Leather used in Automobiles
Automobile manufacturers have blurred the distinguishing lines on what exactly leather is. Premium leather is the top split of the hide. There are many so-called ‘leathers’ that are actually the bottom split (the fibrous part of the hide). In accordance with US government standards theses should be labeled as ‘split leather’, although they are being sold by many automobile manufacturers as ‘premium leather’. Some of these ‘split leathers’ are covered with a vinyl or urethane coating.
Leather is the most delicate and difficult to maintain of any vehicle surface. It ages and wears faster than surrounding materials which can depreciate the vehicle’s re-sale value. Before using a leather care product, a detailer needs to know the material they are working on, and whether the product chosen is compatible with the material and will not damage it. Diagnosis is the key, not guess work. Before deciding on what products to use, you need to ascertain what type of leather finish you have and whether the pigmented leather has a polyurethane covering, or is uncoated, finished natural leather. This is critical, as the cleaning / maintenance varies for each type (although all types require a water-based product to maintain hydration – a suede type leather like Nubuck is the exception).
Automotive leather care is a subject surrounded with misinformation and myth. Products such as leather (Saddle) soaps, oil-based Conditioners, Neats-foot oil, and Hide Food still prevail as top sellers, albeit most are made for equestrian tack. These are very different leathers with drastically differing care requirements. The exact reason for this type of misapplication is unclear. It’s possible that there is an association with old world quality (i.e. European automobiles with leather upholstery and real burl wood interiors) with these types of products, despite the fact that the automotive industry has been using water-based polyurethane covered pigmented leather for many years.
Prevention is far better than correction
Leather that has become cracked from inadequate or inappropriate care usually cannot be restored to its original state by most available products / methods. It is highly recommended that you fully clean, hydrate and protect auto interiors leather upholstery surfaces 3-4 times per year. It is much easier to practice prevention than it is to correct major problems after the fact
All cowhides are naturally oily, unfortunately, these natural oils are stripped away in the tanning process (tanning is a process using a water vat and chromium salts to preserve hides and prepare them to absorb dyes) and some equivalent oils must be re-introduced after tanning (See fat liquoring).
These fat liquoring formulas are closely held secrets, passed down through generations; this is the origin of the new car ‘leather smell’. This is one reason why one company’s leather can have a totally different feel, fragrance, texture and softness from another company’s product. Modern leather tanning methods; chrome tanning, seals the hides ‘locking in’ the necessary fats and oils. It is then pigmented, by spraying a colored polymer resin to the hide to provide uniform finish. Leather is hygroscopic (it naturally absorbs and retains water), meaning it’s also susceptible to losing the moisture necessary to keep it pliant and soft. All that is required is re-hydration of the leather hide to avoid it drying out.
Depending on the desired product, the hides then go through a water-based dyeing process, which also involves adding moisture back into the skin. Automotive leather is then pigmented with a water-based color and finished. Most leather then has a water-based polyurethane protective coating applied. Since the denaturing process of leather tanning removes moisture from the hide, introducing water-based products restores the lost moisture of the hide to maintain its natural flexibility.
Before choosing a product to clean or maintain leather surfaces you must be certain of the material used and wither it is protected or covered, as the correct product requirements are vastly different You can test wither or not it’s (a) protected leather (covered) – by slightly scratching it with your nail, if it changes to a darker / lighter shade, it is unprotected (i.e. how suede changes color depending on the fibers orientation). If this has little effect it’s protected. If water ‘beads’ on the surface, then it is probably covered leather. If it soaks in, then it is probably finished leather (b) natural leather (uncovered) Has a random shade colors and grain pattern; lightly scratch the surface to see if it reveals a lighter color, water drops will darken its color (temporarily).
Protective coatings are applied by spraying water-based acrylic polyurethane, which is porous, so it does not completely seal leather, per se. It’s also thermoplastic and therefore remains pliable to follow the flexing of the leather upholstery. The coating is less than 1-millionth of an inch thick, and is water permeable, thus allowing the leather hide to breathe and to allow hydration. Under normal conditions, the polyvinyl coating and the split leather hide will last the lifetime of the vehicle, but only if proper care is provided. Hydration is important to ensure that the leather hide does not dry out as this would make the leather more likely to absorb stains / spillages; as once these are absorbed they can be almost impossible to remove. While leather that is polyurethane-coated is relatively easy to care for by virtue of its protective plastic surface, it is also inaccessible for purposes of maintenance. Meaning, of course, there is absolutely no point to using leather oil-based conditioners on plastic coated leather
Leather is a natural product and its surface contains pores, this helps the leather to hydrate. If looked at under a microscope it will show an uneven surface and when leather becomes soiled, the soiling embeds itself into the ‘valleys’ of the leather. Gentle agitation is what is required for cleaning. By using a great deal of force on the leather surface, you will only abrade and push the dirt deeper into the surface.
The interior environment of an automobile can be extremely demanding on any material used. Temperatures range from hot dry summer days, to freezing nights. Both high and low humidity. Even air conditioning that cools, but also dries. Leather’s greatest enemies are; sun, heat, body oils and ultra violet radiation (UVR), which dries the hide, fades the color by bleaching, and can cause the leather to fail by drying out the fibers causing the polyurethane and / or the hide to crack.
Upholstery leather given the proper care and protection will withstand all of the above; provided the loss by evaporation of its essential moisture is replenished to counteract drying and stiffening, and to maintain both flexibility and suppleness. Understanding dressings is essential; obtain accurate technical information on automotive care products can be problematic, but detailer’s should be knowledgeable on the dressings sold for tires, rubber, vinyl and leather and their chemical content. Otherwise they are at the mercy of the supplier to provide not only products, but also the technical knowledge and application methodology regarding product usage.
