Cleaning Leather Steering Wheel (Dirty, Sticky, Or Oily)

Image Credit: Car Leasing Made Simple via Flickr

Image Credit: Car Leasing Made Simple via Flickr

Cleaning Leather Steering Wheel (Dirty, Sticky, Or Oily)


When it comes to cleaning leather on a steering wheel or anywhere else on your car or truck interior you should know a dirty little secret. Leather in cars and trucks these days is coated with a protective layer. This layer will protect the leather from wear and make it easier to clean. So, my point is, you actually never come into contact with the actual leather. What you’re touching is a vinyl-like coating applied to the leather. You don’t really need to treat your leather differently than you would vinyl. I should note that there are likely some higher-end vehicles that may come with uncoated leather but they are quite rare. Coated leather is actually a much smarter choice.

So why are there so many leather cleaning and conditioning kits on the market? Well, most people don’t realize leather is coated and honestly they do still work. They’re just not really cleaning leather, but the protective coating. Although you should check out our article about cleaning leather seats with a Magic Eraser.

Leather cleaning kits will help restore your steering wheel back to its original glory and the leather conditioner will bring back the leather scent to your interior even if it can’t penetrate the coating to actually condition the leather.

Cleaning Leather Steering Wheel

  1. Spray Leather Cleaner Onto A Proper Leather Cleaning Brush
  2. Scrub The Steering Wheel Without Using Excessive Force
  3. Wipe Away The Excess Leather Cleaner
  4. Apply Leather Conditioner Or UV Protectant

How To Clean A Sticky Leather Steering Wheel

Sometimes a steering wheel can get extremely dirty and get a sticky feeling. If this is your situation, a simple all-purpose cleaner or some soap and water and a brush should do the trick.

If you’re dealing with an almost glue-like sticky steering wheel, it either isn’t leather and is UV-damaged vinyl, or it’s a coated leather with a UV-damaged coating. In this second situation, the plastics in the vinyl or coating are breaking down due to ultraviolet rays. Oils are seeping out of the plastics and creating a sticky surface.

You’ll need to clean away the glue-like residue on the surface and then follow that up with a protective coating to help prevent the damage from continuing.

What you’ll need:

  • Degreaser
  • Stiff Bristle Brush or Scotch Brite Pad
  • Disposable Shop Towels
  • Plastic Trim Restorer or Interior UV Protectant

Step 1: Spray Your Cleaner Onto Your Brush

To begin, make sure you have your cleaning product and something to wipe the steering wheel with on hand. Depending on the steering wheel condition you’ll want to decide whether a brush or Scotch Brite pad is the best choice.

My preferred cleaning brushes are the OXO Good Grips Deep Clean Brush set. They’re great for getting into seam edges and gaps. Another great tool for removing the sticky coating is a Scotch-Brite pad. Apply the product to the your brush or scrub pad rather than the steering wheel. It will prevent overspray and limit degreaser running down into crevices around the steering wheel. You don’t want it getting into the electronics or other sensitive areas.

Step 2: Scrub The Steering Wheel

Be sure to work on one area at a time to ensure a clean and uniform finish. Scrubbing the wheel at random can result in a spotty and non-uniform appearance. Cleaning the wheel in the same manner as polishing a car is recommended. You should work in small areas. Once one spot is thoroughly cleaned only then should you move on to the next section.

Be careful not to brush or scrub too hard. If you wear away the surface too much, the steering wheel may get discolored and damaged. You are just trying to remove the sticky surface coating

Step 3: Wipe Away Residue

Wipe away any residual cleaner after you’re happy with the area you’ve been cleaning. It’s best to use a disposable shop towel. You don’t want to ruin something nicer like a microfiber detailing towel. Be sure to wipe as you go. If you don’t, the cleaner and residue may dry and leave you with difficult to remove gunk.

Step 4: Apply Dressings Or Protectants

Once all of the sticky surface coating has been removed, apply a quality UV protectant. 

