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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. But getting sunscreen onto our leather car seats, sofas, bags, bracelets, etc is a common thing that would happen from time to time. So is sunscreen bad for leather?

Sunscreen is made for the human skin but not for leather. Any amount of sunscreen that gets on leather will discolor the leather by leaving behind a white residue which will be very hard to get rid of the longer it stays. 

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

How Does Sunscreen Get On Leather Items 

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

While this may be very obvious, I for instance 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 volunteers to take our son together with her nieces and nephews to the beach and parks on most weekends.

She always had sunscreen stains around her steering wheels, controls, and seats.

Details On Why Sunscreen Is Bad For Leather

Sunscreen Stains are Easily Recognizable

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

Sunscreen or sunblock will basically 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.

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.

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 will be titanium dioxide and polyethylene glycol and what these two substances do is to reflect light and protect our skin from the strong UV rays from 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.

This is because most sunscreens are chemical resistant and are hard to break down especially with traditional cleaners when it finds its way onto leather.

Causes Leather To Become Sticky

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

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 on your body is dry or not and you’re going to use your car or relax in your couch, throw on a rob.

Methods For Avoiding 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. 

How To Clean A FRESH Sunscreen Stain On Leather

Here’s how you clean a freshly spilled or a fresh sunscreen stain on your leather items. Here, I’m referring to minutes if not seconds into the sunscreen stain. Here’s what you do!

Baking Soda Or Cornstarch Method

Things Needed:

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


Step 1: Blot 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: Now sprinkle and cover the sunscreen stained area with a layer of baking soda or cornstarch. Ensure that the sunscreen sticky spot is thoroughly covered. Either of the baking soda and cornstarch all has good absorbing qualities. 

Step 3: 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 away from the leather before it gets deep into the leather developing into an ugly sticky stain.

Step 4: 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: Carefully blot away the yellow cornstarch or baking soda with a slightly damp warm cloth.

Step 6: Now follow up with a leather conditioner.

Mild Soap Method

Things Needed:

  • Paper towels
  • Sponge
  • Warm Water
  • Mild soap


Step 1: Start by blotting the sunscreen stain immediately with paper towels to remove as much of the stain as possible.

Step 2: 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: With the help of a sponge, load up the lather or foam and apply to the stained leather surface.

Step 4: Wipe the leather with a dry clean cloth and allow it to air dry.

Step 5: Apply a leather conditioner to the leather surface to restore its natural oils.

How To Remove Sunscreen Stains From Leather

Getting sunscreen stains out from your leather surfaces can be very tricky especially when you have missed the sunscreen stain spot 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 its way onto your leather. Here’s a video on how to use the Meguiers Super Degreaser to clean sunscreen from your leather.

Macwilliam K. Appianing

Hi! I’m Macwilliam, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leatherwork 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!

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