Unfortunately not all suppliers or distributors have the ability or technical knowledge to provide accurate information to the trade, some do not want to divulge what they term ’trade secrets’ as the information might be detrimental to their product sales or company image. Honest opinion or merely advertising? Commercialism brings with it concerns of honesty and true representation. In other words, it’s difficult to know what is true when someone is motivated by income, i.e. directly targeted at product sales, more so than an unbiased opinion
- Water-based products are able to permeate deep into the hide, unlike oil, water molecules are smaller then the molecules of polyurethane, which enables water-based products to permeate, which is essential for suppleness recovery. Upholstery leather should be routinely cleaned with a pH balanced, non-alkaline cleaner to loosen and lift grease, dirt and dust without overly drying the leather or affecting the hides natural pH. In addition to regular cleaning to remove abrasive debris and oils, leather requires regular replacement of its moisture (re-hydration)
Protected / covered Leather
Gone are the days of ‘unfinished’ natural upholstery automotive leather that required owners to constantly maintain the leather with natural oils. Today, many leather producers treat leather in a variety of colors and textures with a clear polyethylene protection to prevent cracking and drying. While this type of leather finish requires less care, it still requires attention. Many leather care products utilize chemical solvents in order to facilitate permeation of oils / creams, solvents can migrate into adjacent materials (i.e. foam cushions, etc) causing a weakening of their structure, discoloration or other damage. In addition, such chemical solvents may be flammable, irritating or cause a toxic reaction.
Polyurethane covered automotive upholstery
[: Polyvinyl chloride, commonly abbreviated PVC, is the third most widely used thermoplastic polymer It can be made softer and more flexible by the addition of plasticizers]
Iz einszett ‘Plastik-Reiniger’ – an intensive, non-corrosive, non-acidic two-phase deep cleaner, that removes grime build-up thoroughly and effortlessly, these chemicals restore your interiors original texture and resiliency; use to clean all coloured and clear water-based acrylic polyurethane covered automotive upholstery; this product is biodegradable, formalin-free and environmentally friendly.
Spray lightly on a micro fiber towel (do not spray directly onto surface) and apply to surface, one panel at a time with a slight downward pressure
Unlike cloth or leather, the surface of polyurethane generates static, which attracts dust. As a result, it can quickly become grimy, although vinyl and polyurethane covered upholstery is the easiest to clean. Do not use regular household soap and water as they will permanently remove the sheen
Choose a water-based product that does not clog the pores of perforated leather and does not contain harsh chemicals that can damage the protective covering or strip the pigmented dye. The overall objective is to maintain the appearance of the leather as it was from the factory.
Leather Care / Cleaning / Maintenance
Classified in accordance to their cleaning codes and labels into these basic categories: Before undertaking any cleaning or stain removal remedies it is essential to identify the type of leather involved. There are three main types of leather used in automotive upholstery;
The color pigmented polyurethane coating may be embossed with a grain pattern for visual effect. Pigmented leather cannot absorb wax, most liquids, and oils because of the protective properties of the finish. Since the leather hide is coated in a synthetic finish, when treating the leather, you are actually only treating the finish coating. You will need to use a product that is chemically formulated to treat the synthetic coating and not the hide itself. This is also the least expensive way of applying a leather dye (used mainly by both American and Japanese car manufactures) European vehicles (Rolls Royce, Jaguar, Ferrari, Aston-Martin, Bentley) are usually upholstered with vat-dyed leather.
- Protected / Coated
This is produced from the lower split (bycast) of the leather hide, it is coated by first melting a type of glue on the surface, then rolling on a film of coloured polyurethane. This type of leather is also known as coated or covered. The majority of automotive upholstery is protected leather, these leathers have aspects of a natural finish, but more uniform in appearance, split leather will also stretch more than top grain leather and is therefore subject to show creasing. The heavier pigments can create much darker colours, protected leather has a substantial finish applied that makes them more resistant to heavy wear and stains. The heavier pigments and finish do affect the softness and scent, so these leathers often don’t feel or smell like real leather. These leathers are more common in the automotive industry. As the top surface has a high polyurethane finish normal leather creams should NOT be used.
Choose a product that does not leave a powdery residue around the stitching, does not clog the pores of perforated leather, and does not contain harsh chemicals that can damage the protective covering or strip the pigmented dye. The overall objective is to maintain the appearance of the leather as it was from the factory.
Natural, non-covered / Unfinished
Cleaning / Care
Iz einszett ‘Plastik-Reiniger’ is an intensive, non-corrosive, non-acidic two-phase deep cleaner, that removes grime build-up thoroughly and effortlessly, these chemicals restore your interiors original texture and resiliency; use to clean all coloured and clear water-based acrylic polyurethane covered automotive upholstery; this product is biodegradable, formalin-free and environmentally friendly. Maintain by cleaning surfaces with a 6:1 solution of Woolite™ and distilled water or a water diluted citrus-based cleaner to remove stains, then apply a water-based vinyl (303 Space Protectant) dressing that contains ultra violet protection
To determine if your leather is protected with a polyurethane covering; lightly scratch the surface to see if it leaves a lighter color, or place a few drops of water on the upholstery surface; if it ‘beads’ it’s a pigmented polyurethane coated finish. Liquids will not penetrate protected leather. These leathers are more common in the automotive industry Using split leather produced from the lower cut or split of the hide is a relatively new development. It is normally produced in darker colors and when stretched, it lightens. It also scratches quite easily. This type of leather is now coming on to the furniture market, but has been used for automotive upholstery, handbags and belts for some time. As the top surface has a high polyurethane finish, normal leather creams provide absolutely no value (see conditioners).
Many people are unaware of the fact that since the late ‘80s early ‘90s, many of the newer domestic cars and some imports (US) do not use natural leather hides anymore. Approximately 90% of vehicle manufacturers have used (thermoplastic) polyurethane covered split hide leather for their interior upholstery. Vehicle leather upholstery is made from natural hides, chrome tanned and uniquely treated with a light pigmented water-based polyurethane coating or a vinyl covering to make it more viable for automotive seating. It retains the softness of natural top-grain leather but resists fading in direct sunlight, which besides body oil / salt, is leathers worst enemy. While leather that is vinyl-coated is relatively easy to care for by virtue of its protective plastic surface, it is also inaccessible for purposes of maintenance. Meaning, of course, there is absolutely no point to using leather conditioners on plastic coated leather.
The complex tanning process of chromed tanned hides results in the fat liquoring and oils necessary to keep the hide soft and pliable being locked in, this is further sealed by a durable polyethylene covering to protect the hide from abrasion from clothing as well as the dust / dirt introduced by the vehicle’s AC system.
