Leather is a natural material, and that means it’s absorbent. That’s not inherently a bad thing — except when it comes to smells and bad odours. Leather absorbs them all, and once it does, it’s difficult to remove them.
Difficult, but not impossible. Here’s how to remove bad smells and odours from your leather, including smoke, pet odours, mildew or must, perfume and other fragrances and that notorious fish smell that often comes from PU or faux leather.
1. Understand what kind of leather you have
The type of leather you’re dealing with, as well as the type of leather item, is going to dictate your approach here. That’s because genuine leather and faux leather or PU leather often must be treated differently; genuine leather is more delicate than faux leather, and it’s also more absorbent. That means it’s more likely to collect odours over time. (It also lasts much, much longer than faux leather, which is a good thing!)
The item you’re trying to clean comes into play in one very important way: If you’re trying to get a smell out of a leather couch, it’s important to understand that beneath the leather is often foam cushions and other upholstery materials, which absorb odours just as easily as leather. This can be especially true with smoke and pet odours.
If you’ve cleaned your leather using the tips below and the smell persists, it’s very likely you’ll also need to treat the cushioning. Keep in mind this also comes into play on other leather items that also contain other materials — the lining of a leather jacket may need to be cleaned in addition to the leather, as will the lining of a leather bag.
2. Clean the leather with a leather cleaner
Again, pay attention to the type of leather you have and the manufacturer's care instructions. Some leather cleaners, like Pelle Leather Cleaner, are safe for genuine leather, faux leather, PU, bonded leather and even rubber and plastic. But others are designed only for genuine leather or only for faux leather.
To clean your leather to remove the odour and smell, apply the leather cleaner to a lint-free cloth, moistening the cloth completely. Then wipe down your leather, concentrating on soiled or especially fragrant areas. You should not need to scrub or rub harshly; in fact, that won’t help remove the odour and may damage the leather’s surface. Allow the leather to completely dry, then reassess the situation — it’s very likely that the odour has been completely eliminated. If some smell still lingers, you can attempt another cleaning.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t try to cover an odour with another odour, like a cleaner that carries a fragrance or scent. That will very often only make things worse.
3. Air it out
You can actually combine this method with cleaning, and it’s particularly effective on PU or faux leather, which can smell like fish due to the dye and packaging process. After you’ve thoroughly cleaned the leather to remove the odour, allow the leather to dry in a sunny spot with air circulation — outside on a nice day is a great option if you’re sure it’s not going to rain. The sun and the fresh air combined will help dry the leather quickly and eliminate any lingering odours.
4. Condition genuine leather every six months
Conditioning won’t necessarily prevent odours, except in the case of mold or mildew — conditioning the leather with a product that prevents mildew, like Pelle Leather Conditioner, will keep those odours from returning and prevent stains and discoloration.
But there’s another reason for conditioning as well — vinegar can be hard on your leather, and leather dries out naturally over time. Keeping the leather adequately conditioned twice a year will help it maintain flexibility and prevent cracking, scratches and fading.