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How to tackle complex leather repairs

In truth, there’s more than one way to tackle complex leather repairs. In this guide, we will show you the method that we used to repair a large star-shaped tear.

Let’s face it; accidents happen. Pets, moving, children and all manner of other situations can lead to leather damage. Left unrepaired, rips can deteriorate making a bad situation worse. Thankfully, it is possible to not only slow further damage but also to completely conceal it with a well-executed repair.

The repair process

There are 4 main steps to a repair:

  1. Clean and prep the surface – remove any silicons, waxes, oils, and soiling that may prevent optimal adhesion
  2. Anchor the edges of the tear
  3. Fill and smooth any remaining gaps and surface irregularities then texturise to mimic leather grain
  4. Refinish – recolour to blend with the surrounding areas

Equipment

Here are the tools we used to repair the multi-directional tear on the rear panel of a Chesterfield sofa.

BEFORE

Measuring approximately 10cm x 10cm x 2cm the damage included a 3-way tear, surface scuffing and missing foam padding.

Our repair method

STEP 1

Clean the area thoroughly using Spot & Prep (No.4). It is important to remove any factors that might compromise adhesion.

Replace any missing padding.

Anchor the tear into position with stitching. This can provide the strongest foundation for repairs especially when the leather is torn in multiple directions. Pierce holes in the leather first to make stitching easier. Use a curved upholstery needle and strong thread.

STEP 2

Stitching is complete. This was not a load bearing repair so a few stitches were enough. In a load bearing location, more stitching may be prudent.

Optional: We did not use a sub-patch on this job but it can be helpful when the leather needs stabilisation from behind. Glue it in place at the edges. Suitable sub-patches include, leather, vinyl, mesh, silk or interfacing.

STEP 3

Apply some leather glue into the gaps and allow it to dry. Some of the glue will seep behind and between the edges further reinforcing the join. Repeat as needed.

Using a palette knife, lay in the first thin layer of leather filler. Don’t try to fill the gaps fully. Apply pressure to push this first layer into the gaps.

Allow the filler to dry. A hair dryer can be used to speed the drying process.

STEP 4

Using a sponge or palette knife, commence building thin layers of filler to cover the tear and stitching. Experiment with wiping, scraping and dabbing methods of application.

Tinting the filler with colour is optional. It can make it easier to achieve coverage when finishing and is less aesthetically jarring should another scuff occur to the same area in the future (Let’s hope not!).

STEP 5

Continue applying coats of filler, allowing drying time between each coat.

As coverage builds, try going back to using a palette knife and white filler to more easily locate the troughs. For the next couple of applications, concentrate on filling the pits to level the repair site.

STEP 6

Sand to smooth and highlight any low spots or bumps. Run your hand over the area to detect any unwanted irregularities.

Hand sanding using 400 – 600 grit sandpaper or an electric palm sander with 120 – 240 grit pads is ideal for a job like this, where the leather is flat and taught.

STEP 7

When you are satisfied that the repair is adequately filled and smoothed, apply a final layer of tinted leather filler using a stippling motion to texturise the area.

Allow drying. Sand by hand (not machine) to render a smooth grain effect that is ready for finishing.

STEP 8

It’s time to add colour to hide the repair! Using your Leather Repair & Recolour Kit, first, apply leather primer, then a few coats of matching colour. Allow drying between coats. When the colour is completely dry (after a few days), apply 2 coats of matching clear topcoat. Blend the new coatings with the original to achieve a seamless result.

AFTER

The final result! Chesterfields are two-toned. An antiquing effect was applied to match the surrounding areas. This repair will last as long as the lounge lasts or longer (or until another major bingle occurs). It blends well and along with other repairs has helped to save the entire lounge suite from the scrap heap.

The finished lounge suite.

Tips for using leather filler

  • Filler is laid down in very thin layers. Each layer must be dry before applying the next. This is the slowest part of any repair and requires the most patience
  • Drying can be overnight or assisted by sunshine or a hairdryer. Filler is dry when it sands well. If it balls or crumbles when sanding, it’s not dry yet
  • Filler can be tinted using a small amount of leather paint or dye (depending on your job)

Factors that affect repair results & durability

  • THE LOCATION of a tear or rip may influence the durability of a repair. If the tear is in a non-load-bearing location, repairs can be extremely successful and remain intact indefinitely. If the tear is in a load-bearing location, the performance of the repair is less easily predicted
  • THE CONSTRUCTION of the piece can impact the ease of repair. If the leather is stretched taught, repairing can be easier than when it is baggy or loose
  • THE CONDITION of your leather has a direct impact on the ease and durability of a repair. If leather is strong and intact, results can be very satisfying and the repair may deliver excellent longevity. If the leather is a highly compromised state (thin, strained, damaged, oily or brittle), pleasing results may be achievable but the leather may lack the integrity to hold the repair.

