Best steering wheel cleaner: Leather, synthetic leather, & plastic

When was the last time you cleaned your steering wheel? 

Maybe you got around to getting the smoke smell out of your car and repaired the dent on the side of it. It may now look better on the inside and no longer have a bad smell

steering wheel

However, did you pay attention to the one thing you always touch while driving? 

You probably already know that a public toilet is extremely filthy. It’s full of bacteria in a way that’s not much different from a bathroom drain. There are surfaces we touch all the time without realizing that they get contaminated over time. Cabinet pulls are another example of it. 

Steering wheels are an important part of your car and do an important task while driving, but it’s often overlooked. 

It’s probably the dirtiest place in your car because you don’t disinfect your hands before touching it. You may even like eating your food while driving, and there are now small pieces of food regularly coming in contact with it. 

Dirt, grease, and bacteria are just examples of things that will land on it from repeated touching. These materials build up and bacteria will multiply if given a chance. 

It could be how you’re bringing a virus into the family. Besides the appearance, there’s the obvious health concern you should consider. You want to keep your family healthy, making sure you’re using the best steering wheel cleaners for the purpose. 

Maybe your car is even being used by more than one person. While one person is good at disinfecting their hands, the others aren’t. 

Over time, it starts looking less good. Its appearance fades and becomes the perfect place for germs to multiply. 

A shine

While we often see shiny things as good, it’s not good for a steering wheel. Unlike diamonds, it’s a telltale sign that it’s dirty. Leather ones may otherwise be hard to tell when they need a good cleaning. 

It can start feeling greasy or sticky. It’s a good practice to clean it at least once per week to keep everyone safe. 

Put it on the list of things you should be cleaning, and always get to the top where you’re more likely to put your hands. 

No “one size fits all.”

steering wheel

Steering wheels aren’t an object that you can just put on any cleaner. What may work for one would be damaging to another. In other words, there’s no “one size fits all” here. 

For that reason, it’s important to find out what your steering wheel is made of. Various materials are used, so you and your spouse may not even be able to use the same cleaner.

What are steering wheels made of?

A quick Google search should help you find out what your steering wheel is made of. You’re probably not putting diamonds on yours, but it’s still important to find out its material. 

Yes, some have diamonds on them.

The owner’s manual is the second easiest way to determine your material. It should be indicated in there. 

Real leather and polyurethane will look very similar and feel very similar. However, their cleaning methods are different. Be careful to ensure you’re not causing any damage when you want to disinfect and help your family. 

You wouldn’t treat a kitchen floor or a pipe the same if they were made of different materials.

Each material will have different cleaners that will help it, and some will leave it prone to being damaged. For that reason, let’s dive into the common materials they’re made of and how to get them less greasy. 

Leather

Leather steering wheel

Leather steering wheels are popular in higher-end cars, but they require you to be careful with cleaners. There’s a luxurious feel from the material, and that’s why they’re the norm in luxurious cars.

You feel good when you’re holding on to one of them, and they’ve got a good grip on them. The driving experience is very comfortable. 

On the other hand, you’ve got to be careful when cleaning them, so the leather doesn’t crack. It’s a trade-off many people are willing to do, but you have to be aware of it.

The integrity of the leather is at stake and can be ruined if you’re not gentle in the process. Too much pressure will cause havoc, and a strong cleaning agent will be a disaster. 

You don’t want to remove the natural oils in the material, which can happen with highly-concentrated APC. It’s despite being diluted. Interior cleaners can have the same effect. 

The Best Steering Wheel Cleaner For Leather

The Chemical Guys have made a sprayable solution specifically targeting leather. What we love is how they say you should treat the surface like you would treat your skin and hair.

I know that I wouldn’t put just anything on my skin. 

What’s great is that it doubles as a conditioner. Despite being for auto care in this example, it can be used inside if you have furniture or other surfaces made out of leather. Get your favorite leather shoes looking good again!

While the cleaning is important, the conditioning is too. Other manufacturers will have the two functions spread into two different products. 

Chemical Guys

NameSprayable Leather Cleaner and Conditioner
Country of Origin‎USA
NameChemical Guys
Product Dimensions‎2.8 x 2.8 x 9.29 inches
Recommended useEvery 2 months
Size16 fl oz

Pros

  • The smell is very refreshing.
  • It’s even better than expected.
  • Immediate results when you use it.
  • It’s superior to other leather cleaners we tried.

