To help in understanding how to clean Alcantara or suede surfaces, let’s first answer the question “What is Alcantara?” Alcantara is a fully synthetic microfiber material composed of polyester and polyurethane. It has a look and feel very similar to suede, but has improved stain resistance, lighter weight, lower cost, and more durability when compared to real suede. Because of these characteristics, it has obvious benefits for use in automotive interiors. Alcantara has a smooth feel but helps keep you planted in the seat, and it provides a more firm grip on steering wheels and shift knobs. It has better cooling capability than leather, and handles moisture and sweat better than cloth; however, it is still susceptible to wear from neglect and too much exposure to moisture.
Regular Cleaning and Maintenance
Preventing issues before they occur is always the best option when it comes to caring for Alcantara and micro-suede, and this can usually be done with simple and easy maintenance. As micro-suede is sat on or handled, it begins to look matted and worn. Depending on whether your vehicle is driven daily, a track toy, or weekend cruiser that only sees use for fun, the rate that you need to perform regular cleaning will change. The amount of driving time is the main factor in how often you should clean the Alcantara surfaces. The easiest step to prevent premature wear and keep the synthetic suede materials looking their best is to gently brush the surfaces regularly. Adam’s Cockpit Brush and Mini Cockpit Brush have durable but soft nylon bristles and are very effective at cleaning suede, vinyl, and leather surfaces.
The most frequent method you will use to clean Alcantara is to use the dry Cockpit Brush with no chemical cleaner. Brushing the fibers gently can prevent them from becoming permanently matted down, and it will also aid in removing dust, crumbs, or small debris that may have settled on the surface or into the creases of a seat. Then make sure to use a vacuum like the Adam’s Barrel Vacuum to suck out all of the loosened debris. A low-pile microfiber towel, like our Edgeless Utility Towel, folded in your hand will work as a substitute for a brush, but the Cockpit Brush will provide better, more consistent cleaning capability. You must make sure not to brush or scrub the material with too much pressure or effort - using too much force or bristles that are too aggressive can cause the Alcantara to ball, or roll up, into small blobs, known as pilling. If this does occur, we’ll explain different methods on how to deal with pilling later in this writeup.
We recommend gently brushing out the Alcantara and micro-suede surfaces once a week for most average-use vehicles. For vehicles that see large amounts of driving, brush these surfaces more frequently, i.e. twice a week. Also, make sure to brush high-traffic areas like the driver seat and any suede on the steering wheel, shift knob, or armrests more often than you would other areas of the interior. Recline seat backs so that you can get into all of the nooks and crannies - Adam’s Large or Small Interior Brush can be used to get into cracks and crevices where it might be more difficult to reach with the Cockpit Brush. For a track vehicle, Alcantara surfaces will most likely get more dirt, dust, and sweat buildup, so we’ll cover more moderate cleaning below.
Moderate Cleaning of Steering Wheels, Shifters, and Seats
Alcantara looks and feels great on steering wheels, shifter knobs, and seats, and provides the driver with a nice, non-slip grip; however, oils and sweat from your hands can wear down these areas faster than the door panels and other interior areas wrapped in micro-suede. Oils and sweat that soak into the suede will attract additional dust and lead to a soiled, discolored, and matted surface. As mentioned earlier, regular brushing of the steering wheel, shift knob, and driver seat more frequently than other micro-suede areas will help prevent or slow the material from matting as quickly - gently brush these surfaces out as often as they appear to be getting flat. Once oils begin to soak into the surface, you will usually need to introduce water or a chemical to remove them, but you must be careful not to make the Alcantara or micro-suede too wet, since this can permanently damage the material. Try an Edgeless Utility Towel dampened with water first, but if staining or discoloration remains, you will then need to move to a chemical cleaner. Two chemicals that we offer that are safe for use on Alcantara and micro-suede are Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner and Total Interior Cleaner. Lightly mist a few sprays of one of the chemicals directly into an Edgeless Utility Towel or Interior Microfiber Towel, and then gently blot and wipe the towel into the material to break up skin oils and loosen dirt that will not come out from brushing alone. Then use a second dry towel to absorb any excess moisture from the cleaner.
The process for addressing moderate soiling on these surfaces is as follows:
Brush and vacuum the surfaces to remove any dust and loose debris.
Try cleaning with an Edgeless Utility Towel dampened with water.
If stains remain, spray a very small amount (2 or 3 sprays) of Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner or Total Interior Cleaner onto a clean Edgeless Utility Towel or Interior Microfiber Towel.
Gently blot the surface, then wipe. On steering wheels, typically the most serious contamination will be from the 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock hand positions of the wheel.
Add additional cleaner to the towel as needed and repeat until the soiling is removed. Do not get the surface overly saturated with liquid.
Blot up any excess moisture with a separate clean, dry Edgeless Utility or Interior Microfiber Towel.
How to Remove Pilling
When it becomes too worn, Alcantara (and other upholstery) can sometimes roll up into little fuzzies, or blobs, referred to as pilling. Small fragments of the fabric material are pulled from the surface and then roll up and form into small balls above the surface. De-pilling Alcantara or micro-suede can be accomplished with a few different techniques, some of which have more potential for additional damage than others. The first and safest method would be to take a new, dry Adam’s Deep Clean Eraser and carefully brush the area with the eraser. The Deep Clean Eraser can remove small amounts of light pilling. The next option would be to use sandpaper to very carefully sand off the small blobs from the surface. Use 1500 grit or finer (higher) sandpaper, and be very cautious - too much pressure and you could damage the Alcantara even further. The next option, with the biggest possibility of damage, would be to use a razor blade to very carefully “shave” the fuzziness from the surface. Using a razor blade requires extreme caution to not cut yourself or slice the fabric, which could then require replacement of a panel, seat cover, etc.