Sometimes, the best possible outcome is that the damage is repaired so that the chair or lounge looks good again but is placed in a location where it is no longer used as seating.

A bit of DIY ‘magic’

Repairing is merely a process. There is nothing ‘magic’ about it. Instead, it is a matter of securing open edges, filling pits and troughs, building coverage, refining, and smoothing, and finally, concealing the damage with professional-grade leather finishing products until it blends well.

When you look at a large tear in leather, it’s easy to think that it’s all over; that the sofa cannot be rescued. However, with some patience and the right materials, incredibly satisfying results can be achieved.

For lots more information about leather repairing, leather finishing and which products are best for your job, visit https://leatherhero.com.au/resources/

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Choosing a leather protector

Your gorgeous new white sofa has arrived and you are in loooooove with it. You purchase a glamorous new suede handbag and urgently move out of your old bag and into the mint-condition new one. You buy some nubuck boots and want to take steps to prevent stains as soon as possible. Your 2 new aniline armchairs are the most lux furniture you’ve ever owned. You promise you’ll do the leather care to keep them looking that way. The intent is there, but often, we forget to follow through or don’t know what to do. In this guide, we will explore the difference between leather protector and leather water repellent, explain their uses and identify the ideal application schedule to ensure ongoing benefits for your leather.

A white leather car interior only looks good when clean. Leather Hero’s Protect (No.3) helps to keep it that way

Leather Protector ‘v’ leather Water Repellent

Leather Hero leather protector is a wipe-on cream protector that provides an invisible shield on the surface of the leather. Leather Hero leather water repellent bonds to leather fibres, slowing the penetration of liquids.

Let’s look at the features and uses for the 2 products:

PROTECT (No.3)WATER REPELLENT (No.23)
FEATURES
Inhibits dirt and grime from sticking to leather
Slows the penetration of dirt, oils, ink, spills and transferred dye into
leather or leather coatings
Makes cleaning easier
Nourishes leather
Slows liquid penetration
BEST FORFurniture, sofas, chairs
Leather & vinyl car interiors
Apparel
Vinyl & Faux leather
Boots & other footwear
All weather apparel
Saddles
Leather that is exposed to liquids
Fabrics
Carpets
LEATHER TYPESMost pigmented (painted), nubuck, suede, aniline & semi-aniline leathers*Most pigmented (painted), nubuck, suede, aniline & semi-aniline leathers. Most fabrics and carpets*
SCHEDULE3 monthly or as needed 3 monthly or as needed
APPLICATIONPour cream onto clean just-damp microfibre cloth & wipe evenly over surfaceSpray and wipe evenly over the surface using a sponge and allow drying before use
*Always test in an inconspicuous area to ensure compatibility with your unique leather. Reapply more often when traffic and usage is high.

Why leather protection is important

The use of a leather protector can be a lifesaver in cars, on boats, apparel, bags, and on all types of leather furnishings such as lounges, armchairs, dining chairs, ottomans, and bar stools. Making cleaning much easier and helping to avoid marks and stains, leather protection is smart insurance for both the good looks and health of your leather.

White leather gets no dirtier than other colours but the soiling shows much more easily. For this reason, many people think its the best colour to own. With a regular care regime in place including the use of Protect (No.3) it’s possible to enjoy hygienically and aesthetically clean leather. The leather and coatings, in turn, are also likely to remain robust and intact for longer.

In contrast, whilst soiling is less visible on dark coloured leathers, we are lulled into a false sense of satisfaction. We cannot see the dirt and servicing tends to occur less regularly. Typically, such furniture is coated in grime but we don’t realise it. Instead, after a few years we suddenly notice that the surface is cracking, peeling and flaking. The soiling (a film of body oil, skin cream, food grime, perspiration, pet grime and dirt) has damaged the finish (topcoats and colour coatings) which has broken down and lost adhesion.

