Why Sunscreen Is Bad For Leather Plus How To Safely Clean It

Is sunscreen bad for leather

We all love how our favorite sunscreen brands protect our skin when we are in the scorching sun at the beach, park, or going for a run. So getting sunscreen onto our leather car seats, sofas, bags, bracelets, etc., is a common thing that would happen occasionally. But is sunscreen bad for leather?

Sunscreen is made for our skin but not for leather. So you cannot apply sunscreen on your leather items to protect them from the sun. In addition, any amount of sunscreen that gets on leather will discolor the leather by leaving behind a white residue that can be very hard to get rid of the longer it stays. 

To learn about the effects of sunscreen on leather and how to effectively and safely deal with it, keep reading! 

How Does Sunscreen Get On Leather Items 

First, let’s take a look at how this thing actually gets onto our leather items. There’s one common way sunscreen gets on our leather items: hand and body transfer.

While this may be very obvious, I, for one, did not initially know the whitish stains on my car seats were from the sunscreen my wife used whenever we were out with our son on the beach. 

This phenomenon was a lot worse in my wife’s car because she was the one who always volunteered to take our son together with her nieces to the beach and parks on most weekends.

She always had sunscreen stains around her leather steering wheels, controls, and seats. A quick look at the internet revealed that this is a common occurrence for most people.

While body and hand transfer may be the leading cause of sunscreen on leather, there are other ways. These include:

  • Sitting on a towel or clothing with sunscreen, which then rubs off on the leather.
  • Placing your bag or purse on the ground where there could be sunscreen residue.
  • Leaning your leather sofa or chair on a wall with sunscreen smudges.

Details On Why Sunscreen Is Bad For Leather

1. Sunscreen Stains are Easily Recognizable

Whitish shiny, and greasy stains can never go unnoticed. But, unfortunately, it’s the type of stain your sunscreen will leave on your leather items. 

Sunscreen or sunblock will not do any good to your leather car seats, furniture, apparel, or accessories! Sunscreens and sunblocks are easily recognizable and show forth as a whitish greasy layer that forms on the surface of your leather item.

2. Sunscreen Stains Are Hard To Remove

The qualities we often look out for in a good sunscreen whenever we are out shopping for them is their ability to be waterproof or water-resistant so that we do have to reapply them over and over again.

These said qualities will mean that when your sunscreen gets on other materials, and in this case, leather, it will be super hard to remove. 

The two main ingredients used in a sunscreen formula are titanium dioxide and polyethylene glycol and what these two substances do is reflect light and protect our skin from the intense UV rays of the sun. 

But when it gets onto leather, it will leave a big white stain residue that will be embedded into the topcoat layer of the leather and the longer it stays there, the harder it will be to get out.

Another reason sunscreen is hard to remove from leather is because most sunscreens are chemical resistant and are hard to break down, especially with traditional cleaners. But no need to panic as there are cleaners specially made for sunscreen stains and other types of leather stains.

3. Sunscreen Causes Leather To Become Sticky

We all enjoy the nice luxurious feel of leather but not so much when the leather becomes sticky from sunscreen residue.

This usually happens when you have a lotion-based sunscreen or one that has a high oil content and it rubs off on your clothing which then gets onto your leather. 

When this happens, it will cause the leather to become sticky to the touch and also leave an unpleasant smell.

So if you have ever had sunscreen explode in your leather bag or have had your leather suffer a sunscreen mishap, then chances are you’re experiencing some sticky gummy residue on the surface of your leather. 

4. Sunscreen Can Dry Out Your Leather Items

Another reason sunscreen is bad for your leather items is that it can cause them to dry out.

This is because some of the chemicals in sunscreen can actually break down the natural oils in leather which then causes the leather to become dry, cracked, and brittle. 

So if you are someone who loves to take your leather items to the beach or poolside, then it is important to be extra careful as the sunscreen you are using can end up doing more harm than good.

5. Sunscreen On Leather May Affect How Your Skin Breathes

Leather is a material that is often used in clothing and accessories because it is breathable. This means that it allows your skin to breathe and helps to regulate your body temperature. 

However, when sunscreen gets onto leather items, it can actually interfere with how your skin breathes – making them uncomfortable and can also lead to a build-up of sweat and bacteria which can cause skin irritation.

How To Clean FRESH Sunscreen Stains From Leather – Using Household Items

Now that we know how bad sunscreen is for our leather goods, here’s how you clean a freshly spilled or a fresh sunscreen stain on your leather items. Here, I’m referring to sunscreen stains that have been on the leather for a few minutes or hours. So here’s what you do!

