There many different tanning processes involved with leather upholstery, but basically the hide is either stained with dye whist in its original porous state or sealed & surface coated with a flexible coloured lacquer. Surface coated leathers produced prior to 1980 were generally coated with solvent-based finishes, whereas modern finishes are water-based. This is because of insurance & environmental restrictions imposed on tanneries. Because the testing standards required on leathers are mainly to do with wet & dry rub tests, silicon & wax additives provide today's clear protective lacquers with "slip" to get them through this test. However, nothing tests leather like the general public!
We do not recommend colour changes as they invariably do not last. First there are always recesses or seams you cannot get deep enough into & contrasting lines appear. Secondly, we spend much time deep cleaning the leather & getting the colour as exact as we can so we keep the amount of finish light, which keeps the leather as supple & natural as possible. Too much surface finish (which colour changes involve) & any already established creases or cracks will fracture back through, only deeper & the old colour.
Eventually high wearing areas will wear through or scratch & it will be the old colour showing through.
Because modern leather coatings are water-based, inks & dyes no longer sit on the surface, but absorb into the clear protective lacquer. Therefore the only way to remove the stain is to remove this clear lacquer. This obviously needs to be avoided as it leaves the coloured pigment unprotected. There are many "INK REMOVAL STICKS" available. As these mostly contain mild solvents, excessive rubbing will also remove the surface coatings. If they are going to work, they will work immediately by disbursing the ink. This will only be possible with quick drying inks like some biro, which tend to be surface staining. Wet inks like marker & highlighter pens will penetrate deep into the coloured pigments as well & be impossible to remove without causing worst problems. As most leathers tend to have a printed artificial grain embossed into the surface coatings, this will also be removed from excessive rubbing, which leaves a flat spot. We strongly advise people with pastel coloured leathers to avoid putting dark or coloured "Faux Suede" scatter cushions on their suite. On high wearing areas, we advise simply to give the area a chance to fade with use. On non-wearing areas, get a professional to help. Refinishing over the problem has varying successes as it can "bleed" through these lacquers as well. Some bad areas will need leather replacement.
Many manufacturers today tend to use "SPLIT HIDES" on non-wearing areas, such as the outside backs. This is basically the excess suede separated from the tougher "grainside". This produces two hides from each skin, which once pressed, coloured & textured, will be difficult for the average person to tell the difference. It will feel stiffer & courser then the "grainside" leather used on the wearing areas, but because it is coated suede, the finishes adhere to it like they would fabric. It was originally used for leather goods such as key fobs & wallets, but many manufacturers used it for steering wheels & outside backs to suites. Care is to be made when purchasing a VERY cheap leather suite that "SPLIT HIDES" have not been used on any areas of stress or movement on the facings or it will usually flake & spilt within 18 months. Rectifying minor scuffs to outside corners can be improved cosmetically with our solvent-based coloured lacquer, but not advised on face panel problems.
I have a very old cracked leather suite / car interior over 40 years old which is looking very dry & in need of "feeding". I think this cracking adds to the character, but want to do something to stop it tearing or splitting further.
When we do the ROLLS ROYCE shows & talks, we are often shown various beautiful old cars in original condition, which their owners do not want restoring, just preserving. They have spent a fortune working CONNOLLY HIDE FOOD or other similar products into the leather in efforts to put some life back into their upholstery. We explain that this product was developed by CONNOLLY LEATHER to help keep the nitro-cellulose finishes they used then supple to stop them cracking, not the leather. However, once the finishes have worn off, this is the porous hide itself exposed & the lanoline, white spirit & wax it contains will only rot the leather further. As it was originally a synthetic oil, not wax which was originally added to the hide, during tanning which has dried out, this needs to be reapplied. Therefore we advise our REJUVENATION OIL is best for this task then.