A quality UV protectant we highly recommend is Aerospace 303 Protectant. While it’s an excellent product, you’ll need to reapply it often since the steering wheel is obviously heavily used and the protectant will get worn away quickly.

For a more long-lasting solution, use a trim restorer if the surface is vinyl or plastic. Plastic trim restorers are typically used to restore sun-damaged exterior plastic trim but they can also restore and protect interior plastics as well. They should also last significantly longer on the interior than the exterior.

Our favorite trim restorer is Cerakote Trim Coat. Not only does it last longer than the competition, it looks better than most as well.

How To Make Your Shiny Leather Steering Wheel Look New Again

The Dish Soap & Magic Eraser Method

Dish soap may be used to remove any filth, oil, stain, or shine from your leather’s surface. It is both safe and straightforward to use. The things needed to clean your leather steering wheel successfully include:

  • Dish soap
  • Microfiber towel
  • Warm water
  • Magic Eraser

Here’s how you can safely remove the sheen from your leather steering wheel using soap and a magic eraser:

  1. In a basin with lukewarm water, add a few drops of dish soap and work up a nice soapy lather.
  2. Soak up a little of the suds with your microfiber cloth and wring it out. To avoid water getting into the electrics in the steering wheel, be sure the the microfiber is rung out enough that water won’t run from it when cleaning the steering wheel.
  3. Now use your microfiber towel to scrub the leather surface, being sure to use some muscle in the process.
  4. Sometimes simply giving the leather a good cleaning will remove the shine, but if that isn’t the case, gently use a magic eraser to buff the surface and remove the patina.

Reasons Why A Leather Steering Wheel Becomes Shiny

Patina – Leather Becomes Shiny With Age

Patina occurs to your steering wheel with use over time. Your hands and the oils and dirt that come off of them essentially polish the leather surface and create the shiny appearance. Sometimes just the oils and dirt buildup can cause the shine. More often than not though the shine isn’t just a surface coating of oily dirt, but an actual wearing of the leather surface.

Regular cleaning is the best defense against oil and dirt buildup. Eventually regular use will cause patina to occur but a magic eraser can buff the patina away. Just don’t be too aggressive. You don’t want to wear away the protective coating on top of the leather. You’re just trying to lightly scuff the surface.


Cars are frequently scorched by the sun, and the region surrounding the dashboard — clearly including the steering wheel – takes the brunt of the abuse. When the sun hits the leather steering wheel, UV radiation breaks down the leather and any protective coating that is applied to the leather’s surface. This can help accelerate the occurrence of patina.

Using a sun shield in your windshield when parked outside in direct sunlight will obviously make a big difference. You can also consider tinting your windows, even your windshield. While I wouldn’t recommend any sort of dark tint on your windshield, there are some UV-blocking tints that are clear that will block the UV-rays and also help keep the interior of your car or truck cooler when parked in direct sunlight.

How to Clean a White Leather Steering Wheel

If you have white leather, you must protect it using a leather protector. It will help keep the leather clean and prevent dirt from building up by preventing the body oils from your hands from breaking down the polish. If you clean your white leather regularly, you will wipe away any dirt or body oils accumulate on the surface.

The method for how to clean white leather vs any other leather is the same. Just follow the same steps we’ve outlined above. The only difference between maintaining white leather and any other color is that you’ll need to clean white leather more often to keep it looking pristine.

This 5-minute routine will help you keep your white leather steering wheel in good shape. It’ll keep the build up of yellowing grime off your white leather and help prevent the premature wear on the steering wheel leather.

Can A Worn Leather Steering Wheel Be Restored?

When your car steering leather is worn out, even thoroughly cleaning it and using a leather conditioner does not make much of an impact. However, there are methods to cure worn leather on your vehicle, whether you just acquired a used car with a peeling steering wheel or you’ve haven’t cleaned and maintained your steering wheel for years.

