Why Leather Steering Wheels Become Sticky?

While people usually wash their hands several times a day, steering wheels are a different story. Most people never bother cleaning their steering wheel, as it is such an easy thing to overlook.

Because leathers have pores in them, they are the perfect spots for oil, dirt, and sweat to accumulate over time. And leathers have that tendency of absorbing any kind of grime quickly and more readily than hard surfaces. Some of the more critical reasons are humidity, leather aging, leaking of adhesive, artificial leather, etc.

This article will discuss the main reasons why leather steering wheels become sticky and how to remedy them. Let’s start!

What Causes Leather Steering Wheels To Sticky

If you drive every day, it’s pretty easy to overlook that you probably touch one of the dirtiest things regularly. Can you guess what it might be?

Yes, we’re talking about the steering wheel of your car. How many times have you cleaned it over the past year? Not many times – we assume.

Like everything we touch with our hands, it’s pretty important to clean the steering wheel regularly. The leather on the outside has an alarming ability to absorb a whole lot of dirt, oil, and grime without you even realizing it. And when it gets too much, the steering wheel will start to feel sticky.

Before we talk about the cleaning process, we need to discuss the primary reasons why the steering wheel can get sticky. So here are some of the leading causes for the stickiness in a leather wheel.

1. Oily Hands

Having clammy hands is probably the main reason why your car’s steering wheel feels sticky after constant use.

We go through a lot of stuff every day, and some of it sticks into our hands. Things like lotions, drinks, foods, or just plain sweat from our hands have oils in them. And when we touch the steering wheel with it, inevitably, some of them get transferred into the steering wheel.

Different liquids like drinks, lotions, oils, etc., can evaporate very quickly. So you won’t even notice them after a while, but they leave behind a sticky residue in the thing you touch, which gets accumulated over time.

Because leathers have tendencies of collecting these oils into the pores, it gets filled up. Once the pores get filled up, you can feel an actively sticky residue on top of the steering wheel.

If you tend to drive for long stretches, you’ll notice it sooner than you think. And once the gunk gets settled, touching the steering wheel feels icky and very uncomfortable.

Remedy for the Oily Hands

This might seem a pretty easy thing to do but wash your hands thoroughly before you start driving your car. That way, you can easily prolong the life of the steering.

Eventually, all steering wheels will feel sticky at some point, but it’ll take longer for the oil to accumulate if you regularly maintain this hygiene. Also, regular cleaning will likely mean that you’ll never face a sticky steering wheel again.

2. Over-Conditioned Leather

This is quite an interesting way to end up with a sticky steering wheel.

Cleaning and conditioning are an absolute necessity that you have to put into your leather products. Regular conditioning will keep surfaces like a steering wheel feeling new for long periods.

Although you might be tempted to clean and condition your steering wheel ever so often to keep that pristine feel and shine, it doesn’t work this way. Excessive conditioner usage will make the wheel feel sticky and uncomfortable too!

When you regularly apply excessive conditioner on the leather, it will develop a very unnatural-looking shine because of too much conditioning.

Also, it can happen if you don’t know the perfect type of conditioner you need for the specific leather of your steering wheel. The conditioner won’t sit well and make the wheel look like a sticky mess.

Remedy for Over-Conditioning

With conditioning, what you’re doing is restoring the original oil in the leather after you clean it. Without it, the leather will feel lifeless and can crack or get patchy.

So one thing you can do to improve this is choosing a good quality conditioner that won’t feel too sticky in your hand.

Another thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to applying conditioner, keep it minimal. You don’t need to use a ton of conditioner day-to-day.

Our recommendation is to apply the conditioner every three or four months, which means you need to use it three or four times every year.

Another thing you want to ensure is, don’t apply a ton of it. Every conditioner will come with the instruction on how much you should use. So strictly follow them for getting the best result.

If, for some reason, you have unfortunately applied excess conditioner on the steering wheel, don’t worry. Most of it can be dabbed off with a clean piece of cloth easily.

In the case of when the conditioner has settled down on the steering wheel, you can clean it off altogether and reapply for the best result.