The finish on this sofa has been undermined by years of neglect. Leather protection in combination with cleaning and conditioning helps to reduce the unwelcome effects of body & hair oil, perspiration and grime on leather and leather coatings

No matter the colour, soiling happens. However, with the use of leather protection, that soiling can be reduced making cleaning easier, helping to prevent stains and extend the life of leather.

Extract care for nubuck, suede, and aniline leathers

There is great love out there fore the natural, earthy, timeless appeal of unfinished leathers. From sofas, to handbags, jackets to armchairs, dining chairs to footwear, and did we mentions sofas? They look and feel beautiful, blending perfectly in both classic and cotemporary settings.

For all that style, however, there is a practicality trade-off. These leathers are ‘unfinished’ meaning, they have no or little protective colour or top-coatings on the surface (semi-anilines have light coatings). Therefore their beauty and vulnerability go hand in hand.

The porous nature of this unprotected leather has allowed hair and body oil to penetrate into the structure of the leather.

This is where leather protection can be the hero that saves the day. By regularly servicing these leathers with a leather cleaner, conditioner and leather protection treatment, permanent stains can be minimised. Providing an invisible shield Protect (No.3), slows the penetration of the agents that cause marks and stains. It’s important the invisible shield is consistently maintained for full protection to be in place.

Leathers that are dyed may fade in high UV environments. A leather protector that contains a UV barrier can help to slow or prevent fading. This can make a significant difference for nubuck, suede, aniline and semi-aniline leathers in bright homes.

There are many makers of leather creating a wide array of finishes and styles. Always test products in an inconspicuous area first to ensure compatibility with your leather.

Leather Water Repellent

It can be difficult to avoid water coming in contact with leather, especially when outdoors. Whether it be rain, snow, spills or splashes, Water Repellent (No.23) helps to slow the penetration of liquids, thereby helping to avoid water marks and the consequences of overly wet leather.

Love jumping in puddles?

Water is not really wet but rather, it makes solid materials wet. This happens when the water is able to adhere and then penetrate or sink into the material. When leather becomes wet, oils in the leather bind to the water molecules. As the water evapourate, it takes the lubricating oils with it, rendering the leather dry, stiff and brittle. Rips and tears tend to follow. The occasional spill that is quickly wiped or exposure to a few raindrops generally does no harm. However, a good soaking or many spills that are not wiped immediately can be the beginning of the end for leather.

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Choosing the right leather conditioner

Soft, supple leather offers a unique sensory experience. It is both strong and yielding at the same time. Warm to touch, smooth yet textured, there is nothing quite like leather. It’s also low maintenance but certainly not, no maintenance. Over time, especially in the absence of regular care, leather can become dry, brittle and cracked. A quality leather conditioner can help to maintain the luxurious qualities of leather and prevent dryness and other related problems.

These chairs have a matte finish. A conditioner that doesn’t render shine is needed to maintain the matte aesthetic

Different conditioners for different leathers

As there are a few different types of leather and leather finishing, there are also various types of leather conditioners. Each one has different properties and is designed to enhance the desirable qualities of each leather type. Selecting the most appropriate conditioner for your leather will help to ensure satisfying results and the best of care for your leather.

Choosing the right leather conditioner

It’s not a matter of which one is the best leather conditioner, but rather which is the best conditioner for your type of leather. Let’s look at Leather Hero’s 4 conditioners:

PRODUCTPURPOSE DESCRIPTIONCOMMENTS
Nubuck, Suede & Aniline Nourish (No.11)Regular care after cleaningLight conditioner designed to nourish nubuck, suede, aniline & semi-aniline leathers without changing the look of the leather, eg; unwanted darkening or additional shine. (Note, heavy/oily conditioners can permanently darken the colour of unfinished leathers & waxy conditioners can add unwanted shine). Non-greasyCan be used on dull-waxed leathers to avoid unwanted shine. Can be safely used on all types but other conditioners are more appropriate for other types. Apply 3 monthly
Nourish (No.2) Regular care after cleaningA balanced conditioner designed to nourish pigmented (coated/painted leathers). Non-greasy, non-dust-attracting & non-shiny. Leaves a soft sheen & silky hand (touch). Great general purpose leather conditioner that suits most applications. Appropriate for all finished (pigmented) furniture & all car interiors. Ideal for use on man-made substrates such as vinyl and faux leather as well as waxed & many semi-aniline leathers. Apply 3 monthly
Waxy Nourish (No.9)Regular care after cleaningNatural waxy conditioner designed for nourishing high shine waxed leathers. Easy to buff, it renders an appealing natural-looking lux shine typical to classic cigar chair & chesterfield styles. Lends a degree of water repellence. Non-greasyCan be used on other leather types when a rich, natural shine is desired. Apply 3 monthly
Softener (No.22)TreatmentSpecialist leather softening cream designed to soften leather that has become stiff & lost supple qualities. Contains natural plant-derived waxes. Non-greasy & non-shinyInitially, repeat application 2 or 3 times then apply once a year as a treatment. Ideal for sofas and car interiors. Can be used on most leathers
Suede has no coatings. It requires a conditioner that won’t cause darkening, shine or flatten the nap of the leather