Successfully refinishing anything will depend on adhesion. Once the surface coatings have worn off or broken through, the hide itself is very porous, like a chamois. It then starts to absorb impurities like, dirt, grease & any conditioning creams that have been applied over the years. The longer it has been left, the deeper these impurities absorb & the more difficult to gauge the success of the initial degreasing process. There is an additional problem in that we have to use the water-based coloured lacquers which are currently being used by the tanneries today. These need to be used on a totally grease-free surface. Another problem is the age of the leather requiring refinishing. New leathers rely on silicon or wax additives in the clear protective top lacquer to get them through the rub tests. This obviously will give adhesion problems unless broken down first. Many softer automotive hides also have a "crosslinker" added to the top lacquer which makes it virtually impossible to break down without causing the remaining coating to break up with it. We prefer restoring leathers worn enough that this top lacquer has broken down to get a good adhesion, but because of the prestigious customer base we deal with, we are also asked to rectify faults to new cars. There is no "benchmark standard" for this service because it is so unique & difficult to make up for several years of wear & abuse in a two day process. We have seen cars & suites we have restored several years previous still looking like new & others starting to show minor signs of wear on raised edges after a few weeks. We are constantly trying to develop new binders to adhere to these new lacquers, but there is no guarantee they will work on all leathers now or in the future. We like to promote this service as a way of "extending" the lifespan of your leather. If you want something to last like new leather, you need to get it recovered in new leather.
This is known as "Head & Hand "Soiling". It has been a problem ever since leather was used on upholstery, it just shows through a lot quicker now because today's water-based coatings do not wear as well as the old nitro-cellulose based lacquers. We find that chemical build up from perspiration weaken & break down the clear top lacquer, which then allows the natural oils from perspiration to absorb through the coloured pigment (normally through a crease) & build up in the porous hide itself. Generally, it is only when the hide behind is saturated that it affects the adhesion of the remaining lacquers on the surface & peeling starts. If & how quickly this occurs depends on many factors. How thick & durable the coatings are on the leather surface to how strong these chemicals we all secret are. Men generally have stronger chemicals in their sweat & if anyone is on regular medication (such as heart, blood or arthritis tablets), these will have a detrimental effect on the coatings. It is a problem which does not happen to everyone, which is why most retailers & manufacturers see colour loss on these areas to not be a fault, but neglect. Once you can see the problem on the surface, it will obviously be established in the hide behind. Refinishing does not always work as you cannot guarantee the total removal of the oils prior to this process, so leather replacement is usually the only option. We strongly advise everyone to give contact points on their leather furniture a daily/weekly wipe with a damp cloth to stop this initial chemical build up. There is a "PH test" available to the tanning industry which will determine the effects on leather against varying strengths of chemicals, but this is not a requirement at present. One thing is for sure, if ever it was introduced, the tanning industry would be in serious trouble!
The first thing to establish is the type of tanning process used on your leather. Our renovation process & products we supply are only for sealed, surface coated leathers. If you have an aniline or semi-aniline leather, these are generally coloured by staining whist in the hide's original porous state. They will be sealed with a "Scotch Guard" type lacquer or oil & wax combination. These porous leathers we cannot help you with as they will stain fade & mark & it would be better to seek advice from your retailer (if they will commit themselves). The things to remember with surface coated leathers are that you are maintaining the coatings, not the leather. The coatings seal & protect the hide, but once these have broken down, the hide itself will absorb impurities & eventually dry out, rot & split like chamois leather does. Because they are water-based coatings today, they require more regular cleaning with milder products then older leathers. You should never let today's leather get heavily soiled, but if it is, the best way to clean it is:
