The short answer is yes, black leather seats do get hotter than lighter colored leather or fabric seats. This is due to a few key factors:
How Color Affects Heat Absorption
The color of a material affects how much heat it absorbs from sunlight. Darker colors absorb more light energy and heat up faster than lighter colors. Black absorbs the most light and heat, while white reflects the most light and absorbs the least heat. Leather and fabric car seats come in many colors, but black leather is a popular choice for its sleek, luxurious look.
When sunlight hits a black leather seat, the dark color absorbs a lot of the light energy, converting it to heat. Lighter colored leather and fabric seats don’t absorb as much of the sun’s energy and stay cooler. Black leather can get hot enough to burn exposed skin on a sun-drenched summer day.
Leather Vs. Fabric
Leather and fabric react differently to heat. Leather is less breathable than woven fabric, trapping heat against the surface rather than allowing air circulation to cool it down. Leather warms up faster in the sun and retains more heat.
Fabric car seat covers are typically made of woven cotton, wool, polyester or blends. The tiny air spaces between the woven fibers allow body heat to dissipate and keep fabric cooler to the touch. Fabric doesn’t absorb and retain heat as much as solid leather.
Factors That Increase Heat
Several factors can work together to make black leather seats hotter:
- Direct sunlight – Sun beating down on the seats causes the most intense heating.
- Parking in open areas – Without shade from trees or buildings, seats are exposed to more sun.
- Windows – Closed windows trap heat inside the vehicle.
- Insulation – The seat insulation and upholstery materials affect heat buildup.
- Vehicle color – Dark vehicle paint also absorbs heat.
- Metallic paint – Reflective metallic flecks can focus sunlight on seats.
- Seat position – The driver’s seat often absorbs more sunlight.
- Regional climate – Hot, sunny weather increases the heat.
On a sunny summer day, the dashboard of a car parked outside can reach temperatures above 180°F. What about the seats?
Researchers tested the interior temperature of vehicles in the sun. They found that black leather seats reached the following temperatures*:
*Results at 1 hour in sunshine at 86°F ambient temperature.
The black leather seats reached temperatures over 30 degrees hotter than black fabric seats. Darker colors clearly heat up much faster, especially in leather upholstery. The research shows that black leather absorbs the most heat in a vehicle interior.
Some people believe that other factors affect how hot leather seats get. But studies have disproved some common myths:
Myth 1: Leather grade and quality affect heat.
High quality, thick, luxury leather does not stay cooler than cheaper types of leather. Leather weight and grade make little difference in heat absorption. Full grain, top grain, genuine, and synthetic leathers in black will all get hot.
Myth 2: Perforated leather stays cooler.
Perforated leather has tiny holes across the surface for ventilation. It seems like it would stay cooler, but perforated leather heats up just as fast as non-perforated leather. The ventilation holes are not enough to make a significant difference.
Myth 3: Conditioning treatments reduce heat.
Applying conditioning products like mink oil or leather sealant help protect and preserve leather, but don’t impact heat absorption or dissipation.
Myth 4: Distressed leather runs cooler.
Some believe that distressed, antiqued leather should absorb less heat. But even leather intentionally weathered or textured still heats up to the same temperatures.
Preventing Hot Seats
Since black leather gets so hot in the sun, what can you do to keep seats cooler?
Park in the shade
Find covered parking or park under trees away from direct sun exposure. This makes a dramatic difference in interior temperatures.
Use windshield sun shades
Deploying reflective sun shades in the windshield and windows can block up to 45% of incoming heat.
Crack the windows
Leaving the windows slightly open allows hot interior air to escape, similar to how ventilation helps cool leather motorcycle jackets.
Use seat cushions
Cover seats with towels or reflective seat cushions when parked to create an insulation barrier.
Aftermarket solar window tint can reject up to 79% of heat coming through glass while still allowing vision.
Most vehicles now offer ventilated seats that actively blow air conditioned air through perforations to cool the leather.
Other Color Options
If you want leather seats but want to stay cooler, lighter leather colors are your best bet. Beige, tan, gray and light blue leather seats will all stay cooler in warm weather. Or go with fabric seats in a color like silver gray or light tan.
Leather seat colors that absorb less sunlight and heat:
- Light brown
- Light grey
Just keep in mind that light colors show dirt, dust and stains much more easily. Darker leather is better at hiding signs of wear and requires less cleaning and upkeep.
Black leather seats definitely heat up the most in direct sunlight. The dark color absorbs solar energy and gets hot enough to be uncomfortable and even risky to exposed skin. Lighter colors, perforated leathers and fabric seat covers stay cooler. Parking in the shade, using reflective shields and tinting windows can also help reduce interior temperatures.
So if blistering hot seats aren’t your thing, go with lighter leather, fabric or pleather. But if you love that sleek black leather look, just be sure to use some tricks to keep your seats cool under the sun.