I'm not sure how others have dealt with this, but my steering wheel had lost its appeal and had become smooth and almost shiny in areas from years of use. I was very nervous about doing a deep clean for fear of losing the factory color and finish, but I spent a long time researching methods and then tried a small test section on the back of my steering wheel. Well, it worked! I then cleaned the rest of the wheel and it looks like new. It also feels much better. Here's what I did:
Using a nylon bristled suede brush (a tooth brush is not stiff enough), I dry brushed the surface. It took a while to break up the surface, but then a lot of the dirt was coming off as dust. This was the scary part because I didn't want to damage the fabric. It took me about 10 minutes to complete this step. The reason I did this was to remove the bulk of the dirt so that it wouldn't get soaked into the wheel padding.
I then used a clean dense detainers sponge with some mild hand soap and hot water to wet, but not soak the surface.
Again, using the brush and in small circles, I scrubbed the wheel while keeping it damp.
I then sponged off the fabric, picking up the dirt rather than letting it soak in, washing the sponge repeatedly. This took another 10-15 minutes.
Finally, I used a clean white towel to squeeze out the moisture. Where the towel picked up dirt, I went back and re-cleaned that area.
After air drying and another light brush, I was done
. All in all, less than an hour, and knowing that the sponge bath method is safe I'll be able to keep it clean without the intensive scrub. I then went on and cleaned the door handles in the same manner. Even the white fabric came clean!
I hope this helps someone who is considering the same thing.