This type of automotive upholstery finish should not be considered a natural leather hide as far as care and its maintenance is concerned, but treated as a vinyl, only requiring that you maintain its moisture and protect it from ultra violet (UV) radiation. A water-based cleaner will permeate the polyurethane covering as its molecules are much smaller (oil has larger molecules than water and are unable to penetrate so oil will just sit on the surface). As the top surface has a high polyurethane finish, normal leather creams should NOT be used.
Natural leather (uncovered)
Has a random shade colors and grain pattern; lightly scratch the surface to see if it reveals a lighter color, water drops will darken its color (temporarily).
Choosing a Leather Care Product
The keys to leather care are keeping leather
- (a) hydrated Use water-based products and claen surfaces with a damp towel
- (b) clean, as dirt / grit and subsequent friction cause the finish to wear.
For many, finding the best leather care product is as simple as using what is the most popular. While popularity can sometimes be a reliable barometer, it isn’t always the correct choice. Some even make their decision based on new car’s leather fragrance alone. My best advise; research other options and products, test them and then make an objective decision based upon factual information, not hype or brand loyalty. After all, how can you fully understand and properly use any product unless you have all the facts? I would also strongly suggest that you verify any information that I or anyone else shares with you.
A leather protection product is essential as it will protect the surface finish and makes dirt easier to clean off. The latest technology leather upholstery does not make the interior “maintenance free,” as some car dealerships imply. Protection is an essential element in leather care, inhibiting abrasive dirt / grit, brought in from the outside via the A/C system and stains from being absorbed. Its primary purpose is to act as a barrier between the leather surface and any soils that may settle on it, making maintenance cleaning easier, and also providing protection from ultra violet radiation (UVR), particularly in the open-air roadster/convertible.
Analogy Between automobile upholstery (finished pigmented leather), to a vehicles paint surface with a clear coat;
A base material (metal) with a color coat of water-based polymer paint
- Leather hide pigmented with a water-based polymer resin.
A water-based polymer clear coat to provide protection
- Water-based polyethylene clear coating to provide protection
As materials and production methods that are used change; we need to adapt our product usage and application methodologies to change with them. Detailing also takes willingness to experiment, which usually means deviating from the product manufacturer’s directions, making objectives observations based upon product content and the results obtained, and adjusting the techniques and products used as necessary, always keeping an open mind on manufacturer’s claims for their products.
The most common dirt in leather is body oils followed by suntan oils and then oily residue brought in via the air conditioning system. Water-based products are able to permeate deep into the hide, unlike oil, as water molecules are smaller than the molecules of polyurethane, which enables water-based products to permeate, which is essential for suppleness recovery. The 24-30 molecule sized water clusters that are found in distilled water, which is required for hydration, are smaller than those of most oils and will therefore permeate the micro-pores of polyurethane easier than oils, which tend to remain on top of the surface
Quote – Leatherique Prestine Clean is part of a two-step leather maintenance system. Step one is Leatherique Rejuvenator Oil is a protein collagen complex that is absorbed into the hide to nourish it, and while it will expel dirt to the surface, it does not harm the dye in any way. This oil nourishes the leather and forces contaminants out of the pores. Step two Prestine Clean then removes these contaminants from the surface of the leather and leaves it with a clean, matte sheen. This is the only leather care system that calls for the conditioner to be used first, and it makes perfect sense! The leather absorbs as much of the oil as it can and expels the rest to the surface, along with all the contamination.”
According to Leatherequi you apply the (conditioning) oil first and then the cleaner, so it must first dissolve its own oils, limiting its capacity to dissolve dirt and oils in the leather.They state that their cleaner will only remove dirt (oils) not the Leatherequi oils. I would question how does the cleaner distinguish between oils (i.e. the most common dirt in leather are body oils followed by suntan oils and then oily residue brought in via the a/c) that should be removed and Leatherequi’s conditioning oils?
Avoid using these types of conditioners for coated leathers, as it contains lanolin, waxy cream and white spirit that can react with the coating used on today’s leather. It’s a great product for the renovation or restoration of old English leathers or other uncoated natural leather.
- Products formulated for Equestrian Tack
Riding saddles, bridles, and etc use a completely different type of leather from that used for vehicle upholstery, the care products used (Neatsfoot, Beeswax, Lanolin and Tea Tree Oil) for riding gear is often formulated to ensure they remain weather and water resistant
- Lexol was originally formulated for riding tack / saddles, as an oil-based conditioner. It has be re-marketed for the automotive upholstery market (see also Saddle Soap)
- The Myth Of Saddle Soap In the late 1800′s the final tanning of leather required the talents of a “currier”. This craftsman took the tanned but brittle hide and worked oils into it until the desired flexibility was obtained. This process was called fat liquoring. The fat liquor of choice was an emulsion of oil in soap. This “saddle soap” was not used as a cleaner. It was a softening conditioner. In fact, saddle soap is a very poor cleaner. It must first dissolve its own oils, limiting its capacity to dissolve dirt and oils in the leather. Saddle soap is also inherently alkaline but alkalinity is damaging to leather. Another problem arises during application. Most saddle soaps instruct the user to work the lather into the leather. Since loosened dirt is suspended in the lather, it is pushed back into the leather’s pores. Saddle soaps have long been replaced in tanneries by modern emulsions, which penetrate, soften and condition with greater ease and stability. The popular myth of saddle soap as a cleaner however persists as modern folklore
- Choosing a Leather Cleaning Product
- Before using any Leather Cleaning Product, vacuum the leather surface to remove dust and debris and then clean and hydrate by using a clean, soft lint-free Micro fibre (Micofiber) Towels microfiber towel (or a medium soft brush) Use a gentle, circular motion – do not rub the leather or apply extreme pressure when cleaning. A foam type cleaner is the most efficient and safest upholstery cleaner as the foam contains a surfactant that encapsulates the dirt and this is then removed by the towel. If your initial clean has not removed any obvious dirt then (providing it is a non -absorbent leather) allow the product to dwell to enable to fully dissolve and encapsulate the dirt and then start the removal process again, if any dirt remains it may be that the surface leather is stained
- Recommended Leather Cleaner: Leather Master’s, its pH balanced; water-based formula gently cleans without drying leather upholstery. (Leather Soft or Leather Strong Effects) Leather Master Products are used as a ‘benchmark’ by other leather care product vendors. All water-based cleaners will remove any body oil or salts, dirt and grime and wash them from the leather surface.
