The trick with leather is to get it really really clean. Unfortunately everyone reads this and assumes that means you need a ‘strong’ leather cleaner. The strong cleaners are for truly dirty applications and also for tougher grades of leather. What I have found is that it is better to use a leather brush and a milder leather cleaner than the full-strength product and trying to wipe it off with microfibres. I use a Gyeon Leather brush which cost about R65 from Bigfoot Detailing.
Something to remember is you’re treating the top finish of the leather – the nourishing oils and lotions advertised with these products work on other grades of leather, but seldom the kind of leather in cars these days (maybe if you have a vintage rolls or higher end merc). They will (in some cases) even lead to your surface layer deteriorating early.
The other thing to remember is that your seats are probably more dirty than you think! At some point I thought I had removed dye from the steering wheel, only to discover it was additional contamination that needed to be removed. We forget over time what the seat/wheel/doorpad is supposed to look like (matte or ‘naked’). Make sure you’re seeing actual dye transfer and not dirt.
Following a good clean, I coat the leather with Gyeon Q2 Leather Shield which leaves what I consider to be a perfect like-factory finish. Pics are with flash and lighting. Reality is quite different and it is more ‘naked looking’
The surface is slick for a day or so but once cured, you get good protection (it is extremely hydrophobic as well and hence kid-friendly in terms of cleaning food… or other… messes!).
There is really nothing that can beat the mild leather cleaner (there is a strong one if you require it) and Leather Shield (not that I have tried anyway).
It will require reapplication based on use but in-between your ‘cleaning routine’ is simply wiping it with a microfibre dipped in tap water!