9 Reasons Why Leather Steering Wheels Become Sticky Plus Fix

Why leather steering wheels Become sticky

So today I am going to discuss a very important topic: that of sticky leather steering wheel. If your leather steering wheel is very shiny or glossy, then it’s probably very tacky to touch. So let’s find out what causes leather steering wheels to be sticky.

Here are 9 main reasons why leather steering wheels get sticky:

  1. Oily, Sweaty, and Stained Hands
  2. Dirt
  3. Cleaners and Conditioners
  4. Plastic/Artificial Leather Steering Wheels
  5. Sun Damage
  6. Humidity and Heat
  7. Leather Aging
  8. Not Cleaning Before Conditioning
  9. Adhesives Leaking Through

While you might simply want to feel comfortable driving, these 9 sticky Leather causative factors can actually disrupt the fun. So I’m going to dive deep into each of these causes and recommend quick and easy ways to fix it. Keep reading to find out more!

What Causes Leather Steering Wheels To Sticky — Details

Here are the details on the reasons why leather steering wheel gets sticky and how to effectively fix it.

1. Oily, Sweaty, and Stained Hands

The main cause of sticky leather steering wheel is our own hands. Whatever the hand comes into contact with, no matter what it is, will get transferred onto the steering during driving.

These will include hand and skin lotions, food, drinks, etc. Naturally, our body’s sweat and have some oils and if you’re like me and you have very sweaty hands, then there goes your answer!

A little spill from drinks here and grease from food there that you might not even notice will evaporate quickly and leave behind a sticky residue on you leather steering wheel.

The oily, sweaty, and stained hands will react with the leather steering wheel a lot more quickly if you spend a lot of time during the day driving or drive for really long hours.

Remedies For Oily, Sweaty, and Stained Hands

One simple remedy for this type of situation is to get into the habit of washing your hands before driving. Or to make life a lot more easy, you can use hand wipes to clean of any kind of greasy, oil, or stains from hands before you hit the road.

2. Dirty Leather Steering Wheels

All of the touch and control surfaces on your vehicle, mainly, the steering wheel and the shift knob will come into contact with body oils, grease, dirt, and all sorts of contaminants especially from the environment.

Dirt is probably on top of the list of culprits that causes leather steering wheels to be sticky. Of course, there’s certainly no surprise your leather steering wheel will get tacky this way. The leather on the steering wheel just like the seats takes a lot of beating during its life time.

When you’re cruising the highways and you have your glasses rolled down as you take in the fresh natural air, you should know your leather steering wheel will also breath in into it pores or have anything that’s in the atmosphere such as moisture, dust, salts, etc. settle on it and build up dirt that’s going to make it very tacky.

Remedies For Dirty Leather Steering Wheel

There are 2 main components you will need to be able to a proper removal of the dirt causing the stickiness on your leather steering wheel. These includes a leather cleaner and a leather protectant.

The leather cleaner will help to remove the dirt while the leather protectant will help to protect the leather steering not only from becoming sticky again, but also from the sun’s UV-rays damage, cracking, discoloration, fading, friction damage, dye transfer, etc.

One very important thing to note when choosing products to clean and protect your leather steering wheel is that leather (especially natural leather) used for car interiors often has a pH level between 4 and 5 and so choosing products that falls between this pH bracket is vital so you do not end up causing damage to your leather.

Colorlock leather (natural) cleaner is a great brand to go for. The Colorlock brand is fantastic when it comes to automotive leather care and their products are simple the very best on the market. Their cleaners are pH 5, which is a perfect pH balance for automotive leather care and very effective at removing dirt and grim from leather.

There are also special cleaners for cleaning synthetic and faux leathers. A great example I found is this Faux Cleaner also from Colorlock. This product is particularly great because it doubles as a faux leather protectant.

After the leather steering wheel has been thoroughly cleaned, you need to add a protectant. The leather protectant you can use will depend on how old your car’s leather is.

If your car is relatively new cars (Between 0-3 years) you can use a protectant like this leather shield and if your car’s leather is 3 years plus, use to this to render the leather resistant to fading, dye transfer, friction damage, cracking, etc.