3.  Damage from UV

Ultraviolet light or UV, for short, is bad for leather. You might be wondering from where the steering wheel leather might be getting UV rays from. The answer is sunlight. Rays from the sun have UV lights in them, damaging the leather in the steering wheel.

Sunlight comes through the windshield and the glass doors and falls directly on the steering wheel. Thus, most of the time, the steering wheel is directly exposed to sunlight during the daytime.

Also, direct heat from the sunlight is very damaging to leather as it converts the natural oil inside the leather into a slimy residue that feels very gruesome to touch.

Remedy for UV

There aren’t any clear-cut ways to protect your steering wheel from the UV rays. You have to go out in your car during the daytime, and the sunlight will get access to the steering wheel.

One thing you can do is apply some UV protectant made for leather which helps in some cases. Use them on all the parts that get direct exposure to sunlight. The protectant will safeguard the leather from UV damage to some extent.

4.  Age of the Leather

As you keep using the leather steering wheel, eventually, the structure gets degraded. It may be because of prolonged use, constant cleaning, temperature, sunlight, etc.

The leather has a definite life cycle, and in that time, it will serve you well. However, after the time has passed, you’ll start to notice that the dust and other materials get stuck onto the material quickly, and the conditioner doesn’t give it a premium finish as it once did.

Most people ignore the eventual breakdown of the leather and complain when the steering wheel gets sticky. Although it might take you a little time to realize, stickiness might be a sign of the old age of leather.

Remedy for the Aged Leather

There are multiple ways to revitalize the leather of your steering wheel.

One neat little trick is to use a leather restorer and degreaser to return the leather to life. However, we suggest you use it sparingly, as a degreaser dissolves the top layer of the leather if used too much.

And if you have an artificial leather steering wheel, there isn’t much that can be done to revitalize it again. Replacing it altogether is your best bet. Synthetic covers for steering wheels aren’t that expensive, and you can buy one pretty easily.

5. Artificial Leather Wheel

Artificial leather wheels are an inexpensive option for your steering wheel, giving you the feel of genuine leather at a fraction of the cost.

Most artificial leather wheels are made from leatherette, vinyl, or leather. They have some caveats in their construction, as they tend to generate oily surfaces much faster than an actual leather wheel.

Synthetic leathers have no breathing space like genuine leather, making it feel tacky or sticky after using it for a while. You can’t use conditioners as effectively on the artificial wheel as it makes them more sticky.

Remedy for Artificial Leather

The remedy for using artificial leather is quite simple. You just need to get into the habit of cleaning it regularly.

If the leather gets too tacky and cleaning is not fixing the issue, the best thing you can do is just replace it with a new one.

6. Leaking Adhesive

Leakage is not as common as the other problems we mentioned above, but this might happen once or twice.

For example, leather is stuck with the steering wheel with an adhesive and constant use and pressure. The adhesive might break down and leak through the pores of the leather, which in turn makes the leather feel sticky and slimy.

Remedy for Leaking Adhesive

You can use some warm water to clean off the leaking adhesive from the leather quickly. Use foam to dab it with the water and then rinse the leather to get it off the steering wheel gently.

If too much adhesive has leaked through, you can remove the cover and reapply a new coat of glue onto the leather itself.

How to Clean Sticky Vinyl Steering Wheels

Here are the tips & tricks for you to properly clean a sticky vinyl steering wheel with ease:

  • Clean the leather with a water-soap solution and then use a disinfectant like Straight Cleaner Formula No. 2.
  • After cleaning, use a conditioner to replenish the oils inside the leather. A small amount will do wonders.
  • Establishing a regular cleaning routine will help you keep the steering wheel looking brand for a very long time.
  • Any spills or stains should be cleaned immediately because they will leave a sticky residue on the leather.
  • Never use wax, furniture polish, or silicon products to condition the leather.
  • Don’t use alkaline wipes to clean off any spots from the steering wheel, as it will damage the leather.

End Note

We have talked about the leading reasons behind leather steering wheels getting clammy or sticky and how to counter the situations.

Keeping a regular cleaning routine will keep your steering wheel new for the days to come. If you understand why leather steering wheels become sticky, you can fix it in no time!

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