In summary

What type of leather do you have?

What do you need from your leather conditioner?

General care for cars, pigmented sofas & apparelNourish (No.2)
Maximum shine & a degree of water repellenceWaxy Nourish (No.9)
General care for nubuck, suede or aniline leatherNubuck, Suede & Aniline Nourish (No.11)
Maximum softening effectSoftener (No.22)
Nourish (No.2) is the ideal conditioner for caring your leather car interior

A few rules to follow

Before using a leather conditioner, follow these steps:

Clean first

Always clean before conditioning. Invisible dirt (body oils and perspiration) are typically the most damaging factors that affect to health, appearance, and longevity of leather. It is the job of a cleaner to remove them as well as the dirt you can see. It is the job of a conditioner to penetrate into the structure of your leather where it lubricates the fibres, adds moisture and nourishing emollients, and leaves an appealing look and feel on the surface. Note; conditioners do not improve colour problems or remove stains.

Test

There are many variables with leather; different makers, different finishes, different grades of leather, different states of wear and tear to name a few. Before proceeding with a service, it’s wise to do a quick test of the leather conditioner in an inconspicuous area to ensure compatibility with your unique leather. Having been scientifically developed and tested and widely used in the marketplace, the products are known to be broadly compatible with most substrates. However, your leather may be atypical. Check for any unwanted changes, such as darkening, shine or other effects before proceeding.

Reapply

Reapply on a 3 monthly schedule as part of your leather care regime.

Waxy Nourish (No.9) produced a desirable natural shine on this much loved old saddle.

The value of leather care

Leather that receives correct care last around 3 times longer. With regular servicing, the work is light and easy. It’s fair to say that when left longer, the job becomes a bit more daunting. Light and regular is the key!

Leather care is about keeping that lush showroom look and feel for as long as possible. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a clean, soft sofa or a well-maintained car interior? It’s also about ensuring you benefit from sanitry clean surfaces. Cleaning and conditioning go hand-in-hand when it comes to extending the good looks, pleasant feel and overall longevity of your leather assets.

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Choosing the right leather cleaner

Leather is luxury; it is robust and durable. It is so durable that we can be lulled into thinking that it doesn’t require any maintenance and will remain beautiful forever. Yet, just like everything that we touch and use on a daily basis, it gathers grime, oils and perspiration from our skin, dust from the air, and marks and stains from spills and other accidents. Choosing the right leather cleaner for your job helps to ensure a great result that cares for your leather.

Different cleaners for different jobs

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all leather cleaner that is safe and effective for use on all leathers. It is important to use the correct cleaner for your leather type and your purpose. A mild cleaner may be safe to use on all leather types but would be less effective in some situations. For example, a mild cleaner would not be suitable for preparing leather for recolouring. A strong cleaner may be too strong for some leathers. It could cause unwanted coatings disturbance.

Cleanse (No.1) did a great job on this soiled leather sofa. It is an ideal leather sofa cleaner (for pigmented leather)

Choosing the right cleaner

You might be wondering how to clean dirty leather. It all starts with choosing the right leather cleaner for your job. Let’s look at a few cleaners to get a better understanding of their correct applications.