Today, Leather Master leads the industry with over 350 different leather products. All Leather Master Products are manufactured in Montecchio Maggiore, Italy. The world’s largest tannery, located nearby, keeps them up to date on the latest changes within the industry.
- Avoid silicone based products, as silicone has a very high electrostatic attraction.
- Any cleaner should be rinsed thoroughly from the leather as any soap residue attracts dirt. This is an essential part of caring for your leather upholstery.
- Use a water-based cleaner to re-hydrate the leather. A water-based cleaner will also help to maintain the moisture balance in the leather. This is important for keeping the leather supple and makes it less likely to absorb spillages.
- Over using oils can make the leather soft and has the potential to stretch causing the stitching and possibly the hide to fracture. Oils will also heave a detrimental effect on the polyethylene covering. However, you need to keep ensure that the polyurethane coating remains flexible enough to work in tandem with the natural flexing and limited stretching of the leather. Adding chemicals may also compromise the integrity of the coating so that it loses its elasticity.
- Ensure the cleaner is pH balanced (between 7.5 – 8.0) as high pH cleaners may cause premature aging. It not only removes the dirt and oils (which can, over time, break down the leathers hide and the stitching), it can also damage the protective coating of covered leather.
- Don’t allow grit, dirt or dust to build up to excessive levels as this could have an abrasive affect. Combined with body weight and movement these cause abrasive friction against the leather and greatly increases wear.
- Areas which are in contact with your skin and head, for example arms and backrests, car steering wheels etc. should be cleaned regularly, as perspiration breaks down the finish and pigment very quickly.
- Use mild pressure. Please remember that by rubbing hard on the leather surface, you will only push the dirt deeper into the leather. Wiping the surface with a damp cloth on a regular basis (every week/two weeks) is recommended to remove surface dust and dirt and add moisture (hydration).
- Foam from a solvent free pump action dispenser is extremely efficient for the cleaning of leather upholstery as it lifts and encapsulates dirt to enable it to be safely removed without scratching the surface. The foam created by an aerosol or pump type dispenser has the consistency of shaving cream, making it ideal for leather
- Foam Cleaner-
Rapid S Cleaner is a concentrated cleaner specifically designed for Automotive Leather that have accumulated dirt, soil, dye transfer and body oils. .Dispense foam onto the car seats, work foam into the surface with a dampened sponge, allow to sit for one minute and wipe the foam away with a clean microfibre towel. Protect with Protection Cream once dry. Do not allow to dry as it can leave spotting. For heavily soiled areas, or where the leather has become engrained with creases in the leather, a soft brush can be used to agitate and loosen the dirt(Swissvax Leather Brush)
- Using dry steam vapour
A system that produces a high temperature, low moisture vapour, that contains only 5% to 6% water and is much less dense than air. A steam vapour system is equipped to safely produce thousands of gallons of live dry steam using only about 1.5 quarts of water per hour. It is mess free with temperatures hot enough to kill bacteria and germs, emulsify grease and oil as well as other surface contaminants. These units are best suited for light cleaning (covered leather or fabric upholstery) maintenance, and spot removal. Apply a cleaner to a sponge, work up a foam and apply to the surface, then pass the steamer just above the top of the area just cleaned and lightly agitate with a micro fibre towel, then wipe dry. Steam vapour helps to emulsify the grime, while the foam encapsulates it. Steam when it cools turns to condensate (water) which helps to re-hydrate the hide
- Various Surface Conditions
How your leather feels (its Patina – literally ‘hand’) tells you more about its condition than anything; it should feel like something between velvet and satin. Supple, inviting and luxurious. Leather care starts with maintaining factory fresh feeling leather from the beginning. Keeping it clean is important, and hydration is the key; preserving the life, flexibility, appearance and longevity of your leather.
Dry leather - it is the moisture level that has altered and re-hydration is needed to restore balance. Keeping leather clean and hydrated is the key to maintaining leather and although commercial ‘conditioners’ may ‘feel good it’s not the leather itself that feels softer, but merely the product sitting on the surface.
Shiny leather - is caused by using an inappropriate care product (cream or oil-based) which leaves an oily residue on the surface, or by dirt build up plus friction leaving a shiny surface. Proper cleaning with a water-based cleaner (Leather Master Leather Soft or Leather Strong Effects) and the use of a protection product should return the leather to its original matte finish.
Sticky leather surface - body oils (or sun-tan oil) mixed with road dirt from the a/c could be the cause or an oil-based product as used; use Leather Master’s Leather Degreaser (check for colour fastness) this aerosol product is ideal for cleaning oily stains; it dissolves and removes oil and grease from leather surface. This cleaner can be applied for cleaning all types of leather
Stiff leather surface – Soft Touch (ex Vital) will revitalise leather that has become dried out, stiff or is squeaking. It is also excellent for improving the tactile feel of leathers. Soft Life is a water-based cream for polyurethane coated leather
- Leather Aroma – once leather hides go through the tanning process a neutralizer is introduced to remove the odour from the fat liquoring and oils used. Leather should therefore have a no smell, however we have become accustomed to a certain odour that is associated with luxury vehicles interiors, ‘burl wood and natural leather’. If you love a ‘leather smell’ and try Leather Training & Technical Dept (LTT)- www.lttsolutions.net/ Leather Aroma to remind you of what we associate with the smell of natural leather hides. This product is oil- based but the concentrate can be safely sprayed onto a towel and then wiped onto the vehicle interior upholstery. Long lasting and the only product I’ve found that actually has a pleasent smell of ‘leather’.
- Leather brush. This is a palm pump type design, so you can pour the cleaning solution in the handle. Simply pour your favorite interior upholstery cleaner in the dispenser and push down on the rubber lid. The pressure activates a miniature pump which forces the liquid out to the bristles. The brush’s thick, soft bristles are flagged (puffed) so it will not scratch delicate leather
Horse hair brushes have soft and gentle bristles. Great for leather, headliners, vinyl door panels and rear deck covers.