1. Using Baking Soda Or Cornstarch Method

Things Needed:

  • 2 Cloths (one dry one damp)
  • Baking Soda or Cornstarch
  • Leather conditioner


Step 1: Blot The Stain

  • Start by blotting the sunscreen stain with a soft dry cloth for a couple of minutes.
  • Don’t try to rub or wipe at this point.
  • If you try to wipe, the sunscreen will sink deeper into the leather material making it a lot more difficult to remove.
  • So Simply blot! 

Step 2: Sprinkle Baking Soda On The Stain

  • Now sprinkle and cover the sunscreen stained area with a layer of baking soda or cornstarch.
  • Ensure that the sunscreen stain is thoroughly covered.
  • Both the baking soda and cornstarch all have good absorbing qualities. 

Step 3: Let It Sit For 6-12 Hours

  • Let the cornstarch or baking soda you applied to the sunscreen stain sit for about 12 hours.
  • This will allow enough time for the cornstarch or baking soda to pull the sunscreen out from the leather before it gets deep into the leather developing into an ugly sticky stain.

Step 4: Observe

  • Observe! After about 12 hours, you should see the white stain turning yellow.
  • This will indicate the cornstarch or baking soda has soaked up the sunscreen stain.  

Step 5: Wipe With Warm Water

  • Carefully blot away the yellow cornstarch or baking soda with a slightly damp warm cloth.

Step 6: Condition Your Leather

2. Using Mild Soap Method

Things Needed:

  • Paper towels
  • Sponge
  • Warm Water
  • Mild soap


Step 1: Blot As Much Of The Stain

  • Start by blotting the sunscreen stain immediately with paper towels to remove as much of the stain as possible.

Step 2: Mix A Cleaning Solution

  • While the paper towels soak up the sunscreen, mix a solution of mild soap in lukewarm water.
  • Ensure the mixture is mixed up into a sudsy.

Step 3: Apply Soap Solution To Stain

  • With the help of a sponge, load up the lather or foam and apply it to the stained leather surface and rub gently.

Step 4: Rinse The Leather Surface

  • Wipe the leather with a damp clean cloth to remove the soap residue.
  • Follow up with a dry clean cloth and allow it to air dry.

Step 5: Condition The Leather

  • Apply a leather conditioner to the leather surface to restore its natural oils.

How To Remove Sunscreen Stains From Leather Using Products

Getting sunscreen stains out from your leather surfaces can be very tricky especially when the sunscreen stain has been on the leather for a pretty long time. Luckily, there are some tried and tested products for removing such stains that have lasted quite some time. 

The only catch is you will need to pick a product that is safe for use on a particular leather you have. For example, some products will be better suited for dyed leather items as opposed to other leathers that are mainly tanned.

The product I find that works exceptionally well when it comes to dealing with sunscreen stains on leather is the Meguiers Super Degreaser.

This will help you to thoroughly remove all sunscreen stains that have found their way onto your leather. Here’s a video on how to use the Meguiers Super Degreaser to clean sunscreen from your leather.

How To Prevent Sunscreen Stains From Leather Items

Now that you’re aware of how bad Sunscreen is on leather, here are some tips so that you don’t have to go through the hustle of having to deal with this every single summer.

1. Look for a good spot to apply your sunscreen. A good place would be anywhere far from your leather couch, leather seats, bags, etc. For example outside the house or porch.

2. Wash hands thoroughly after applying sunscreen.

3. Ensure the sunscreen you applied dries off well before you sit on or use anything leather.

4. Cover up your leather car seats if you or your family would have to use your car right after.

5. Another easy but effective thing to do to avoid sunscreen stains is covering up. Whether the sunscreen you applied to your body is dry or not and you’re going to use your car or relax in your couch, throw on a rob.

6. Check the ingredients of your sunscreen. If it contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, those are good physical blockers that usually don’t rub off as easily.

7. Use a mineral-based sunscreen instead of a chemical one. This will be easier on your skin as well as your leather car seats or any other leather furniture.

8. If you accidentally got sunscreen on your leather, don’t fret blot and use dish soap to clean immeediately.

9. Try and avoid lotion-based sunscreen as they tend to be more oily and rub off easier.

How To Avoid Long-Lasting Sunscreen Stains On Leather

The most important tip I will say when it comes to effectively preventing a long-lasting sunscreen stain from your leather is to clean the sunscreen spill or skin-to-leather transfer immediately.

So whether it’s a sunscreen container leakage into your leather bag or over your leather car seats, the most important step to take is to rally a couple of things and get cleaning immediately. 

Also, as soon as you get back from your sunny day out, make sure to double-clean any areas where sunscreen might have gotten on your skin and then transferred over to the leather.