Refurbishing A Leather Steering Wheel Yourself

Here’s what you’ll need to properly restore a peeling leather steering wheel:

  • large cloth or a tarp (to protect the area around your dash)
  • Painter’s Tape
  • Alcohol Wipes
  • Sandpaper with a grit of 400
  • Disposable rags
  • Leather Filler
  • Leather Dye
  • Sponge
  • Gloves
  • Step 1: Covering Your Car’s Interior

It can be messy when dealing when cleaning away the peeling bits of leather. Also, you don’t want to get any of the leather filler anywhere it shouldn’t be. Tacking a plastic tarp, sheet, or some other protective barrier around your dashboard area is a smart move that will protect your dash and make cleanup easier.

  • Step 2: Cleaning The Steering Wheel Thoroughly

The steering wheel of an automobile is undoubtedly the filthiest component in the vehicle’s cab. Over time, a steering wheel will accumulate oils, grime, and any other debris on your hands. Use a rubbing alcohol-based wipe to clean the steering wheel’s whole surface, not just the section you’ll be repairing. Repeat the cleaning technique until the impurities on the wheel are removed.

  • Step 3: Covering The Other Parts of Your Steering Wheel With Masking Tape

You’ll want to cover the non-leather elements of the steering wheel, such as any plastic bits, buttons, or essential places, now that you’ve covered the other components of the car. The cleaning and coloring chemicals you’ll be utilizing have the potential to discolor and stain these pieces.

  • Step 4: Sanding the Leather

Next, apply a 400-grit sandpaper sheet to the steering wheel and remove the flakes with some elbow grease. Exfoliating the leather and eliminating leather flakes leaves microscopic scratches that will help the leather filler attach.

  • Step 5: Filling the Gaps With Fillers

Take the leather filler and apply it to the uneven sections of the wheel, pushing down with your hands to fully pack the filler in and create a smooth surface.

  • Step 6:  Evening it Out

Now, using the 400 grit sandpaper, sand down the wheel again, paying particular attention to the places where you used leather filler. This will help to pack down the filler and give you a nice smooth finish.

  • Step 7: Wiping The Wheel Clean

Remove any flaking leather, sandpaper, or filler residue that has accumulated on the wheel. Any flakes or grains left behind might cause the next step to be thrown off, so be meticulous.

Can You Use Clorox Wipes on a Leather Steering Wheel?

Clorox wipes are disinfecting wipes ideal for removing allergens, cleaning, and disinfecting surfaces while leaving a fantastic scent. If you have a car with a leather interior, including the steering wheel and seats, it’s best not to clean them with a Clorox wipe. A Clorox wipe can be a bit more aggressive of a cleaner than a proper leather cleaner. Leather cleaner is a safer choice. If you do use a Clorox wipe you should go behind it with a leather cleaner and leather conditioner.

Can You Use Alcohol to Clean Your Leather Steering Wheel?

Rubbing alcohol can be used but it shouldn’t be your first choice. Only use rubbing alcohol if you need something more aggressive to deal with a difficult to clean area.

Once you’ve finished cleaning the leather with alcohol I recommend you go back over it with a proper leather cleaner and leather conditioner.

Tips For Cleaning And Maintaining Leather Steering Wheels

Because steering wheels may become breeding grounds for various germs and bacteria, it’s wise to clean and detail them regularly. We’ve included some suggestions below for detailers who want to give their steering wheels a thorough cleaning:

  1. For all regular surfaces, use an interior cleaner and a microfiber towel
  2. To clean off the ground in and tough dirt, use a leather cleaning brush for tough grime
  3. Use a steam cleaner on leather is an amazing trick for cleaning difficult leather as well as for sterilizing your car’s surfaces.
  4. Always finish by adding a good protectant like Aerospace 303 using a fresh microfiber towel to protect from UV damage.

Wrapping Up!

If you found this how-to-guide helpful, you may want to check out some of our other leather care articles. We’ve gone into detail on the following topics:

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