- Cleaning Methodology
1. Use a soft brush to remove any dust or grit from the seams and vacuum the seating areas dust
2. Wipe the seats down with water to help the cleaning agent breakdown the dirt.
3. Apply a cleaning solution with a palm pump type brush or a double mesh woven micro fibre, made to be safe and scratch-free for all leather and vinyl finishes. Apply to one area at a time (i.e. a seat back).
3a. As necessary, using a sponge, apply a small amount of Leather Master™ Soft / Strong Cleaner (or equivalent), and gently agitate it until it foams, leave for a short time for the foam to absorb the dirt and then remove with a damp micro fiber cloth.
- 4. To remove stubborn dirt or grime gently agitate the surface with a boar’s hair cleaning brush (this will not harm the leather) then use a clean, damp Micro fibre towel to rinse.
5. Any detergent soap that is not rinsed away will dry out a surface due to the dried soaps capillary action with moisture; this will be further aggravated if the detergent contains a foaming surfactant as these are generally formulated with sodium. This will adversely affect the polyurethane covering and cause the pigmentation to lose its bond to the leather surface.
- Stain removal products Leather is a natural material and varies greatly between manufacturer processing and dyeing procedures, age of leather and individual hides. This is why it’s so important to pre-test each cleaner for its suitability on an inconspicuous area prior to use.
- Dye Transfer - is a common problem on lighter colored leathers; this can be avoided by regular cleaning and the use of a protector. The transferred dye will ‘sit’ on top of the protection and van then be cleaned off by regular cleaning. Using a solvent on leather that has a stain or dye transfer will do two things; (a) cause the dye to ‘bleed’ into the surface making it even more difficult to remove (b) damage the finish requiring replacement. Dye transfer (from jeans, leather belts, etc)can be very difficult to remove; the longer it is on the leather the harder it will be to remove. Clothing dye normally shows as a greyish bloom in seat area. This is usually caused by dark dye transferring from clothing. Particularly avoid brand new (i.e. never been washed) denim jeans, damp knitwear etc.(see Strong Effect Cleaner)
- Repair scratched, cracked or creased leather Split leather (bycut) is subject to stretching and therefore shows creasing more readily, by using this kit from Leather Magic; wipe the leather down with the solution, using the 220 grit paper, this will remove most of the minor creases. Apply 3-4 thin coats of dye (allow to dry between coats) you have the option to spray the final coat with a sprayer (all included in kit) – Leather Magic Repair- http://www.leathermagic.com/
- Strong Effect Cleaner – Leather Master’s “Strong Cleaner” is arguably the most powerful leather cleaner on the market. The water based formula removes ground in soil and water based stains. It can even remove blue jean transfer with a few light, repeated applications. This product is used exactly the same as the “Leather Soft Cleaner”, but its action is more intensive due to a greater concentration (twice the amount) of active ingredients. Remember to apply Strong Cleaner with a sponge to create cleaning foam. Wipe away excess residue with a soft cloth. This product does not remove the finish or coating from any OEM leathers or those prepared with proper rub resistance standards
- ‘ Leather steering wheel
1.Clean the wheel’s leather surface with a leather cleaner (Leather Master Strong Effect Cleaner ) or a degreaser (P21S Total Auto Wash) diluted 5:1 with warm distilled water in a spray bottle; dependent upon type and extent of soil or stain
2.Using a Medium / hard horse hair brush, or a soft sponge, spray and work the cleaner into a foam, lightly scrub surface and immediately wipe with a terry towel to remove excess moisture, especially around stitching (you may need to repeat this process)
3.Then use vacuum extractor or compressed air nozzle to dry
4.Once wheel is thoroughly dry apply a (Leather Master’s) leather protection
- MB-Tex Covered ‘leather’- Iz einszett ‘Plastik-Reiniger is an intensive, non-corrosive, non-acidic two-phase deep cleaner, that removes grime build-up thoroughly and effortlessly, these chemicals restore your interiors original texture and resiliency; use to clean all coloured and clear water-based acrylic polyurethane covered automotive upholstery; this product is biodegradable, formalin-free and environmentally friendly. Maintain by cleaning surfaces with a 6:1 solution of Woolite™ and distilled water or a water diluted citrus-based cleaner to remove stains, then apply a water-based vinyl (303 Space Protectant) dressing that contains ultra violet protection
1. Woolite® has a number of issues that do not lend themselves to the long-term quality care of leather upholstery and interior components. Using a detergent that is meant to be flush rinsed (i.e. rinsed until it runs clear) in a situation were this is not possible, is not recommended as when it dries it will attract dirt and contribute to re-soiling; it will also dry out the surface due to dried soaps capillary action with moisture. This product contains alkalis (sodium), which provide foaming, and a solvent (alcohol) as an aid to cleaning; these will further aggravate the drying out process due to their affinity with moisture. Optical brighteners are also used, which contain Stilbene; continued exposure to ultra violet (UV) light will actually cleave the molecule and start the process of degradation.
2. Water doesn’t dry out leather; as once it’s been tanned it has fats and oils (part of the tanning process called – fat liquoring) sealed in by the finishing process, it is then pigmented (with a water-based paint) and then further ‘sealed’ with a polyurethane covering. Using water and soap to clean will not “dry-out” leather so long as it is rinsed away (you are not cleaning leather but its covering). Detergent soap that is not rinsed away will dry out a surface due to the dried soaps capillary action with moisture, this will be further aggravated if the detergent contains a foaming surfactant as these are generally formulated with sodium. If the surface has become ‘hard’ due to minerals left behind by water or harsh detergents, use a product such as Leather Master’s Vital.
3. With all cleaning products, always test a small, indiscreet area first to ensure it won’t discolor or stain the surface.
4. Do not spray a cleaner directly on the leather. Use an applicator sponge or cloth to apply the cleaning solution.
5. Acetone (nail polish remover) do not use on any type of leather (Natural, Covered or MB-Tex) it will remove the surface requiring re-finishing.
6. The harsh use of chemicals actually keeps dirt trapped in the fibres of the leather. If you abuse or neglect your leather, it won’t survive. Keeping leather clean is important, but replacing any lost moisture is the key to preserving its useful life, flexibility, appearance and longevity.