PRODUCTPURPOSEDESCRIPTIONCOMMENTS
Nubuck, Suede &
Aniline Cleanse (No.10)
Regular care & accidental
spills
Mild cleaner suitable for unfinished (uncoated) leathers. Use immediately when spills happen to avoid permanent stainsCan be used on all types but less effective therefore less suitable on other leather types. Old stains may not be removed but may soften in appearance with regular ongoing maintenance (cleaning & conditioning). Not suitable for pre-repair or recolouring cleaning. Always clean before conditioning
Cleanse (No.1)Regular care & accidental spillsA maintenance strength cleaner for use on pigmented (painted) leather such as car seats, & pigmented sofas, apparel & bags. Compatible with pigmented leathers & most man-made leathers (vinyls & faux). Not suitable for pre-repair or recolouring cleaning. Always clean before conditioning
Spot & Prep (No.4)Stubborn spot cleaning & surface prep before repairing or recolouringA strong leather cleaner for use when repairing or recolouring leather. Can be used for spot cleaning and spring cleaning. (Test before use as weaker coatings may be disturbed by strong cleaners)Best for pre-colouring cleaning & surface prep. If using for spot or spring cleaning, note that it can flatten shine so use a leather conditioner to restore a pleasing luster and hand (touch). Not suitable for regular maintenance cleaning
Dye Remover (No.15)Can remove fresh transferred dye stains from pigmented leathersA specialist cleaner for removing dyes from clothing, print, hair colourants & other dyes from the surface of pigmented leatherBest results are achieved when the dye is removed before it has penetrated into the topcoat or colour coatings. Porous coatings may absorb the dye, making removal difficult. Keep this cleaner on hand especially if you have white or light coloured leather and wear dark blue or black clothing or throw rugs and cushions. Always condition after cleaning
Ink Stick (No.17)Can remove fresh ink from pigmented leatherA specialist cleaner for removing ink from leather. (Test before use as weaker coatings & some dyes may be disturbed by this cleaner)Best results are achieved when the ink is removed before it has penetrated into the topcoat or colour coatings. Porous coatings may absorb the ink, making removal difficult. Keep this cleaner on hand for when accidents happen. Always condition after cleaning
Mould Remover (No.21)Remove and inhibit mould and mildew infestations in leatherA specialist cleaner for controlling mould in and on leather. Apply generously and allow to penetrate before conditioning the leatherUse before and after placing furniture and apparel into storage and as needed at other times. If possible, manage mould-friendly conditions. In rare cases, well-established, long-term mould colonies can eat into the coatings making them look ‘frosted’. Recolouring can resolve this minor surface issue. Always condition after cleaning or treating mould

Inks and dyes

Inks and dyes are made from seriously potent stuff. They are designed to pack a strong colour punch and be permanent and are therefore, not something you want on your precious leather. Specialist cleaners such as Dye Remover and Ink Stick work wonders when cleaning stains for leather and are best kept on hand for when accidents happen as time is of the essence. Once penetrated, the stain may be indelible and recolouring may be the best option.

Ink Stick - Leather Hero
The ink is removed quickly and easily using Ink Stick (No.17)

Cleaning regimes

Leather responds best to light and regular servicing. Depending on your usage, this might be once a month or once every 3 months or so. Once a year is definitely not often enough in most environments. Remember, it’s the soiling you can’t see that does the most damage to your leather. That’s body and hair oil together with perspiration. The places you touch are the areas that most need regular care.

Harsh cleaning can do more damage than good. Avoid machine (steam cleaning) and stick to cleaning that you can watch and control as you go. Leather that is correctly maintained lasts around 3 times longer and looks a great deal better than leather that receives no care at all.

This white leather lounge was overdue for a thorough service. Spot & Prep (No.4) cleaned away heavy grime. A conditioner was used to restore a pleasing look and feel to the leather after this much-needed spring clean. Note that the coatings on this lounge were good quality and in robust condition and therefore able to take strong cleaning. Spot and Prep is not suitable for regular maintenance cleaning. Test before using.

Leather accessories

Routine maintenance using the correct cleaner and conditioner, along with a soft bristle brush and white microfibre cloth is all the equipment needed to produce optimum results.

Cleaning Mould

When cleaning mould, have lots of cloths on hand. Use half of them to clean the mould off and the other half to ‘rinse’. The aim is to remove mould spores ensuring that you last wipe-over is with a clean cloth carrying a generous amount of Mould Remover. Lauder the cloths well or discard them in a sealed bag.

Mould thrives in warm, high humidity environments where there’s a good source of organic matter (grime from our hands) and a fibrous home to colonise. Mould Remover kills mould spores and inhibits further infestations.