like ink or dye, use rubbing alcohol. Dip a cotton swab or the corner of a cloth with the alcohol and work from the center of the stain out. This should remove the ink.
- Once the stain is removed, condition the spot with a little olive or coconut oil to prevent drying from the alcohol.
- Distilled vinegar is also safe to use for stain removal on faux leather. Combine equal parts vinegar and water, spray on, work out the stain, and wipe clean.
How to Remove Odors & Smells
Faux leather garments will last longer if they’re not washed with every wear.
So, what do you do if your faux clothing smells bad (which can happen if you’re out and about!)?
First, try airing. Although plastic- or synthetic fabrics hang onto odors, if the odors are coming from the liner, airing out may help reduce them. Air out of direct sunlight for several hours.
Second, dust on some baking soda. Baking soda’s naturally absorbent properties should take care of most odors. Just dust on, let sit for several hours, and dust off.
If neither of these methods works, you’re best off washing the garment.
How to Reduce Fading
Faux leather can fade if exposed to excess sunshine.
Therefore, you can reduce fading on furniture by closing the blinds or covering the furniture with a blanket or slipcover when the morning or afternoon sun hits its location.
Protect clothing by keeping it out of direct sun and air-drying indoors.
When parked, car upholstery can be protected by a garage or covered parking space, tinted windows, and/or sun-blocking shades.
Cleaners to Avoid Using on Faux Leather
Faux leather may be tough against stains, but the wrong kind of cleaners can cause permanent damage.
Experts recommend avoiding harsh, chemical-based detergents, stain removers, and cleaners in favor of natural, soap-based cleaners or dish soaps.
If you need to sanitize or disinfect your faux leather, we recommend using 3% hydrogen peroxide (in the brown bottle) or 3% hydrogen peroxide with distilled white vinegar (used at separate times and stored in separate bottles) instead of bleach (which is highly toxic!).
Always test any type of bleaching solution on an inconspicuous section before proceeding.
If the test reveals no discoloration, apply hydrogen peroxide to a clean microfiber cloth, and wipe down the faux leather.
Let dwell for a few minutes, then wipe down with a damp microfiber cloth.
For extra disinfecting, repeat the same procedure with vinegar mixed 50:50 with water.
Start Cleaning With Branch Basics
As you can see, faux leather is easy to clean and care for with the right tools.
The big takeaways are:
- Use natural and gentle soap-based cleaners
- Keep it away from too much heat or sun
- Never iron directly, use water, natural soap, rubbing alcohol, or vinegar on stains
- Condition regularly
Has this article inspired you to tackle more cleaning projects using non-toxic cleaners? If so, we invite you to learn more about Branch Basics.
Our non-toxic, all-natural cleaning products were designed to replace every cleaner and laundry product in your house with just one Concentrate.For more non-toxic cleaning tips, visit our Wellness Center for articles, Podcasts, Guides, and more.
Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.