7.Use caution if using Magic Eraser (it contains abrasives) on leather as it has been found to damage the surface of finished leather.
8. A stain remover that guarantees to remove stains on leather would need to be formulated with a strong solvent, which will potentially damage the finish and / or remove the pigmentation; consequently the surface will require refinishing.
a) Leather Soft Cleaner – (Non-Coated, Protected) Leather Soft Cleaner is a mild, water-based cleaner that will not affect the Leather’s original properties or finish. It is designed to remove most soiling as well as water-based stains. Leather Soft Cleaner is solvent free and works without removing the finish or harming the Leather.
b) Strong Effect Cleaner – Leather Master’s “Strong Cleaner” is arguably the most powerful leather cleaner on the market. The water based formula removes ground in soil and water based stains. It can even remove blue jean transfer with a few light, repeated applications. Clothing dye normally shows as a greyish bloom in seat area. This is usually caused by dark dye transferring from clothing. Particularly avoid brand new (i.e. never been washed) denim jeans, damp knitwear etc. (for regular cleaning use Soft Cleaner) Dye transfer (from jeans, leather belts, etc)can be very difficult to remove; the longer it is on the leather the harder it will be to remove.
This product is used exactly the same as the “Leather Soft Cleaner”, but its action is more intensive due to a greater concentration (twice the amount) of active ingredients. Remember to apply Strong Cleaner with a sponge to create cleaning foam. Wipe away excess residue with a soft cloth. This product does not remove the finish or coating from any OEM leathers or those prepared with proper rub resistance standards.
c) Alternative cleaning solution - use a formula that is used by one of the major tanneries to clean their leather – 3% Woolite®, 10% Isopropyl alcohol and the balance distilled water.
d) The Ink Remover (Protected Leathers only) is designed for removal of recent (within 48 hours) ink contamination. Ink marks older than 3-5 days may not respond or will only be lightened (see Strong Effect Cleaner). The biodegradable formula is very easy to use (wax-like stick container) and works well for all types of ink as well as lipstick -
Professional Ink Remover - safely removes ink from: automotive interior surfaces, leather & cloth upholstery, headliners, sun visors, vinyl and plastic surfaces. ADS -
e)Mold Remover; (Non-Coated, P-Protected/Coated, N-Nubuck/Suede) you may notice dark or white blotches where two areas of the leather touch or areas not used. If the contamination is not removed, the fungus will dissolve the leather, forming small pits. Just like mould and mildew contamination in other areas, you cannot wash or shampoo it away. This only makes the problem worse. The fungus is caused by living organisms that must be killed before the leather is cleaned. This product is effective on most forms of bacterial or fungus growth.
f) Repairing / Replacing Leather Coating – oil-based leather care products can cause the polyurethane covering to be compromised by permeating cracks and fissures (i.e. delaminating; as the oils effect the adhesive used) when refinishing Leather demands lasting durability and exceptional quality this two part system of premium coatings delivers OEM standards. The most advanced, highest-grade waterborne coatings manufactured with pigments, not dyes, to give lasting durability, flexibility and versatility. Refinish Coatings – http://www.refinishcoatings.com/onecoatingallapp.html
- Pre-test on an inconspicuous area to insure colour fastness.
- Wear latex gloves.
- Clean the surface of the leather with Soft or Strong Cleaner to remove any visible mould excrement.
- Gently rub a very small amount of product on the contamination.
- Allow the product to dry and wipe off with a soft cloth.
- Repeat these steps as necessary.
- After removal of the mould, re-clean the area with Leather Soft Cleaner.
- Allow to dry and apply Leather Protection Cream.
- Leather Training & Technical Dept (LTT) – www.lttsolutions.net/ BRIT system is a pigment restoration system used for re-colouring large areas or changing the colour of your leather completely. It is the lightest product available with very high colour intensity which ensures no texture is lost during the process and makes it very economical.
- Universal Cleaner
Contains a highly effective concentrated cleaning agent for cleaning leather upholstery like car, motorcycle, boat and airplane seats, protects leather surface from shrinking, and makes it soft. It is not suitable for aniline leathers, Nubuck or suede. This product has a foamer cap. Post use the cleaned surface should be protected with Protection Cream.
- Leather Degreaser
An aerosol product for cleaning oily stains; it dissolves and removes oil and grease from leather surface. This cleaner can be applied for cleaning all types of leather.
- Leather conditioning
The only ‘conditioning’ required for leather upholstery is hyrdation, oil-based products cannot permeate the polyurathene covering that is used in 90% of modern automobiles. Leather Protection is far more viable and will provide better long-term benefits than a conditioner as so many so called leather conditioners utilize chemical solvents in order to facilitate penetration of there oils; this has a detrimental effect of the polyethylene covering causing fissures (cracking). If your leather upholstery is becoming inflexible, Leather Master’s Vital can be used, as leather requires re-hydration (moisture replacement) not a leather conditioner.
- Leather Care (Nubuck, Alcantara®, Suede, etc)
Nubuck is top-grain cattle hide leather that has been sanded or buffed on the grain side, or outside, to give a slight nap of short protein fibres, producing a velvet-like surface. Suede is not commonly found in vehicles, however, Nubuck or a synthetic known as Alcantara® is commonly found in sports luxury vehicles; on the steering wheel, armrests and seat inserts both for aesthetic purposes and grip (on the seats and steering wheel) and the headliner, it is highly absorbent, creating a texture similar to velvet, many people confuse this product with suede leather.
As a general rule when cleaning Nubuck, Alcantara ®, Suede, etc you should only to use products specifically designed for this type of fabric. Avoid using a product designed for cleaning leather. It’s also important to do a patch test before cleaning any fabric to make sure the colour or integrity of the fabric won’t be damaged. To do this, apply your cleaning product to an area that doesn’t show to see what the effect will be.
- Nubuck Foam Cleaner is a solvent free pump action product, which is extremely efficient for the cleaning of general soiling and water based stains on Nubuck, brushed aniline and suede leathers. Always pre-test the product on a hidden area. This cleaner is an aerosol version of Leather Master™ Strong Cleaner.
