I get lots of questions about leather care. More often than not, these questions are raised after the owner has noticed a problem, and then it may be too late. When cleaning leather, the first thing to consider is “What type of leather hide do I have?” To keep it simple, we will discuss the two most common types: Pigmented hides, and Aniline Dyed Hides.
1- Pigmented: This is a common hide that is sometimes referred to as a “corrected hide”. It simply means that the surface has been sanded smooth, usually because a hide has been split. The inner part of the split will have no grain pattern, and after it has been prepped properly, a pigmented color will be applied to the top of the hide while a grain pattern is embossed on the surface. The pigment used is very opaque and matches well to vinyl which may be used on areas where a person does not come into contact. This color is usually a very flexible urethane that completely seals of the hide so spills do not stain the upholstery. This is why pigmented hides are used in the automobile industry- they are very durable.
Cleaning pigmented hides: Use a leather cleaner such as Lexol which can be found in any automotive parts store or auto section in a large store. These cleaners are not too acidic, or alkaline. A cleaner such as Windex has a high alkalinity and will cause the leather to crack in time. This is why you will see cracks in leather car seats. It is not the heat and UV rays that cause the deterioration, but it is most likely due from liberal usage of window cleaner. No matter which cleaner you use, you must condition the leather afterward, and periodically. The conditioner neutralizes the Ph level and will help keep the hide looking and performing at it’s peak for years.
2- Aniline: Most all anilines, and semi-anilines are a top grain. This is the natural surface of the hide minus the hair. You can see imperfections and blemishes due to the hide being uncorrected in the tanning process. A dye is applied to the hide which penetrates deeply into the hide, and then a light clear top coat will be applied for some protection. This hide will scratch easily, but is much more comfortable because it breathes better than a pigmented hide. Cleaning this one is much more difficult because liquids will soak into it very quickly, and can stain it. Only use a light and mild leather cleaner for aniline. Condition this one lightly. Most scratches can be rubbed out by finger.
Ink marks can be gotten off leather if you are careful. They may not become completely invisible, but will become much less noticeable if you are careful to clean only on the mark (no matter how thin the line is). The alcohol in hand sanitizer will work well, but try it in an inconspicuous area first to test to see if the color comes of the hide’s surface easily. Use a Q-Tip by dabbing it only on the mark. Lacquer thinner will work too- but be very careful. Do not be too aggressive, and work for a short amount of time and stop; let it dry, and then try again later- then stop again.
Leather Repair Kits
Stay away from repair kits- they are a waste of time and money. Hire a professional leather repairman if you have color loss, scuff, or tear. Large repairs on high traffic areas are rarely permanent, but they are great for sides, front and back. If a repairman sprays a topcoat of color on an area that has soaked up body oils ( the headrest, or armrests), the color will eventually peel like a sunburn which will look worse than the damage. If a seam has come loose, this can most likely be blindstitched. The bottom line here is: Consult a professional by sending them some pictures for review, and then get an estimate for repairs.
No one cleaner will work for all stains, or for all leathers. If you need to find out what types of hide you have (and there are many), go to wikipedia and search “leather” for a good description. Some types should not be cleaned at all. A “wax pull up” hide can be heated with a hair dryer to hide scratches and some stains for example. The best bet, though, is to maintain your leather. It will last up to 5 times longer with care.