Here’s a helpful video on how to Clean dirt from leather.

3. Over Conditioned Leather

When you own a leather item, cleaning and conditioning is inevitable. The leather on the steering wheel will require a lot of attention due to how hardwearing it is.

In as much as cleaning and condition is a no-brainer, the kind of conditioner you use and how you use it makes a lot of difference in terms of how the steering wheel will look and feel.

If too much conditioner is applied, the leather will have an unnatural shine and will feel tacky due to all the excess conditioning that’s been applied. Same can be said if the wrong type of leather conditioner is used. As a matter of fact, there are quite a number of leather conditioners that will even leave your steering wheel tacky and not as you intended it to be.

Remedies For Over Conditioned Leather

Conditioning is basically to restore lost oils from leather after cleaning. But this process can sometimes go south really fast worsening what you’re seeking to correct. First thing is to ensure you pick a leather conditioner that is non sticky.

You can check out this article I wrote earlier about how to find the best non sticky leather conditioners. These types of conditioners highlighted are designed to nourish, protect and not make your leather goods sticky.

Secondly, as a rule of thumb, a leather conditioner leather mustn’t be applied daily, weekly, or monthly. The best practice is to apply a conditioner to your leather steering wheel at least 3-4 times a year. This is to avoid over conditioning your leather steering wheel. So keep a good conditioning routine!

The next thing is to ensure you don’t over-apply too much leather conditioner to your leather steering wheel when doing your routine conditioning. It’s best to apply your product strictly according to the application instructions of the specific product you get for the best results.

If you’re in the situation where you’ve already over-conditioned your leather steering wheel, you can quickly or immediately dab off any excess conditioner applied. If on the other hand, you have applied too much conditioner and has settled for sometime, you need to completely and thoroughly clean off the leather surface to rid it off all conditioner substances you applied earlier and reapply.

4. Plastic or Artificial Leather Steering Wheel

While it may look and feel like real leather, the material on your steering wheel may possibly be made of artificial leather or what’s mostly called vinyl, pleather, or leatherette. So the stickiness on your leather steering wheel will be because of the plastic finish that’s often given to synthetic leathers.

Unlike synthetic leather, natural or real leather has little tiny pores through which it breaths. The breathability of leather allows it to have a nice natural comfortable feel unlike synthetic leather with no breathability hence becomes tacky or sticky after using it a few couple times.

If not cared for properly, sticky residue will build up on your steering wheel and in no time the steering wheel will become extremely sticky because the top layer of the artificial leather would have worn out.

Remedies For Artificial Leather Steering Wheel

Resolving and preventing this type of situation is relatively simple. You have to get into the habit of cleaning your synthetic steering wheel regularly with wipes or getting a natural leather steering wheel cover.

5. Sun Damage

Direct sunlight is really bad for leather. Unfortunately, when it comes to the leather steering wheel, the upper third of the wheel, if not all parts of the leather steering wheel, will show wear and possible UV-ray damage — with the sun often bursting through the windscreen and driver side glass.

The direct heat on the leather steering wheel does not do any good to the leather but causes the natural oils of the leather to form a tacky oily slimy residue on the surface of the leather making it feel clammy when touched.

And while there’s nothing you can really do about it in terms of positioning, there are a few other things you can do to prevent sun damage.

The main source of concern in the case of sun damage is not only how tacky the leather becomes but it can also lead to the leather steering wheel cracking and discoloring.

Remedies For Sun Damage

To fix stickiness on leather steering wheel that results from sun damage, you can apply this UV leather protectant meant for vinyl, plastic, or any synthetic leather steering wheels and all other leather parts of your car that sees a lot of the sun. For steering wheels with suede leather, you can apply this UV protectant. For general natural car leathers, use this UV protectant.

6. Humidity and Heat

Humidity just like the a sunny weather are the two common environmental factors that cause leather steering wheels to eventually become sticky. Humid conditions causing your leather to become sticky can be hard to detect as the stickiness tend to come and go depending on how humid it is outside.

This will often occur in the mornings when it’s especially humid outside. This can result in a very uncomfortable black or brown residue coming off onto your hands. A combination of humidity and a heat from the car could render the steering wheel and any leather part of the car interior sticky. The tricky part is, it all tend to mostly go away during the day.