The advantage of foam over liquid is the minimum amount of moisture, very important for cleaning absorbent materials. Clean the surface with a Leather Master™ cleaning pad, or use the foam cleaner. The foam created by this aerosol has the consistency of shaving cream, making it ideal for sensitive leather. Do not allow to dry as it can leave spot marks. For heavily soiled areas, or where the leather has become ingrained such as in creases in the leather, a soft brush can be used to agitate and loosen the dirt.
These steps may be all you need to clean these surface but if it still appears stained, you can try adding a small amount of white vinegar to a soft washcloth and gently buff the surface.
Be sure to do your patch test first. For rally stubborn stains; clean the surface with 303™ Cleaner & Spot Remover (do not saturate) it removes oil, grease, ink, berry juice, wine and blood. It contains no soaps, detergents, phosphates, nitrates, caustics, toxic organics, enzymes or volatile organic chemicals (VOC)
Using a soft upholstery brush or a Rubber Suede Brush – http://www.shoestringuk.co.uk/ to raise the `nap’ of the surface then apply cleaner by spraying onto a 100% cotton towel (do not saturate) allow to air dry. The surface of these leathers has no protective barrier, and as a result these leathers are very prone to soiling and staining. To protect unfinished leathers including deerskin and unfinished dyed leathers, use Leather Master™ Nubuck Protection
•Shake well before use
•Spray a small amount of the product no more than 12 inches from the leather’s surface.
•Use a sponge to work the foam into the soiled area, as it acts as a cushion, preventing too much pressure.
•Gently wipe away excess foam, and allow to dry for 30 minutes.
•Repeat for extremely soiled areas.
•Once the area is clean, apply a Nubuck Protectant to prevent future soiling
Alcantara - http://world.alcantara.com/newsite/americas/contenuti/pdf/manutenzione_alcantara.pdf
Leather Master™ Nubuck Protection (Nubuck, Alcantara®, Suede, etc)- Use on new or newly cleaned leather, spray on (but do not saturate) and let dry, it creates and maintains water repellence, resists soiling and helps protect against both water and oil based stains
Identifying characteristics- very soft to the touch will scratch or scuff very easily; water drops will darken the leather but it returns to its original colour after drying.
- Products made specifically for Nubuck (Alcantara®) leather
Cleaning Pad Cleans refreshes and revitalises Nubuck, brushed aniline and suede leather without the need for additional liquids or chemicals. At the same time it will restore the nap (surface appearance) of the leather to its’ original look.
Foam Cleaner Cleaner is a mild solvent product, which is extremely efficient for the cleaning of general soiling and water based stains. Always pre-test the product on a hidden area.
Protection Helps to protect suede and Nubuck leather against stains from drinks and food, it also makes the leather easier to clean.
* The following products should be avoided when cleaning caring for leather
a) Woolite® - has a number of issues that do not lend themselves to the long-term quality care of leather upholstery and interior components. Using a detergent that is meant to be flush rinsed (i.e. rinsed until it runs clear) in a situation were this is not possible, is not recommended as when it dries it will attract dirt and contribute to re-soiling; it will also dry out the surface due to dried soaps capillary action with moisture. This product contains alkalis (sodium), which provide foaming, and a solvent (alcohol) as an aid to cleaning; these will further aggravate the drying out process due to their affinity with moisture.
b) Saddle soap - is an emulsion of fats and oils, originally used as a leather softener (fat liquoring) before the onset of chrome tanning. In reality, saddle soap is a very poor cleaner as its alkaline detergents must first dissolve its inbuilt oils and fat, limiting its capacity to dissolve dirt and body oils.Being inherently alkaline it will damage the finished leather or the thin vinyl film on covered leather, saddle soap also contains wax and solvents, which are required to weatherproof equestrian leather, both of which are detrimental to finished leather upholstery.
Most saddle soaps instruct the user to work the lather into the leather, since loosened dirt is suspended; it is pushed back into the materials pores. Using a product on finished automotive upholstery that is formulated for use on equestrian tack is not recommended. The use of saddle soap as a leather conditioner is questionable as well. A strong non-acid emulsion (pH 9 – pH 10), the high alkalinity level of the emulsion (from the soap itself) alters the acidity of the surface finish, and may cause it to shrink and crack over time.
c) Neat’s-foot - is also an equestrian tack care product that is oil rendered from the feet of cattle or hoofed animals. It is not recommended for use on automotive upholstery as it will rot the seams / stitching and being oil it is unable to permeate finished leather, it may permanently darken coloured leathers.
d) Waterproofing Silicone or wax - products that are formulated with silicon or wax based products will do nothing but cause a seal on your leather or polyurethane (covered leather), which may provide an attractive shiny finish, upon initial application, filling the pores with wax / silicone sealer, causing the surface to have a more uniform, glossy appearance. Silicon products applied to leather don’t facilitate the leather or covered lather to receive any hydration, causing it to dry out; it may also have a detrimental effect on the polyurethane by causing fissure (cracks). Avoid silicone based products, as silicone has a very high electrostatic attraction
e) Silicones - avoid the use of any solvent-based silicone (Dimethal (DMS)) products as they erode and may stain the surface, they also act as a carrier system for dirt, forcing it deep into the hide and discolouring the finish. Solvents also remove the elasticity from lather and polyurethane and will tend to make the surface sticky. Silicone oil’s high electrostatic attraction will attract dust, grime, and air pollution to your leathers surface. Most high gloss products are based upon DMS silicone oil.
f) Lanolin - a greasy yellow substance, which is secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals, such as sheep. Lanolin has two problems; it’s the oil that covers the fleece. Secondly, there’s no way for it to reach the hide. So it remains on the surface where it is easily transferred to any material (clothing) it comes in contact with. The complaint that most leather conditioners are greasy is typically attributable to the use of Lanolin. It’s chemically akin to wax, insoluble in water, it forms a thick emulsion.
g) Alcohol or solvents- can severely compromise / damage the finish of the leather; even a drop may leave a permanent mark, and/or damage the finished surface. Avoid the use of products that contain2-Butoxyethanol (Butyl Cellosolve®) as it’s a strong petroleum distillate solvent. Most covered leather finishes are water based and so any alcohol can begin to cut through them, even if you go over it and you see no colour come off, you probably just stripped off the clear protective top coat and are now sitting on the colour coat, which can get tacky very quickly and will eventually wear through as it does not have the durability found in the topcoat. The use of cleaners that were designed for solvent based urethanes prior to 1988; (which is the case of many automotive leather cleaners) will rapidly compromise water-based polyurethane.
