How to clean sunscreen from leather seats and trims

Made for skin, not your leather

Sunscreen is obviously developed to go on your skin, with all sorts of interesting additives to help protect you from the powerful UV rays. These ingredients are not real car friendly though, which is annoying when you find them on all parts of the car after a day on the water or at the beach (especially if you have kids!). With most sunscreens being water resistant, many traditional interior car care products will not remove them, and if they are left on for a long time (like many months), it can become seemingly impossible to do it safely.

The reason for this is two of the main ingredients used in the formulas; namely polyethylene glycol and titanium dioxide. These work a treat at reflecting light and protecting us from UV, but when put on leather, it will leave that white residue and embed into the top coat of clear polyurethane and the longer it's left, the harder it'll be to remove. 

The biggest tip we can give you is to clean any sunscreen off quick. Living on the Sunshine Coast in Qld, Australia, we deal with sunscreen a lot! From this experience, here are our three best methods to safely clean these annoying white marks from your cars leather.

Stage 1: Leather cleaning

If the marks are very recent, (within one day) and have not yet dried white, you can use our Leather Love to remove the marks. It's a gentle cleaner that's handy to keep in the car for cleaning these types of incidents, before the sunscreen dries and becomes embedded into the leathers top coat. 

Simply spray the Leather Love into a clean microfibre applicator pad like our Square Bear. Gently rub over the marks and they should disappear. While the solution is still wet, use a dry and clean low pile microfibre cloth, like our Plush Daddy, or Dirty Deeds cloth and wipe the Leather Love off. the reason why you do it wet, is so you get the sunscreen away from the surface before it can dry and bond back to the surface. You might need to do this process a couple of times on more stubborn marks. 

If the sunscreen has been on the surface for more than a day or the marks are stubbornly still there, you'll need to step up the cleaning process a notch to our Stage 2...

Stage 2: The deeper clean

We have another product in our range for deeper cleaning of leather, the super versatile Orange Agent cleaner. This citrus based, uniquely pH neutral all purpose cleaner works a treat on more stubborn sunscreen removal. 

To apply, spray Orange Agent to lightly dampen one side of a Square Bear microfibre applicator pad. Work in small sections at a time, applying in a gentle circular motion to the affected leather surface.

Now this is the important bit; wipe off the Orange Agent with a folded, clean, low pile microfibre cloth like our Plush Daddy or Dirty Deeds while it's still wet. You remove it wet, so the embedded sunscreen and other grime you've cleaned off are wiped into the cloth with the cleaning solution, as if you let it dry, it will bond back onto the leather surface you're trying to clean. Be sure to inspect the cloth after each use and fold to a fresh, clean side when you begin seeing any dirt and grime building up in it. 

If you notice the microfibre applicator getting slightly dirty, (especially when cleaning more grime affected surfaces) you can hand wash it out in fresh water, then wring it out till it's dry/damp, apply Orange Agent and carry on cleaning. 

Continue doing this system of cleaning, till the leather is clean. 

This product leaves a very stark finish, so use our Leather Love cleaner/conditioner on the area straight afterwards to get the leather looking and feeling back to how it should be.

 

Stage 2.5

There will be times where the marks can be a little bit ingrained in the pourous holes of the leather, so we reccomend using a soft brush like our interior Plush Brush to give it a clean. Apply by spraying the Orange Agent directly into the brush and gently scrub the affected surface in a circular pattern for about 30 seconds, so the product can get right in to work on the sunscreen. Then wipe it off while still wet with the Plush Daddy cloth and finish the job with the Leather Love as per used above. 

Now, on the rare occasion that the sunscreen marks are still there, which can happen if they have been on there for a long period of time, we need to step above these safe chemical cleaning techniques and go towards a more mechanical type which is Stage 3. 

Stage 3: The last resort

So if the above couple of cleaning methods have not worked to your satisfaction, we have this final, last resort method, that you should only use if the above two methods have failed. 

The Magic Rub Bar is a sponge made from a German made resin foam called melamine. It had been used for years as a thermal insulator and sound proofing material till one bright spark found out how well it works as a cleaner. The bars' unique foam construction is what makes it work so well on many surfaces around the car, including leather! 

Through our intensive testing on many different types of these sponges, we have found that not all melamine bars are the same. The one we have now is not too aggressive, which is ideal for delicate cleaning of the modern top coated leather in your car.

Be aware that with this bar is a mechanical cleaner, meaning it will be removing a very small amount off the top of the leather, the bit that is embeded with the suncreen. It's important to always test the bar on an inconspicuous area first, to make sure it's suitable and compatible with that surface. 

You need to have a very gentle approach if you need to remove deeply embedded sunscreen from your leather. The Magic Rub Bar should only be used if all other cleaning methods have been exhausted (repeating this gain, so take note!). Only use it as a spot cleaner on the marks you want to remove, and don't rub it into the leather surface aggressively, a gentle motion will still work and lessen the risk of rubbing through its polyurethane top coat. Use the Leather Love as its lubricant, spraying a little bit both on the marked surface and the bar itself. Then gently rub the bar back and forth on the sunscreen marks 5 to 6 times. Inspect after wiping clean with a microfibre cloth. Repeat this safe and slow approach till the marks are gone.  

Then use Leather Love on the entire leather surface as per its directions to finish the job off right. 

Any more questions?

So your leather should all be clean once again now, and I'm sure after this that you'll become more militant in stopping anyone with sunscreen from touching the inside of the car again! But we understand incidents do happen (especially with the kids), so we strongly recommend having a bottle of Leather Love and a microfibre cloth in the boot of the car, so you can get to the marks the moment they are applied.  

You can find these products at our major resellers nationwide, find the one closest to you by clicking here.  

If you have any questions about this article or sunscreen and leather especially, please call our team on 1800 351 308 or email me - dan@bowdensown.com.au

Love your car,

Dan Bowden

Orange Agent - the many uses of this great cleaner
Orange Agent - the many uses of this great cleaner