You will require two buckets, rubber gloves, large sponge, absorbent cloth, soft nail brush (optional) good quality mild soap (no detergents / washing up liquid etc) Fill one bucket with hand hot water & add quantity of soap until a rich solution is achieved. The other bucket just add cold water & absorbent cloth. Compress sponge several times in soap solution to generate rich lather & lightly wring out excess water, Always start with dirtiest area first & if removable cushions, start with seats. If fixed cushions, always work from the bottom up to avoid runs. Work on small areas at a time or it is drying before you can clean it. Use the lather & heat of the solution to break down surface dirt &, if necessary use soft nail brush to remove deep ingrained areas. Wring out absorbent cloth in cold water & quickly wipe off excess soap as you go. Move onto the next area & repeat. It is important to keep your water hot & change it regularly if it gets too dirty itself. It is also important never to rub excessively or peeling will occur, particularly on high wearing areas (end of arms, seat fronts & head panels) It is sometimes better to give a mild wash, rinse, let dry & come back to it then persistently work on one area. If peeling should occur (And this happens with leathers which are not regularly maintained or some of the cheaper imported furniture) lightly dab area with absorbent cloth to soak up soap & allow to dry. It will probably be the clear protective top lacquer breaking up rather then the coloured pigment itself. This will occur mostly if your leather has had a prominent artificial textured grain embossed into the coatings, which leaves the surface brittle. Once happy with your cleaning results, apply a quality barrier / conditioning cream to wearing areas with a lint-free cloth & allow to dry. Buff excess after a few hours or repeat if leather is particularly dry. Continue dusting & occasional wiping every few days, but repeat thorough cleaning process every 3-5 months, depending on colour & use.
Most conditioning creams are silicon or wax with emulsifiers. Some use white spirit as an emulsifier, which is to be avoided on modern leathers. Always smell product before use & avoid anything with a strong chemical aroma. Our ranges of products all basically do the same thing, but vary in consistency & application. The richer the product, the better surface protection, the weaker the product, the quicker it is absorbed & dries. The important thing with any barrier product is to never apply to dirty leather or you will seal impurities into the leather.
As restorers of leather, we have encountered many products from many of our past customers. Some we liked & others we did not. The ones we liked, we used ourselves. The "CONNOLLY LEATHER" based products, such as the mild CONCENTRATED LEATHER CLEANER & HIDE CARE CREAM obviously have a very established following in the 125 years they were supplying quality leather. Now they are gone, we stock it for those who wish to continue to use it. The CLAIRE WHISTON range of products was supplied exclusively to the retailer WORLD OF LEATHER. We handled all their service work in the North West of England for 14 years before they too stopped trading. In that time they never attended any complaints with these products. They replaced it with another supplier one year & a spate of complaints occurred about premature colour loss. They tested & then stopped supplying this other product, brought the CLAIRE WHISTON range back & the complaints stopped. That was good enough market testing for us. When WORLD OF LEATHER too ceased trading, we decided to stock & supply those products also. Originally, we did not want to supply any products, but with constant customer enquiries as to what we used or recommend, we decided to make them available. The CLAIRE WHISTON range all do the same job & can be used on all sealed surface coated leathers, but vary in consistency, ease of application & drying time. We recommend the richer products such as the CREAM are used on lighter colours because they need more surface protection to help repel staining. The TRIGGER SPRAY LOTION is great for regular quick application such as car valet use. The LOTION is good for something in between. The WAX puts a slight gloss on the leather surface so is ideal for "Chesterfield" type leathers or water proofing. The BOXED CARE KIT is ideal a starter pack for any new leather upholstery whist its still in it "wiping down" stage. As the upholstery starts to get more heavily soiled, separate cleaner & barrier creams are advised. The HIDE CARE CREAM contains white spirit & not recommended on leathers produced after 1990. The CONCENTRATED LEATHER CLEANER is a mild liquid soap suitable for all sealed leather types. As with most things, if in doubt, test on unobtrusive area first.
There are a number of leather testing laboratories in the UK, but the one we normally recommend is the BRITISH LEATHER CONFEDERATION. They will have various (chargeable) testing methods to determine if your leather is up to an acceptable standard. They can be contacted on 01604 679999.
BLC Leather Technology Centre
Kings Park Road
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR REQUIRE ADVISE ON PROBLEMS WITH YOUR LEATHER UPHOLSTERY, PLEASE CONTACT US