How to PROPERLY Clean 5 Types of Steering Wheel Materials

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Nobody wants to deal with a sticky and grimy steering wheel. But while cleaning a steering wheel is an absolute must, using the wrong type of cleaner can actually damage certain steering wheel materials!

Whether your steering wheel is made from high end Alcantara, the latest vegan leather, or simply good ol’ vinyl, we’ve got the correct cleaning method below.

how to clean steering wheel

See Also: Why Does the Inside of a Windshield Get So Dirty?

How to Clean a Steering Wheel (By Material Type)

Before you can figure out how to clean your steering wheel, you need to know what it’s made from, as each material has slightly different cleaning requirements. With that in mind, we’ve addressed each of the most common steering wheel materials for you here.


leather steering wheel

Cleaning a leather steering wheel is all about finding the right leather cleaning product to use. If you try to use a general-purpose cleaner, it might not clean the leather effectively, or even worse, it can dry out and damage the leather.

With that in mind, we highly recommend using Lexol All Leather Cleaner. It’s a leather cleaner that not only cleans the leather but refreshes it so it doesn’t dry out. Once you finish cleaning the leather, we highly recommend immediately following up with a leather conditioner to help preserve the leather and keep it soft.

Cleaning Process

While leather might seem a little daunting to clean, once you have the right product, it’s a pretty straightforward process. Start by applying the cleaner to a microfiber cloth or a sponge.

Next, massage the cleaner into the leather and let it soak in to get in deep-rooted dirt and grime. From there, wipe away the cleaner with a damp microfiber cloth. This is where you should get most of the dirt buildup, and you might need to rinse out the cloth depending on how dirty the steering wheel is.

Finally, towel dry the steering wheel to finish cleaning it. Once you towel dry the steering wheel, we highly recommend applying a leather conditioner to help keep the steering wheel clean and in tip-top shape.

Faux or Vegan Leather

vegan leather steering wheel

Faux leather and vegan leather steering wheels may resemble the look of real leather, but require a different approach when cleaning. The good news is, there are leather cleaners well-suited for synthetic materials too.

We recommend Chemical Guys Leather Cleaner for faux leather steering wheels. Even though the wheel isn’t genuine leather, this cleaner is formulated to lift away grime and oil from synthetic leatherettes also. It quickly restores the smooth, factory-fresh feel that dirt, oil and time tend to erode.

Cleaning Process

Cleaning faux leather is about as easy as it gets with the right cleaner. Start by applying the cleaner to a microfiber cloth or sponge and cleaning the steering wheel with it. Let it soak in to remove all the grime, then wipe it down with a wet cloth.

Just towel dry it to finish up, and since it’s faux leather you don’t need to worry about conditioning it like you should with real leather!

Natural Wood

wood steering wheel

Wood steering wheels aren’t as common as they used to be in luxury vehicles, but if you do have a wood steering wheel, they require a unique cleaning process. Wood tends to absorb liquids, so getting a cleaner specifically formulated to clean wood like Murphy Oil is extremely important.

You probably wouldn’t associate Murphy Oil with cars but ask those involved in the classic car show scene and you’ll be surprised just how many of them use Murphy’s on various wood components.

It lifts dirt from deep within the wood pores and special emollients then nourish the wood texture after cleaning. This preserves the wheel’s subtle grain patterns and intricate details.

Cleaning Process

Once you have the right product, cleaning a wood steering wheel is pretty easy. Apply a little of the cleaning oil directly to the steering wheel, then use a damp microfiber cloth to clean the steering wheel.

Once the oil has had a chance to settle into the steering wheel a bit use a damp cloth to wipe as much of it off as possible before drying it all with a dry towel. As long as you have a sealed wooden steering wheel this is all you need to do, otherwise we recommend sealing the steering wheel to protect it.


alcantara steering wheel

Alcantara has a unique surface, so it’s no surprise that it has unique cleaning requirements. If you try to use a regular cleaning product, you won’t get far, and you could end up damaging the steering wheel. A product like German-made Sonax Upholstery and Alcantara Cleaner is made for this exact purpose.

The cleaner foams up a bit and does a phenomenal job cleaning up dirty and grimy Alcantara steering wheels.  

Cleaning Process

Because Alcantara is a unique surface, the cleaning process is a little bit different too. Start by vacuuming up loose dirt and debris from the area around the steering wheel.

Next, shake the can of your Alcantara cleaner well before trying to use it. Then, spray the dirty area and rub it with a damp sponge to work out as much dirt and debris as possible.

Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes before repeating the process. Vacuum up the remaining cleaner and debris before deciding if you need additional applications.

Plastic, Vinyl, or Synthetic Resin

plastic steering wheel

Plastic, vinyl, or synthetic resin steering wheels are the easiest to clean, but you still don’t want to use the wrong stuff. A cleaner like rubbing alcohol might get the steering wheel clean, but it can also damage the steering wheel in the process.

To clean and protect your steering wheel, we recommend using Chemical Guys Total Interior Cleaner and Protectant, as it does a phenomenal job cleaning and preserving your steering wheel (and it smells fantastic).

Cleaning Process

This is about as easy as it gets. Start by spraying your cleaner onto a microfiber cloth or cleaning brush and working it into the steering wheel. Use a wet cloth to remove excess cleaner before drying things off with a towel.

If you’re using a cleaner that also protects that’s all you need to do, otherwise we recommend applying a protectant spray to keep the material from fading or cracking.

The Importance of Cleaning a Steering Wheel

womans hands on steering wheel

Accumulating residue on your steering wheel can impact more than just appearances. That grimy build-up actually poses safety, hygiene and preservation issues the longer it lingers.

Many drivers grab meals or commute with dirty hands that imprint onto the wheel over days and weeks of driving. These layers of dirt, food, oils and microbes make the wheel a hotbed for spreading germs and deteriorating materials when left unchecked.

Have ants in your car? Your steering wheel may actually be attracting them even if your seats and carpet are spotless.

Giving your steering wheel’s surface an occasional cleaning helps lift away these contaminants before they cause bigger problems. Thorough cleaning removes bacteria from your hands that might have nested in the wheel’s cracks and seams over time.

It lifts sticky residues that can make controlling the wheel slippery while driving. And it revives materials like leather and wood from pH-altering oils and dirt buildup that erode quality over years.

Read Also: 9 Causes of a Noisy Steering Wheel When Turning

Maintaining a Clean Wheel

Once you get your steering wheel clean, it’s much easier to keep it that way. To help preserve your steering wheel and minimize germ and bacterial buildup, we recommend cleaning or simply wiping down your steering wheel once a week, but a good once a month cleaning is often enough.

Adam Mann

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