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When it comes to furnishing your home, it's difficult to find anything more luxurious and elegant than fine leather. With that elegance comes the challenge of how to clean it and maintain it so it gets even better with age.

If your leather furniture is stained or looking a little on the tired side, follow these suggestions to perk it up.

TYPE OF LEATHER

First, determine the type of leather you're working with. You want to know if it is aniline or top-coated. Typically, this information will be found on the tags or the brochure you were given when you acquired the item.

ANILINE LEATHER

This type of leather is dyed exclusively with soluble dyes. The dye colors the leather without producing a topcoat or sealant. Aniline leather is a natural leather that has a very soft finish, is very absorbent and stains easily. Do everything you can to keep it free of stains and spills.

TOP-COATED LEATHER

This is the most commonly used finishing technique for leather used to upholster furniture and automobile seats. The finish consists of an opaque base coat followed by a protective topcoat. Since the natural color of the leather is covered completely, the leather can be identified by its uniform color.

Most leather furniture these days has top-coat protected leather, which is usually safe to clean as follows:

VACUUM

Remove all the loose dirt, dust and debris from the item to be cleaned. A vacuum with the soft brush attachment is the best option, as it will get into the seams and crevices. Be gentle, though. Leather is delicate, and you don't want to scratch it as you are vacuuming.

TREAT STAINS

Before you do a general cleaning, you want to treat, and hopefully remove, any stains.

For food, blood or other dark stains -- even those whose origin you're not sure of -- make a paste of 1 part cream of tartar and 1 part lemon juice. Rub this paste on the stain, and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Remove the paste with a damp rag and moisturizing soap (as described below). Rinse. Dry. And buff the leather dry with a soft cloth.

CLEAN

Mix a few drops of a mild liquid facial cleanser or body wash, such as Dove Body Wash, Neutrogena Facial Cleanser or any shampoo that does not contain sodium laurel sulfate (a harsh ingredient that could dry out the leather), with 1 quart of distilled water until suds form (chlorine and other contaminants in regular tap water can damage the surface).

TEST

Using a soft white cloth, test this cleaner in an inconspicuous place by scrubbing a small area. Observe how the leather responds.

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DIVE IN

Assuming the test gives a good result, dip the soft, clean white cloth into the soapy water, and wring it out thoroughly. Working on a small section at a time, apply it to the surface of the furniture with the damp rag.

RINSE

Dip another soft, clean white rag into clean distilled water. Wring it out thoroughly. Then wipe away the soap residue.

DRY

Immediately dry the area using yet another soft, clean white rag.

BUFF

With a fourth soft, clean white cloth, buff well to restore the luster.

CONDITION

Treat the surface with a nontoxic high-quality leather protector/conditioner, such as the Leather Rescue Conditioner, carefully following the label instructions. Trust me, this stuff is awesome. Not only does it rescue and restore the appearance of leather; it covers scratches, too!

MAINTAIN

Never use harsh cleaners or any kind of oil, furniture polish, baby wipes, household cleaners or products containing wax or silicone on your leather furniture. These could damage and/or leave the surface feeling sticky.

POSITION PROPERLY

To keep your fine leather furniture from fading, drying out or cracking, avoid placing it in direct sunlight. Keep it at least 2 feet from anything that produces heat like heating vents, fireplaces, radiators and air conditioning sources.

ALWAYS TEST FIRST

Be sure to always test any treatment in an inconspicuous area, especially with aniline leather.

Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary a Question." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of Debt-Proof Living, a personal finance member website and the author of the book Debt-Proof Living, Revell 2014. To find out more about Mary visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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