LEATHER... Special Fabrics Need Special Care

Leather is a very general term used to describe an animal skin, which has been colored or dressed for use, forming a stable, nonperishable material. Though we will focus on the range of leathers used in the manufacture of upholstery, specialty leathers such as ostrich, alligator and others are processed and cared for in much the same way.

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General Guidelines

Each type of leather has characteristics, which govern appropriate maintenance guidelines. The following rules apply to all leathers:

  • Never use aggressive substances (e.g., stain removers, turpentine or other unsuitable substances).
  • Avoid strong rubbing.
  • Keep a minimum distance of 8-12 inches to heaters. Avoid direct sunlight.
  • Remove dust regularly with a soft cloth or gentle vacuuming.

For the purpose of discussing more specific maintenance issues, we have chosen to separate leathers into three broad categories: Finished Leather, Unfinished Leather and Suede.

Finished Leather

Finished leather, as we are using the term here, refers to all leathers, which have been dyed and then “painted” or “dressed” with an additional pigmented leather finish applied to the surface of the skin. Special topcoat-effects such as matte, satin, glossy and antique finishes are often added to these leathers as a final step.

Of all of the leather types, pigmented leather is probably the most serviceable. Most water-based spills will simply bead up and roll off. Remaining residues can then be wiped up using a white towel. Ink, which can be a problem on other leathers, is generally not a problem on pigmented leather.

Many manufacturers recommend a solution of water and dishwashing soap for these leathers. Others recommend the use of saddle soap. These products, however, may tend to cause premature drying and cracking of the finish. Instead, we recommend a quality leather cleaner/conditioner, which preserves the suppleness of fine leather.

Unfinished Leather

“Naked” and “pure aniline” are just two of the different terms used to describe leathers that have been tanned and aniline dyed, but which have not received a finish coat to help protect the surface. These leathers are among the most difficult to maintain because they are so porous.

Both water-based and oil-based spills will usually leave darkened areas on unfinished leathers. These areas can be very difficult to correct without changing the appearance of the surrounding leather. Spills should be blotted as quickly as possible in order to prevent wicking and spreading of the stain.

Ink is very difficult to remove from these absorbent leathers and in many cases simply cannot be removed without damage to the dye or skin itself.

Extra precautions should be taken to avoid these types of stains.

Many leather cleaners and conditioners are not suitable for unfinished leathers and should not be used without thorough testing.

Suede

The term “suede” usually refers to the flesh side of a hide or skin. Very often, the surface has been buffed or finished to create a very soft, even nap.

In its broader sense, “suede” is commonly used as a name for any leather with a napped surface. One of the most common problems with suede is colorfastness. Dry crocking, the moving of dye from one dry surface to another, is quite common with suede. Briefly rubbing a white towel over the surface of suede will often reveal a significant amount of unstable dye.

The dyes will become even more unstable in water. Caution should always be used when applying water-based chemicals, due to the probability of bleeding.

Suedes tend to attract oils. Body oils and foods that contain oil can cause suede to darken and cause the nap to mat. This is particularly true of the high-use areas such as armrests, seating areas and headrest areas where body oils are most likely to come in contact with the suede.

Water-based spills can also cause darkening and matting, although the real problem in these cases may be due to dye migration. When water-based spills occur, the liquid can cause the dye to migrate to the edges of the spill. When the spill dries, the excess dye can cause dark rings.

Spills should be immediately blotted and dried. Once the area is dry, a horsehair brush can be used to remove remaining debris and darkened areas. General brushing, paying special attention to high-use areas such as seating, arms and head areas, will help restore the nap while removing unwanted soils. Most leather cleaners and conditioners are not recommended for suede unless carefully tested.

Will Fabric Protection Help?

Most unfinished leathers and suedes can be treated to provide more repellency. But, as is the case with any fabric, a chemical alone can’t achieve maximum results. It requires professionals close at hand to help with spotting and to furnish information about care and cleaning. Your local Fiber-Seal Service Center has access to the knowledge and experience of an entire industry and will be happy to assist you with recommendations or suggestions.

Need Help With Fabric Cleaning Or Fabric Protection?

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Always use fabric experts to clean and protect your upholstered furnishings.