by Paul Williams

Like leather furniture, your car’s leather interior requires occasional cleaning and conditioning. Granted, not everyone has a leather interior in their car, but they’re becoming more common in a wider range of vehicles. The Ford Focus, for instance, has a leather seating option, as does the
Toyota Corolla and the Volkswagen Jetta.

For many people, the leather cleaner/conditioner of choice is saddle soap. Certainly this is still a product that’s recommended by boot makers, and some tack shops.

It’s true that saddle soap has been used for years as a softener, but this is definitely not the product for your car seats. Saddle soap is actually a combination of oil and soap. Furthermore, it’s an alkaline product (all soap is, I believe) and alkaline is not good for leather. It causes greying, discoloration or staining of light coloured leathers, loss of tanning agents, cracking of the grain surface and other signs of deterioration. Many detailing experts suggest that saddle soap actually embeds dirt into the leather.

So forget saddle soap. You have lots of modern, effective, alternatives from which to choose.

As you might expect, there are a vast number of automotive leather treatment products on the market, but only a few are regularly recommended as genuinely superior. For the extreme-detailing crowd, Lexol is one of the products of choice.

Actually, there are two Lexol products for leather — a cleaner and a conditioner.

As you may know from cleaning your car’s paint surfaces, you’ll need to first remove existing polish, waxes and dirt before applying a new paint treatment. So it is when you work on your leather interior.

Lexol leather cleaner is a foaming agent that dissolves old coatings and lifts dirt. After applying it, you wait a few minutes, then rinse it off. Don’t worry; it’s okay to use water on leather. Simply wipe off the cleaner with a dampened cloth, rinse out the cloth, squeeze out the excess water, and continue wiping. Lexol cleaner doesn’t contain waxes or oils, but does contain glycerin to maintain the leather’s softness. Furthermore, it’s non-alkaline, so it doesn’t break down the fibres in the leather.

Once the leather is clean, you’ll need to apply a conditioner. But what exactly is a conditioner?

In the manufacture of leather, as a final and essential step, the tanned hide is subjected to a process called “fat-liquoring” in which it’s treated with special oils to produce softness, flexibility and strength. However, these oils must be replenished periodically. You may have seen what happens to neglected leather, especially in the harsh environment of a car’s interior where temperatures reach extremes in summer and winter. It fades, hardens and cracks.

Lexol claims that their conditioner is an emulsion similar to those employed in the original manufacture of the leather, so it’s able to effectively revive the original finish. But it has several other attributes.

Many leather dressings utilize chemical solvents in order to facilitate penetration of oils into the leather. Such solvents can lead to “bleeding” or migrating onto adjacent materials, causing discoloration or other damage. In addition, such chemical solvents may be flammable, irritating or toxic.

Lexol doesn’t contain chemical solvents. It’s an aqueous (water-based) emulsion, and unlike most organic solvents, Lexol is non-flammable, odourless, non-toxic and non-sensitizing to the skin. Also, Lexol doesn’t impart a greasy or tacky feel to the surface of the leather.

Applying the conditioner is simple and not hard work. You spray a small amount on the leather surfaces and work it in with a damp cloth (shake the container first, to properly distribute the contents). Then leave it for 20-30 minutes so that the leather absorbs the oils and preservatives.

Rub the surfaces down with a soft terry towel, and allow the interior to dry for one to three hours, depending on temperature and humidity. You’ll find it’s a satisfying job.

Although Lexol is widely accepted as a treatment for common leather surfaces, there are certain leathers for which it is not suitable. A napped leather, such as suede, is one. You’re best to test an inconspicuous piece before you use the product. Seats in a Porsche Boxster, for instance, are
not really suede, but they’re not standard either. The use of a conditioner on these seats may darken the colour and make the surface shiny. These seats require a special treatment.

Also, leather that has become cracked from inadequate or inappropriate care cannot be restored to its original state by any available method.

Lexol is available in specialty automotive stores, and many parts departments of luxury car dealers. Prices from these automotive sources are typically $19.85 for 500 ml each of the cleaner and conditioner. However, if you want a good deal, try your local horse riding supply store.

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