Cons

  • The finish is a bit slick.
  • Make sure not to use too much.
  • The smell will stay for some time, which is bad if you aren’t a fan.
Chemical Guys
4,860 Reviews
Chemical Guys
It's sprayable.

A detailing brush

A detailing brush is a great tool that can be used to spread the material around. A microfiber cloth will also work as long as it’s applied gently. The advantage of a brush is that it can get into the nooks and crannies in a way the alternatives have a hard time doing. 

The stitches on the leather will no longer be an issue!

Time needed: 5 minutes.

How to clean a leather steering wheel

  1. Use the Chemical Guys product on the detailing brush.

    Gently rub the product onto the surface. Make sure that you cover the whole steering wheel. You will want to get into the seems as well. However, there’s no need to apply force. 

    Put trust in the brush. It will do what it’s meant to do. There’s no need for excessive pressure here. 

  2. Let the solution sit for 5 minutes. 

    Different solutions may have different instructions, but 5 minutes is generally a good amount of time to let it sit. 

  3. Use a clean microfiber towel to remove any excess solution.

    Don’t use a dirty microfiber towel that could contaminate the leather. Make sure you’re taking a fresh one and remove any product left on the surface. 

    The new surface should be matte rather than shiny, indicating that the grease has left the building. Okay, that was a bad pun. You can repeat the process if you still think the steering wheel looks shiny. 

  4. Feel the wheel.

    Before you take the car for a drive, you want to make sure it’s not slippery. You don’t want an accident to happen when you are just trying to make your car a more hygienic place. 

    Make sure there’s a good grip before you go anywhere. If not, start again from step 1. 

Faux Leather

Synthetic or faux leather is another popular material for steering wheels. The base is typically polyester, and a finish is applied on top. It could be polyurethane or chloride.

One reason this is used is that it’s cheaper. You don’t have to grow a cow to get the leather as it’s a man-made material. It’s not quite as sensitive as real leather is, but you shouldn’t be rough on it either. 

How to clean faux leather steering wheels

You should still be careful to avoid the harsher chemical. If you have a cleaner already, make sure it says it’s compatible with the material. The product we recommended for faux leather is a CAR GUYS Super Cleaner product.

CAR GUYS Super Cleaner 

NameSuper Cleaner
BrandCAR GUYS
Package Dimensions‎8.78 x 7.17 x 2.95 inches
Size18 Oz Kit
Works onMultiple materials & stains

Pros

  • It can often get old stains out.
  • It worked much better than anticipated.
  • It doesn’t leave a greasy finish.

Cons

  • It was not cheap.
  • We wish it came with a better piece of cloth.
  • We prefer the smell of the product included above.
CAR GUYS Super Cleaner 
20,831 Reviews
CAR GUYS Super Cleaner 
It also comes in a spray.

The brush you need should be soft to medium firmness. You don’t want a rough brush either. While you’re taking care of your care, make sure no warning lights are coming on in the dashboard either. If you see a thing like an EPC light, take it to a mechanic. 

PROPER DETAILING CO.

Here are the brushes we’d always use for detailing your car.

NameDetailing Brush Set
BrandPROPER DETAILING CO.
Item Weight‎5 ounces
Number of brushes3
Package Dimensions‎10.55 x 5.59 x 1.3 inches

Pros

  • Very reasonable price
  • The outcome they’ll leave is stunning.
  • They’re durable.
  • They’re easy to use.

Cons

  • Other, more expensive sets have more brushes.
  • They’re synthetic brushes, whereas some others are boar.
  • While durable, they’ll eventually flare a bit.
Sale
PROPER DETAILING CO.
1,767 Reviews
PROPER DETAILING CO.
Here are the brushes we recommend.

Step 1

The first step is to apply the solution to the brush and put it on the steering wheel. You don’t have to be quite as gentle as if you were dealing with real leather. However, it doesn’t mean you need to be brutal, either. 

Step 2

Use a fresh microfiber towel after the solution has sat for a couple of minutes. Check to make sure there are no greasy spots left. The surface should have regained a more matte appearance. 

If it still feels dirty, a bit of water could help before drying it off again. Again, ensure it has a good grip before taking your car for a spin. 

Plastic

Plastic is a common type of material used in entry-level cars. It can also be found in older ones. They have less grip than some of the more modern materials, but they were also cheap to install. 