This means that you should not only clean the sunscreen off your skin but also use a product specifically meant for cleaning leather.

Some good products that you can use to remove sunscreen stains from leather are saddle soap, vinegar, and baking soda. 

If you don’t have any of these products on hand, you can also use a mild dish soap and water to remove the sunscreen stains.

Lastly, clean you leather surfaces regularly as some sunscreen stains will be hard to see but will be there nonetheless, and over time will damage your leather.

2 Best Sunscreens That Doesn’t Stain Leather

There are some sunscreens in the market that have been formulated not to stain leather and other surfaces. These sunscreens usually have an invisible shield that helps to repel the sunscreen oils and other ingredients that can cause staining. Here are a few of the best sunscreens that don’t stain leather.

1. Blue Lizard Sensitive Australian Sunscreen

Blue Lizard is my number-one choice if you’re looking to prevent sunscreen stains from leather and other surfaces since it’s avobenzone-free. It features broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection and is water resistant for up to 40 minutes.

With its natural, chemical-free formula and matte finish, it’s perfect for sensitive skin. It is also fragrance-free and paraben-free. The bottle also turns blue in UV light so you know when you need to reapply.

The best part is that with all these awesome benefits, it will not stain your leather items and even fabric or cloth! You can find it here on Amazon if you’re interested!

2. ThinkSport

ThinkSport has a broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s free of avobenzone and mineral-based, and it’s intended for optimum protection in harsh environments.

Even so, it’s surprisingly mild on the skin, leather, clothing, and almost any type of surface with an SPF 50+ and UVA/UVB protection that lasts up to 80 minutes.

It was the first sunscreen to fulfill Whole Foods’ Premium Care standards because it eliminates the rest of the hazardous chemicals. If you’re interested, check it out over here on Amazon!


Q: What takes sunscreen out of leather?

A: There are a few things that can take sunscreen out of leather, such as dish soap, saddle soap, and vinegar. You can also use a store bought cleaner like the Meguiers Super Degreaser.

Q: How do I know if my sunscreen is bad for my leather?

A: If your sunscreen contains any of the following ingredients, it is bad for your leather:

  • Alcohol
  • Acetone
  • Ethyl acetate
  • Toluene
  • Xylene, etc.

Q: How can I protect my leather from sunscreen?

There are a few things you can do to protect your leather from sunscreen, such as:

1. Wipe down any areas where you plan to apply sunscreen with a clean, dry cloth. This will help to remove any dirt, oil, or other debris that could cause staining.

2. Apply sunscreen to your skin first, then wipe off any excess with a clean, dry cloth before putting on your leather clothing or sitting on leather furniture.

3. Choose a sunscreen that is intended for use on sensitive skin and won’t cause staining. Examples include Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen and ThinkSport Sunscreen.

Q: How to clean sunscreen off leather bag?

A: You can use a store bought cleaner like the Meguiers Super Degreaser or make your own cleaning solution with dish soap, saddle soap, and vinegar.

Q: how to remove dried sunscreen from leather?

A: If the sunscreen has dried on the leather, you can try using a soft bristled brush to remove it. If that doesn’t work, you can try using a store bought cleaner or make your own cleaning solution with dish soap, warm water, and a few drops of your favorite essential oil.

Q: How do you get sunscreen off car interior?

A: There are a few ways to remove sunscreen from your car’s interior, depending on the type of leather. If you have smooth leather, you can use a damp cloth to wipe it away. If you have suede leather, you can use a soft brush to remove the sunscreen. You can also use a mild soap and water solution to remove sunscreen from both types of leather.

Q: How do you get sunscreen off black leather seats?

A: The best way to remove sunscreen from black leather seats is to use a mild soap and water solution. You can also use a damp cloth or a soft cloth if the stains are fresh. You do not want to use something that could distort the leather like alcohol.

Q: How do you get sunscreen off Tesla seats?

A: There are a few ways to remove sunscreen from leather seats, but the most effective method is to use a damp cloth or sponge. First, blot the area to remove any excess sunscreen. Then, gently wipe the area with the damp cloth or sponge until the sunscreen is removed. You may need to repeat this process a few times to remove all of the sunscreen. Finally, dry the area with a clean towel.

Q: How do you get sunscreen stains out of vinyl?

A: You can remove sunscreen stains from vinyl by using isopropyl alcohol or white vinegar. All you do is pour either one of these onto a clean cloth and then rub the stain in a circular motion until it disappears. If you’re dealing with a stubborn stain, you can try using a slightly dampened Magic Eraser. Just be sure to test the alcohol or vinegar in an inconspicuous area first to make sure it doesn’t damage the vinyl.


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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