I had owned my second generation Mazda MX-6 for some time, and basically did as much work as I could to get it running again. With the car being more reliable mechanically, I was then able to focus on some of the other non-mechanical things that needed attention. One of the things that needed some work were the leather seats. One of the issues was a destroyed bolster on the driver’s side, which I couldn’t do too much about. The other was that the leather material was quite dirty and stiff.
Cleaning & Conditioning
One of the things I learned quickly was that restoring leather seating is not just a one step process. The idea that you can clean and condition leather with one product is marketed with certain products such as “2-in-1 Leather Cleaning and Conditioner”, which are packaged into a single formula. Generally, most 2-in-1 products in the car detailing world don’t quite work that way. Typically, if you see a 2-in-1 product, turn the other way and go find separate products for different purposes.
For leather seating, you should always clean and condition separately. For proper cleaning of the seats, you’ll want to use the cleaning solution on the seats, and use something to remove the lifted off dirt, grime, etc. like a microfiber towel or a shop vac. Only then, can you condition the leather properly. For more a more in-depth interior detailing guide, check out this post.
Pine-Sol for Cleaning?
About 15 years ago when I was working hard on fixing up my car, I kept reading on the MX6.com forums about how to restore leather seating. A common suggestion on the forums was to use Pine-sol for cleaning the leather. Just thinking about it right now makes me cringe, as this kind of household cleaner is just too strong (and maybe too potent of a smell too) for leather material.
But at the time, it seemed like a good option. I used Pine-sol for cleaning the leather seats and it did do a good job of removing some surface dirt and grime. However, I say surface dirt and grime because it really was just that. The leather was quite old and very firm to the touch. There was no suppleness to the feeling of the leather, and I suspect this was due to neglect over the years.
Anyway, Pine-sol is a no-no for cleaning leather. But yes, I did do this a long time ago on the leather seats of my MX-6. The Pine-sol did clean it, and you can see the oils that have been cleaned off. However, that’s pretty much the extent of it. The strong solution of Pine-sol may have been harsh on the leather skin, so it’s best to save it for household cleaning only.
Proper Way to Clean Leather Seats
What I would do differently today would be to use a good leather cleaner with a brush and try to get a deep clean on the seats. Because the leather seats were so hard, this might not be good enough. If hand-scrubbing and cleaner wasn’t good enough, I would try to get my hands on a steam cleaner so that it can soften up the leather and open up its pores. Then, I would use the cleaner and brush on the leather and then wipe it all off with a microfiber cloth.
Think of leather as skin, as it really is just that. If you used heat to open up the pores, it will allow the dirt and grime trapped in those pores to come out. The agitation from the brush and cleaner will help lift it off the leather. Wiping it all off with a microfiber towel will take it away.
After all the leather seating is cleaned this way, I would then leave the windows open and let it all dry out. Then I’d come around with a dedicated leather conditioner and work it all into the leather.
A good combination package of cleaner and conditioner is offered by Lexol and Chemical Guys:
If I could only go back in time, I’d love to make an attempt at restoring the leather on my 1993 Mazda MX-6. Heck, I’d love to go do a full interior detail and restoration on it as well. But, I know that I was still young, still learning, and working on my hobby when I had little or no money to do so. Maybe I didn’t “restore” the leather seats back then, but I did a pretty good job at keeping it clean.