Variation in clinical accuracy of molecular diagnostic methods for cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) is commonly observed depending on the sample source, the method of DNA recovery and the molecular test. Few attempts have been made to compare these variables. Two swab and aspirate samples from lesions of patients with suspected CL (n = 105) were evaluated alongside standard diagnosis by microscopic detection of amastigotes or culture of parasites from lesion material. Three DNA extraction methods were compared: Qiagen on swab and aspirate specimens, Isohelix on swabs and Boil/Spin of lesion aspirates. Recovery of Leishmania DNA was evaluated for each sample type by real-time polymerase chain reaction detection of parasitic 18S rDNA, and the diagnostic accuracy of the molecular method determined. Swab sampling combined with Qiagen DNA extraction was the most efficient recovery method for Leishmania DNA, and was the most sensitive (98%; 95% CI: 91–100%) and specific (84%; 95% CI: 64–95%) approach. Aspirated material was less sensitive at 80% (95% CI: 70–88%) and 61% (95% CI: 50–72%) when coupled to Qiagen or Boil-Spin DNA extraction, respectively. Swab sampling of lesions was painless, simple to perform and coupled with standardized DNA extraction enhances the feasibility of molecular diagnosis of CL.