How to Clean Vegan Leather: A Step-by-Step Guide

Despite our best efforts to keep our lives orderly, sometimes your favorite fake leather items will get dirty. Perhaps very dirty. But don’t worry! I’ve got you covered with this complete guide to cleaning vegan leather—whether for your shoes, couch, jacket, or car seats.

Four steps to clean vegan leather:

  1. Immediately remove the mess with wet wipes.
  2. Spot clean the area with dish soap and water.
  3. Quickly remove soapy residue with a damp cloth.
  4. Dry the item completely with a cloth.

Now, there’s a little more to each of these steps, which I’ll cover below. There are also special considerations depending on which item needs cleaning. For instance, you should clean a purse differently than a vegan leather boot. So we’ll look at these special cases, too!

Steps for Cleaning Fake Leather

If you were awesome enough to seek out cruelty-free products, you deserve a quick and easy fix to keep them looking great. So here are the four simple steps to clean fake leather.

1. Immediately remove the mess with wet wipes or baby wipes.

Like most things in life, prevention is the best medicine. Whenever your vegan leather gets dirty, immediately remove the mess with a basic wet wipe. For parents out there, baby wipes work just as well (and I know you have them on hand).

Your goal here is to not allow the mess time to settle in and cause a stain. The longer it sits, the more difficult it will be to remove. Keep a travel pack of wet wipes in your glove box, purse, or backpack, and you’ll be prepared whenever dirt happens.

2. Spot clean the problem area with dish soap and water

If the stain has already set in, don’t panic. Dilute some dish soap with water (3:1 ratio of water to soap) and use a white cloth to spot clean the stain. Do not use color cloths to spot clean, as the color can easily transfer to vegan leather.

I prefer GroVia Cloth Wipes because they’re reusable, organic, and come in multi-cloth packs. (Yes, I know they’re technically “diaper” cloths. But if they’re good enough for a newborn, they’re exceptional for your faux leather.)

Be sure to wring out the cloth after each use, so you don’t get a ton of excess water just sitting on the surface.

Depending on the severity of the stain, you may need to use a toothbrush to clean the textured “grain” of fake leather. Just dip the brush in the same soap/water solution and scrub.

3. Quickly remove all soapy residue with a clean cloth

Use a dry cloth wipe to remove all soapy residue that remains. If you don’t remove soap from vegan leather, it will likely dry it out and cause cracks.

Be sure to complete this step before you allow the item to dry.

4. Dry the item completely with a cloth

Just like the exterior of a car, it’s best to dry the item with a cloth so that it doesn’t sit wet for too long. Water is not friendly to most fake leather.

When you finally allow it to finish air drying, keep it in a well-vented area that won’t get humid.

Special Considerations for Each Item

Depending what you’re cleaning, these following tips will help you have a more nuanced approach!

Shoes and Boots

vegan work boots
These vegan boots could use a cleaning.

Dirtying your favorite Doc Martens can be a real bummer. Luckily they’re super easy to clean.

Mix equal parts cool water and white vinegar. Dip a clean cloth in the vinegar solution and wipe off the entire shoe to remove any mess.

Vinegar is an especially good cleaning solution for vegan shoes because it also removes winter salt stains. After you wipe with vinegar, dry with a cloth and finish drying in a well-ventilated area.

Bags and Purses

After you’ve wiped down and spot-cleaned the problem areas of your bag, purse, or fake leather wallet, use a Q-tip to clean in and around the hardware. No matter the type of hardware material (metal or rubber), it will most likely have a lot of crevices.

Diluted soapy water applied with a Q-tip allows you to clean the smallest details. Next, use a dry Q-tip to remove excess water. This step is especially important since it’s easy for small amounts of water to hang out unnoticed in tiny crevices.

Pants and Jackets

As long as you follow a few rules, you can machine wash vegan leather. So pleather pants and jackets can potentially be either hand- or machine-washed.

Before you go to the laundry room, identify problem areas that need to be spot cleaned. Use a microfiber cloth dampened with water to remove any dirt or stains. If the stain has already settled into the material, use a 3:1 water to detergent solution for a stronger clean.

Once you’ve spot cleaned, you can either hand wash or machine wash the garment.

Steps for hand-washing:

  1. Fill your sink or basin with 3:1 mild detergent to water.
  2. Turn the garment inside out.
  3. Wash as you normally would delicate items: move the pants or jacket around the water and squeeze every so often.
  4. Wring out thoroughly.
  5. Air dry the garment flat on a vented drying rack.

