When it comes to leather care, there is no one size fits all solution. BMW carries many different types of leather, as well as several versatile non-leather options to fit different budgets and styles. As an avid enthusiast, I’ve been fortunate to own many different models, creating a necessity for me to understand leather care for a wide variety of BMW leather types, from the Leatherette in my first BMW, a 2007 328xi, to the Merino Leather in my current 2020 BMW X3M Competition.
For some types of leather, only cleaning is necessary, as many modern leathers have built-in top coats to protect them from fading and cracking, while others require more care and attention. While this guide won’t cover every type of leather BMW has ever offered, it will provide you with guidelines that will work when applied to a relevant leather type.
Leatherette and SensaTec
The main goal with these types of vinyl or synthetic leather is to clean and protect them from UV fading. Both are very durable and hold up well to wear. When I purchased my 2007 328xi with 72,000 miles, and the Leatherette seats still looked practically new at the time I bought it.
For cleaning, 303 Multi Surface Cleaner Spray is my personal preference because it cleans effectively and doesn’t leave behind any residue. Before jumping right into cleaning, you’ll always want to try cleaning a small, inconspicuous area first, just to be sure that the cleaner doesn’t remove any dyes that vinyl contains or have other unexpected results.
This is not common, and mainly only occurs if a seat has been re-dyed, but it is always worth checking first. I usually go with the inside side bolster that is butting up against the center console.
For lightly soiled seats, simply spray a light but fully covering mist onto the surface to be cleaned, as well as a mist into a microfiber towel. Work the product into the surface in circular motions to create a lather.
Move slowly and deliberately, making sure to overlap as you move the towel so as to not miss any sections. Once you’ve completed one section of cleaning, flip the towel over and remove the excess product to reveal a clean, matte looking surface.
If the surface is heavily soiled, you can use a leather cleaning brush in lieu of the microfiber towel to more aggressively agitate the cleaner, and then wipe clean with a microfiber after brushing.
Once you’ve completed the cleaning step, you can move on to protection. I recommend 303 Aerospace Protectant. 303 will help keep the vinyl looking new and natural while protecting from UV rays and other damage causing contaminants. To use the protectant, simply spray a mist into a microfiber and wipe it into the surface. This method is recommended vs. spraying it directly on to the surface, as you’ll obtain a more even application.
It’s worth noting that shiny is not good. We don’t want shiny, or the traditional “Armor All” look. Products that create shine and gloss are typically bad for your interior surfaces over the long term, as they can remove oils and other protective elements. Glossy was also never the way they were intended to look.
All BMW leathers, leatherette included, should naturally appear matte.
Dakota, Nevada and Vernasca Leather
These leather types are mainly artificial grain leathers with top coats for protection that are most commonly found in the 3 Series and X3. They are normally found as the first step up option from SensaTec or Leatherette.
They are great options that look good and are fairly resilient.
For these types of leather, I recommend simply cleaning them with no conditioning. Due to the top coat, conditioners are likely to not absorb into the leather and usually offer no benefit, and in some cases, can cause issues.
For regular cleaning, I recommend Chemical Guys Leather Cleaner. Though they may have many indistinguishable products, this is one they got right, it’s effective and works well.
The methodology for the cleaning step is the same as the cleaner step for the Leatherette and SensaTec above, with the only substitute being the product used.
After the cleaner step, you are done, and I typically don’t recommend any conditioner for these types of leather.
You are welcome to use a Leather Coating such as Gyeon Leather Coat to make future cleanings easier.
Merino & Nappa Leather
These two leathers are considered to be BMW’s most premium offerings most commonly found in M cars, the 5 and 7 Series, and their respective SUV counterparts. They have a beautiful fine grain with a lovely matte appearance that, when maintained, will always look top notch.
The best way to keep this leather in good condition is to keep up with cleaning early on. I personally leave a small, 4oz bottle of leather cleaner and a microfiber in my door card and wipe down the interior at least once a month.
Following that method, I’ve never seen any extreme wear or build up on my leather other than wear caused by getting in and out of the seat, which is inevitable.
For cleaning, I recommend the same process as above, but switch the product out for Swissvax Leather Cleaner.
For conditioning, I recommend Swissvax Milk, which will leave your seats looking like they did the day your car was delivered. Note before beginning that you should only apply Milk to surfaces you’ve just cleaned prior.
To apply Milk, dab a small amount of product onto a microfiber towel or applicator and cover all of the leather surfaces with a thin layer of product. In general, it will need to sit on the leather surface for several hours before wiping off, although this is dependent on the temperature and humidity. The hotter it is, the less you’ll need to wait.
Once the wait time is over, come back and wipe off any excess Milk to reveal beautiful, clean, and soft leather. You can use a small amount of Swissvax Leather Cleaner to help remove Milk if necessary, although, in many cases, Milk will absorb into the seat on its own and will not require much removal effort.
Remember, regardless of the type of leather your car has, the best thing you can do is keep up with cleaning from the beginning.
By keeping your leather surfaces clean, you’ll prevent the type of buildup that requires heavier cleaning to remove, and you’ll also prevent surfaces like your steering wheel from ever starting to look shiny or feel tacky.
It’s also important to always remember to test any cleaning methods in an inconspicuous area before starting the cleaning process, and we hold no liability for any damage you might incur by using cleaning chemicals on your interior.
In general, if you know the history of your car, and know that the seats have not been refinished or re-dyed, there is generally nothing to worry about. If you have any questions about cleaning or conditioning your leather, or have a question regarding a type of leather not mentioned above, please leave a comment and I’ll be sure to reply with any additional advice I can offer!
Also, let me know what other car cleaning topics you’d like to see covered in my series on BMW car care
- Before jumping right into cleaning, you’ll always want to try cleaning a small, inconspicuous area first, just to be sure that the cleaner doesn’t remove any dyes that vinyl contains or have other unexpected results. This is not common, and mainly only occurs if a seat has been re-dyed, but it is always worth checking first.
- Spray a light but fully covering mist onto the surface to be cleaned, as well as a mist into a microfiber towel.
- Work the product into the surface in circular motions to create a lather. Move slowly and deliberately, making sure to overlap as you move the towel so as to not miss any sections.
- Once you’ve completed one section of cleaning, flip the towel over and remove the excess product to reveal a clean, matte looking surface.
- For heavily soiled surfaces: Use a leather cleaning brush in lieu of the microfiber towel to more aggressively agitate the cleaner, and then wipe clean with a microfiber after brushing