Remedies For Leather Affected By Humidity and Heat

You would want to apply a leather protectant to ensure the leather is protected from the weather elements.

7. Leather Aging

The surface of leather often has a clear coating or finishes applied on it. The clear coat applied will flex, move, and act as one material with the leather. What the clear coat does is to create a barrier between the leather and the foreign elements and materials like dirt, dust, grim, water, etc that tries to get onto the leather.

The finish applied that serves as a barrier especially on natural leather, would down with time and the leather aging and have dyes coming off resulting in stickiness.

Most people don’t often notice this type of changes because of how gradual the break down of the finish on the leather surface is. Although it may not be apparent, the finish may already have become majorly affected and the stickiness is only a manifestation of the extent of the damage.

Remedies For Aged Leather

If it’s a synthetic leather steering wheel that’s completely out lived it’s time, then there will be not a lot that can be done but to replace the leather on the steering wheel or rewrapping with a wheelskins so that the steering wheel looks and feels new again.

Another great alternative for leather in the situations where the damage is not too much is to use a leather degreaser and a leather restorer to bring the leather back to life. The degreaser is going to help remove any excess fats, oils, oil spots, etc from all types of leather and the restorer helps to bring back the color of the leather on the leather steering wheel.

There’s, however, a huge disadvantage when it comes to using degreasers. Degreasers tend to dissolve and over soften the colored top layer of the leather and so must be applied sparingly to avoid damages.

8. Not Cleaning Before Conditioning

There’s a difference between cleaning and conditioning. Any leather item that sees some amounts of grim must be cleaned before conditioning. The reason why this order is important is that cleaning when done before conditioning removes all the dirt, body oils, and other different kinds of grim.

The leather cleaning process will ideally strip off a substantial amount of the natural oils that’s contained in the leather and conditioning is meant to restore or replace the lost oils so that the leather continues to have a nice supple feel and look.

But if things are not done in this order, then you would have to brace yourself for a lot more mess! How? When the leather steering wheel has become sticky and it’s not cleaned first with a good leather cleaner and a leather conditioner (which contains more oil) is added, it’s going exacerbate the problem.


This solution requires simply following the right order when it comes cleaning and conditioning. The order must be maintained. That is, cleaning before conditioning!

There are some all-in-one products that cleans and conditions all at once. When these types of conditioners are used, additional conditioning shouldn’t be done to avoid over conditioning the leather steering wheel.

9. Adhesives Leaking Through

Adhesives are one of the most common ways leather is joined together. While there are many different types of adhesives that tend to do it’s job of bonding leather with things, some tend to be a lot more qualitative and resistant than others — resistant to heat and forming long lasting bonds.

The adhesive that aren’t so resistant tend to give in at some point to heat or time. For example, with time, some adhesives will begin to break down and the glue will gradually seep through stitch holes, perforations on the leather, etc causing sticky tacky feel on the steering wheel.

Bonus Remedies For Sticky Leather Steering Wheels

  1. Soapy Warm Water: This probably is a great cheap alternative worth trying when you first spot the stickiness on your leather steering wheel. It’s your first line of defense! It involves the simple process of using dish soap and water to wipe down the leather steering wheel. This works well to get rid of the sticky surface. 
  2. Melamine foam sponge: You can also use a melamine foam sponge to clean a leather steering wheel. The melamine foam help to remove all kinds of contamination including greases without causing any problem to the leather — what you’re going to have after the cleaning is the original matte of the leather. You can do this once every year so you don’t cause any damage to you leather steering wheel.
  3. Ronsonol Lighter Fluid: This is a solvent great for removing sticky residue off pretty much anything and it’s really hard to beat. This is a great non conventional Hack for serious stickiness. You can use ronsonol lighter fluid like the one found in zippo lighters to remove. You can put a few drop on a soft clean towel and go over the steering wheel (5-10mins). It’s, however, very important to know that ronsonol is highly flammable but will evaporate very quickly. It’s simply amazing stuff!
  4. Replacing the leather on the steering wheel: Just be careful with the airbag.


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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