How to Restore Your Classic Car's Leather Interior

1968 Ford mustang convertible
Restoring the interior of your classic car is easy. Dennis Gerbeckx / Getty Images

Restoring your car's leather seats can cost hundreds of dollars if you pay a professional to do it. But you can save money and do it yourself with just a few tools and a couple of hours of your time. To repair the leather seats in your vehicle, you'll need the following:

  • Leather cleaner, conditioner, and color restorer kit
  • Vacuum
  • Sponges or clean cloths
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • 600-grit sandpaper
  • Soft-bristle brush
  • Hairdryer
  • Small bucket
  • Screwdriver and ratchet set

Look for a leather restoration kit that contains a cleaner, conditioner, and color restorer. Gliptone Liquid Leather Scuff Master, Lexol Leather Care, and Leather World are all recommended brands. Whichever leather product you decide to use, contact the distributor regarding the color matching of your leather. If you are restoring to the original color, send a small swatch of leather (under the seat there is always a spare piece) to the supplier for color matching. You can also contact the vehicle manufacturer to find out the color code.

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Clean Your Interior

Examination of the Leather.

The easiest way to restore your car's leather seats is to remove them from the vehicle. That way, you won't have to work on your hands and knees and you'll be able to access the whole seat easily. Consult a detailed mechanic's manual (Chilton is the standard-bearer) for information on how to do this.

Even if you can't remove your car's seats, you'll still want to clean the interior. Thoroughly vacuum the seats and floorboards, examing surfaces for stains or blemishes. Use a leather cleaner product on a damp sponge or a soft clean cloth and rub in a circular motion to remove the initial dirt.

For grimy spots, use the product with a soft-bristle brush. Remove any cleaner residue and gently wipe the area with a mild solvent like isopropyl alcohol and allow the leather to dry thoroughly. Next, examine the entire leather surface for worn or faded spots. You can remove these with a light sanding using 600-grit sandpaper and follow with a final cleaning. If the leather is torn, consider a leather-repair kit. 

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Apply the Leather Conditioner

Filling in all the Creases & Cracks.

Once you've cleaned the leather, it's ready to be conditioned. Test the product in a small area for a color match; most leather-care products come with a toner to alter the color if needed. If you're satisfied with your test area, apply the product per the manufactures recommendations (usually with a soft-bristled brush or by a sponge).

For creases and cracks, dilute the product with 30 percent water and rub it onto the leather. Let it dry for about a minute and then wipe with a damp cloth. The product will come off good leather but should remain in the creases and cracks.

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Restore Faded Surfaces

Driver's Seat Looks Like New Again.

If your leather seats have faded, you can also restore the color. To do so, apply a thin coat of non-diluted leather recoloring or retouching fluid to the area and dry it thoroughly with a hairdryer. You may have to repeat this step two or three times, drying it completely each time, to achieve the desired result. Dilute the final coat with 20 percent water and wipe down with a dry rag.

Next day, use a leather conditioner to bring a rich shine to the leather. If you're removed the seats from your vehicle, reinstall them once the leather has dried completely.