h) Vinyl dressing - on leather as it will clog the pores of the leather and not allow any essential hydration to permeate to the fibre, which will cause the leather to dry out and crack. The difference between leather and vinyl; leather will have an uneven or imperfect pattern to it while vinyl will have a much more even, almost repeating pattern. The depth of the lines within the grain on vinyl is also consistent, while the same lines on leather will vary; it is also usually smooth and soft to the touch.
i) Abrasive products – do not use abrasive products (i.e. Magic Eraser) as an abraded surface attracts dirt / grit, which further damages the finish. Products with a high or low pH value or you may cause irreversible damage to the leather or covered leather polyethylene surface
This glossary provides definitions for many of the terms encountered in the leather industry. For a complete list (www.irvingtanning.com)
Aniline (is a method of leather dyeing as opposed to a ‘type’ of leather) usually used in the fashion (clothes, hand bags, luggage etc) Leather that is coloured all the way through with a transparent dye. The effect is applied by immersing the leather in a vegetable-based dye bath. Because the finish is transparent and shows the natural markings of the leather, only the best quality hides can be used and it is rarely used for automotive upholstery.
Antiqued Leather that is dyed with one colour over another (usually darker over lighter) so as to create rich highlights and an artificial aged appearance, also called distressed leather.
Alcantara® Although a synthetic material it has the look and feel of suede and stands up well to severe use. Buffed Leather: Leather from which the top surface has been removed by abrasion, often known as suede, Nubuc or Alcantara. Corrected Grain: Leather that has been buffed to remove blemishes, then covered with a new, artificial grain created using pigments and other finishes.
Crocking Removing the crock, or excess colouring, that rubs off of a newly dyed hide.
The process of colouring leather by tumbling it in a rotating drum immersed in dye, a very effective method allowing maximum dye penetration
Embossed Leather Leather that has been “stamped” with a design or artificial texture under very high pressure, used for example, to create imitation alligator hide.
Finish Any enhancing effect applied to leather after it has been tanned. Examples are dyeing, embossing, buffing, antiquing, waxing, waterproofing, and so on.
Full Grain Leather Leather which has not been altered beyond hair removal, full grain leather is the most genuine type of leather, as it retains all of the original texture and markings of the original hide.
Glazed Leather Aniline-dyed leather which has been polished to a high lustre by passing through glass or steel rollers under great pressure
Grain A word used to describe the natural characteristics of an unprocessed hide, such as its pores, wrinkles, markings, and texture.
Hand (Patina) A word used to describe the feel (i.e. softness or fullness) of leather, typically upholstery leather.
Nap Describes the soft, “fuzzy” effect achieved in leather by buffing or brushing.
Nappa Soft, full grain leather made from an un-split sheepskin, lambskin, or kidskin, usually tanned with alum and chromium salts and dyed throughout.
Natural Grain leather that displays its original grain.
Nubuc leather whose surface has been buffed and brushed to create a soft, velvety effect. Differs from suede in that while suede is created from the flesh (inner) side of a hide, Nubuc is created using the grain (outer) side, giving it added strength and durability.
Oil Tanned Leather that is tanned using oils to create a very soft, pliable finish
Patina The aura or luster that develops in a quality piece of leather with age.
Perforated Leather in which a pattern of small holes is stamped using a die
Pigmented Leather Leather that has been coated with a flat surface color on top of or instead of the usual dye finish Leather is usually pigmented to add durability and hide natural blemishes.
Plating The process of pressing leather under a heated plate. Often used in upholstery leather to mask imperfections.
Pull-up Describes the behavior of leather that has been treated with oils, waxes, and dyes in such a way that when the leather is pulled or stretched (i.e. on upholstery), the finish becomes lighter in the stretched areas, considered a mark of high quality.
Semi-Aniline Aniline leather to which a matching pigment layer is added to even out the colour and add protection.
Side Leather Leather made from one half, or “side”, of a full hide. Typically refers to leather whose top grain (outermost layer) has been left intact.
Split Leather Leather made from the lower (inner or flesh side) layers of a hide that have been split away from the upper, or grain, layers. Split leather is more fragile than side leather or full-grain leather, and is typically used in the form of suede.
Suede Split leather that has been buffed and brushed to create a fuzzy surface feel(very rarely used for automotive uphostery; see Alcantara®
Top Grain Leather whose top (outermost) layers have been left intact, in contrast to split leather.
Two-tone An effect created by applying layers of similar or contrasting dyes to a piece of leather in order to create a mottled or aged appearance. Antiqued and Sauvaged leathers are examples of two-tone leathers.
Upholstery Leather Leather created from a whole hide and intended for use in furniture, automobiles, airplanes, and other upholstery applications.
Vegetable Tanning A method of hide tanning that utilizes materials from organic materials such as bark instead of the traditional chemicals. Vegetable tanned leather has greater body and firmness than traditionally tanned leather.
Weight A term that describes the heaviness or thickness of leather. Typically given in ounces per square foot or millimeters (thickness)
Whole Hide Refers to leather created using a full hide, as opposed to a side, and typically intended for use as upholstery leather.
Leather Care Product Manufacturers
Leather Master –
Leather Training & Technical Dept (LTT) - www.lttsolutions.net/
Leather Magic Repair- http://www.leathermagic.com/
Refinish Coatings - []
Alcantara Facts & Care -[[http://world.alcantara.com/newsite/americas/contenuti/pdf/manutenzione_alcantara.pdf]]
1. How to keep Luxurious Connolly Leather Young and Supple. Krysti Pavlisko 1998
2. Leather Care Facts. Leatherique. 2003 – [ http://www.leatherique.com/]
3. The Leather Institute (Townsend Leather Group) [ http://www.leatherinstitute.com/]
4. How to Restore Auto Leather. D Briggs 2001
5. Leather Master™, Scandinavia – [ http://www.leathermasteruk.co