Steps for washing machine:

  1. Start the wash with cool or warm water only. Do not use hot water when machine washing vegan leather garments. Hot water will cause the material to reshape itself because you’re essentially melting it!
  2. Set machine to Delicate cycle.
  3. Turn the pants or jacket inside out and place in a mesh laundry bag for extra protection.
  4. When it’s time to rinse, select cold water for the job. Never add fabric softener to pleather garments.
  5. Air dry the garment flat on a vented drying rack

Car Seats

Tesla’s vegan leather seats have left some consumers wondering… how the heck do I clean these?

It’s a waste of money to clean the vegan leather seats in your Tesla with any of the leather sprays on the market.

Cars with real (animal) leather seats are coated with a protective finish that Tesla (and other synthetic leather) seats don’t have.

Leather sprays are made to work on that specific kind of finish. So these leather sprays won’t work for vegan leather seats that don’t have the finish.

But don’t worry: Vegan leather seats are the easiest thing to clean.

Follow the basic instructions above with wet wipes and a dry cloth. If things are really messy, use the spot dry method with 3:1 water to dish soap solution. Other than that, there’s nothing special you need to clean the interior of your Tesla.

Couches and Recliners

The same basic rules for cleaning synthetic leather apply to furniture—but with a few additional steps.

How to clean vegan leather couches and recliners:

  1. Vacuum the couch or recliner to ensure you’ve removed big pieces from between the cushions and sections.
  2. Mix the 3:1 water to dish soap solution. If you don’t have dish soap, you can also make a cleaning solution of 2:1 water to mild detergent.
  3. Wipe down the couch with this solution using a microfiber cloth (or other soft cloth).
  4. Wring out the cloth entirely. Rinse it with water and wring it out again.
  5. Wipe down the couch a second time with the clean damp cloth to remove any residue from the dish soap/detergent solution.
  6. Wipe down the couch a third time with a dry cloth to remove excess water.
  7. If you notice any stains while cleaning the couch, you can use a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol to remove it.
  8. Once the stain has been removed, wipe the spot with a wet cloth to remove any residual alcohol. Alcohol will quickly dry out vegan leather.
  9. Wipe with a dry cloth to complete the process.

What Can You Use to Clean Vegan Leather?

Do not use chemically-derived disinfectants like Lysol and Clorox wipes on faux leather. All of these wipes and cleaners are made with alcohol, which will quickly dry out fake leather.

Instead, use mild detergent, dish soap, or vinegar diluted with water to best clean the fake leather on any item.

How Do You Get Sharpie Off Fake Leather?

Sharpie, marker, and pen can all be removed from fake leather using rubbing alcohol. An especially stubborn sharpie mark can be removed with a small amount of WD-40.

After you’ve removed the stain, be sure to wipe the surface clean with water. Then dry it so the cleaning chemicals don’t damage the surface.

How Do You Fix Scuffed Vegan Leather?

There’s no need to use shoe polish to fix scuffs on faux leather shoes. Follow these easy instructions instead:

  1. Dab a small amount of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) on the scuffs.
  2. Use a clean dry cloth to buff out the scuffs.
  3. If your shoes originally had a shine, then spray lightly with glass cleaner and buff again with a dry cloth.

How Do You Moisturize Faux Leather?

It’s important to moisturize and condition faux leather because it can crack and peel—just like leather made from an animal.

The best way to condition fake leather items is by using baby oil, olive oil, or coconut oil and a dry cloth. The process isn’t difficult, but it can be lengthy, especially for larger items.

To ensure complete coverage when moisturizing, it’s best to work in three steps: massage, wait, buff. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Using a soft cloth, massage a small amount of oil onto the surface with a circular motion.
  2. Wait 10 minutes for the oil to soak in.
  3. Using a (different) soft cloth, buff out excess oil in a circular motion. I’d suggest using the GroVia Cloth Wipes here again. But you can also use a microfiber cloth.

Once the item has been completely moisturized, let it rest for about an hour before use. Moisturizing is also a great way to remove wrinkles from faux leather garments after air drying.

To get the most out of your vegan leather, establish a regular cleaning and conditioning routine. Regular conditioning will significantly extend the life of vegan leather items because they’ll be less susceptible to cracking and peeling.

Two More Recommendations for Your Vegan Journey

1. This is the best vegan multivitamin I’ve found in 13 years of being vegan. It has vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3—and nothing else. Translation: It only has the nutrients vegans are actually low in. Read my full review of Future Kind’s multivitamin here (with 10% discount).

2. This is the best vegan starter kit I know of. It’s a bundle of 9 beautiful e-books that help you transition to a healthy plant-based diet—the right way. The advice is spot-on, and it has print-outs and checklists that make it easy to implement. Read my full review of Nutriciously here.

Sharing is caring!