Cloth and leather seats both have their benefits, but it's important to keep your car's interior well-maintained.

Cloth vs. Leather Seats: What’s the Right Choice for You?

Do you prefer leather seats or cloth seats? They’re the two main choices in many passenger vehicles, although imitation leather continues to gain ground. We’ll leave the imitation out of the equation for now, as there are so many different varieties offered by manufacturers.

If you’re planning to buy a new or used car, the material wrapping the seats can impact your purchase decision. Let’s take a closer look at each option.

The Great Debate: Cloth Seats vs. Leather Seats

From my personal collection.Cloth covers the seats in most mainstream models, but it’s also sometimes found in base models of luxury cars, especially older ones. Leather, once only a luxury car material, is now offered in some basic models, such as the Hyundai Elantra Sport.

Of course, the types of leathers you see in today’s cars can vary, even within model ranges. You’ll find a standard mix of leathers in some, while others offer finer versions, including what is often called Nappa or aniline leather. Nappa leather comes from the hides of young animals. The tanning or preparation process yields a soft, plush touch, which is perceived as more desirable.

What’s More Comfortable?

If you have a choice of fabric, cloth seats don’t have the temperature variation of leather seats. They’re designed to remain comfortable regardless of the cabin temperature.

By contrast, leather can get very hot or very cold. For this reason, many cars with leather seats offer heated — and often ventilated — front seats. Within minutes, embedded coils can raise the seat temperature, while ventilated seats utilize small fans to blow cool air across the seat.

How to Maintain Cloth and Leather

As cars age, the interior materials age as well. Both cloth and leather should be maintained and protected. Here’s how:

  • First, vacuum the seats using a soft-tip brush. If the seats are leather, follow up the vacuum with dampened microfiber, wiping down each seat.
  • Second, use a product designed specifically for the material in your car. For leather, spot test in an inconspicuous place. If the cleaner is OK, then continue applying everywhere. Do likewise for the cloth seat cleaner.

Cloth seats may eventually fade, due to sunlight and age, but if a protecting sealant is used, the seats should continue to look great with regular maintenance. Of course, seat covers can provide ideal protection, although that also means missing out on the look and comfort of the material.

Repair or Replace Damaged Seats

Seats that have experienced wear and tear due to age or use may yet be salvageable, depending on the extent of the damage. Rips can be repaired, but it may be more efficient to replace the seat in its entirety or to have the seat reupholstered.

There are kits available for handling repairs, which typically involves gluing patches of material over the torn section. The kit may be sufficient to cover the rip, but the mending will probably be apparent upon close inspection.

Keeping the Cabin Clean

Your car’s interior is likely dressed in a variety of stock, with plastics, metal trim and soft-touch materials also present. Just as cloth and leather need special care, so do these other materials. As for leather seats versus cloth seats, the decision is entirely yours.

Check out all the interior products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on maintaining cloth and leather seats, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photos courtesy of Matthew C. Keegan.

about author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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