Being less grippy arguably makes them less safe as well. 

The good news is they’re easy to clean. We went through some rather sensitive materials, but plastic isn’t. It makes it easier when it comes to detailing. 

Sweat and grease won’t stick to it quite the same way either.

How to Clean A Plastic Steering Wheel Continue

Since it’s less sensitive, you don’t need a fancy cleaner to get the job done. A simple approach is often everything you need, and an all-purpose cleaner is good for the job. It’s your best ammo for the job.

Make sure you dilute it down and follow the instructions of the manufacturer. 

Put some of the liquid in a spray bottle. A stronger liquid will also handle a steering wheel that has accumulated dirt and grease over a longer period. 

An all-purpose cleaner is a better bet than soapy water. You still want to be able to remove all the buildup that may exist.

all-purpose cleaner

Get a couple of microfiber cloths you will use to apply it and remove the excess afterward.

Step 1

Make sure a good amount of the liquid goes on the microfiber cloth from the spray bottle. It’s easier to do this than spray it straight onto the steering wheel (and dashboard behind it). The process should be easy, so we may as well go about it the easiest way possible. 

Step 2

Go around the steering wheel with the microfiber cloth. Reapply some of the liquid if you feel it’s getting too dry. The entire circumference of the wheel should get the all-purpose cleaner on it. Plastic is a sturdy material, so there’s no reason to be delicate. 

You would have to use strong chemicals to damage it, and you wouldn’t want those on your hands either.

Be careful going over buttons as you don’t want them getting damaged. Try to avoid honking the horn in the process. Or honk the horn if you want to scare the neighbors. 

Step 3

The final step is to wipe everything off. Plastic is a relatively slippery surface, and applying conditioners would potentially make it even more slippery. When the steering wheel has dried, you’re good to go. 

Synthetic resins

These look like plastic, so we’re not surprised if you can’t tell them apart. What is good about synthetic resins is also that they’re not very sensitive. 

It’s easier to clean than sensitive materials, and its properties resemble that of plastic. Read the previous section and follow those instructions for this type of material. An all-purpose cleaner is sufficient in that case.

Natural wood

wood steering wheel

While wood is beautiful, it also has some challenges to it. The chances are this is probably not what you have in your car anyway. 

It’s mostly installed in high-end, vintage models. They’re a lot less common than the other types of materials we have gone over for that reason. 

Mahogany, walnut, and maple are just some of the materials you can find. They may have finishes applied to them to give them the desired look.

How to Clean a Wooden Steering Wheel

You don’t want the material to crack, which it is prone to. It’s why you’ll need to only apply very little liquid to it. Moisture is the bane of any wood and will make it expand. 

You should be careful not to soak this, or you may soon be heading to the mechanic to have it repaired. A bit of water on a microfiber cloth is a good start. You can also use a soft interior detailer that’s intended for wood. 

Wood is also prone to scratching, so be sure you’re not accidentally rubbing your wedding ring against it aggressively.

Polish may seem tempting, but it also has the chance of making the surface slippery. If anything, try it out on the bottom of the steering wheel to see how it feels. If it’s slippery, avoid doing it on top. 

Covers

Some people put covers on their steering wheels. Like men’s shirts, they can be made of different materials. It’s impossible to say something universal for that reason. 

The type of material affects the sort of cleaning you can do. However, many options are machine-washable. However, it’s just not the case for leather. It doesn’t matter if it’s synthetic or not.

FAQ

side of a car
Should you clean your steering wheel?

Yes, it would be good to do it once a week. It makes sure you’re not spreading germs around all over the place. It’s also a good idea not to be eating in the car. It’s prone to attracting cockroaches as well. Dirty steering wheel

Can you use Clorox wipes on the leather steering wheel?

Chlorox wipes cannot be used on leather steering wheels because they’re more aggressive. On this surface, you will only want things that are safe for the material. 

Can you wash the steering wheel covers?

You can wash a lot of them. However, it’s not a good idea if they’re made of leather. Make sure to read what the manufacturer has written regarding washing the cover.  

How do you disinfect leather steering wheels?

To disinfect a leather steering wheel, you will want to use a product like the one from Chemical Guys that we discussed earlier in the article. Harsh products will leave the leather cracking wide open. 

How do you clean a dirty, sticky steering wheel?

It depends on the material it is made of. A leather one will require utmost care, whereas a plastic one is pretty easy to clean.