How to Care for Leather Dashboards and Door Panels

Near-constant sun exposure can mean extra work to keep your interior supple and clean.

Porsche Taycan dashboardPorsche

Article QuickTakes:

Some cars, trucks, and SUVs offer the luxury option of leather upholstery stretched and stitched across the top of the dashboard and door panels. Keeping that material looking good and feeling supple in the face of sun exposure, however, can require some extra work.

Leather Dashboards and Door Panels Get Hot in the Sun

A car's dashboard takes a beating from the sun. According to a study by Arizona State University researchers, a dashboard can hit nearly 160 degrees Fahrenheit in just an hour in the sun on a hot day. That's about 30 degrees Fahrenheit higher than a car's seats might get — odds are good you've experienced the searing pain of a leather or vinyl seat left in the sun.

And heat is just part of the problem. The sun's UV rays draw moisture from natural materials and dry them out. Leather dashboards and door panels can become brittle and unsightly, just as seats do.

Imagine what could happen if you left your car in a sunny parking lot five days a week, 50 or more weeks a year. Maybe it's time to give your leather dashboard a treat.

Leather vs. Synthetic Leather

Leather dashboards or door panels can be found on a wide range of vehicles, such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ram 1500, and Porsche Taycan, while many other cars now feature stitched synthetic leather panels. Determining the difference between materials can be tricky, even for a professional upholsterer.

Synthetic leather, also referred to as leatherette, vinyl, or SensaTec, can look and feel very similar to the real thing, but it generally requires less maintenance, in part because it's less susceptible to drying out.

Getting the Right Products to Maintain Leather Dashboards and Door Panels

Taking care of a leather dashboard and door panels will require a shopping trip — even if only a virtual one — for a few products:

  • Leather dashboard cleaner
  • Leather conditioner
  • Applicator pads
  • Microfiber towels

Widely available cleaners such as the Griot's Garage Starter Leather Kit (about $55 as of March 2023) work on interior leather surfaces, including the dashboard. Car-care product maker Leather Honey says you can also use its cleaner on plastic and vinyl trim.

Many companies, including Adam's Polishes, sell separate cleaners and conditioners suitable for use on dashboards and door panels.

Once you've found the right product, the instructions likely will direct you to apply the liquid evenly across the dashboard with a microfiber or sponge dressing applicator pad (about $8 for two reusable pads from Adam's Polishes as of March 2023). You may need to work the product into the leather surface to remove dirt, particularly on door panels susceptible to collecting grime from your hands.

You can buff any excess liquid with microfiber towels. Be sure to thoroughly clean applicator pads and towels with soap and water.

Because of its frequent exposure to sunlight, your dashboard may need cleaning and conditioning more often than your seats. Your climate and how often your car sees the sun will affect that cleaning schedule.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
author photo
Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz has had cars in his blood ever since he gnawed the paint off of a diecast model as a toddler. After growing up in Dallas, Texas, he earned a journalism degree, worked in public relations for two manufacturers, and served as an editor for a luxury-lifestyle print publication and several well-known automotive websites. In his free time, Andrew loves exploring the Rocky Mountains' best back roads—when he’s not browsing ads for his next car purchase.