Homemade leather conditioner – Yes or No
“Natural” – that’s always best, right? If it’s good for human skin how can it be bad for leather?
Sometimes, it hard to know whether it’s OK to use the products from our cupboards or whether a specialist leather care lounge kit is actually necessary. It’s tempting to conclude that a homemade natural product is superior to one made from unpronounceable ingredients. Sounds fair but does it actually ring true when it comes to leather upholstery? To answer all of these questions, let’s look at leather upholstery, leather lounge care, homemade leather conditioner, the leather top coat finish and the science of leather.
What is leather?
Leather is tanned hide. Although biodegradable both as skin and as leather, tanneries process hides to render them more resistant to decomposition thus producing a flexible and durable material. With few exceptions, tanneries make leather using tanning chemicals that preserve and soften the hide. They treat the raw leather with dyes, pigments and protective leather top coat finish coatings to enhance the feel, create a great diversity of aesthetic finishes and render a highly serviceable material. In a nutshell, the leather we buy is natural raw material that is chemically treated to create a viable consumer product.
What does upholstery leather need to last?
Leather has been around for a very long time; since cavemen, really. After centuries of development and scientific research by leather industry leaders, experts agree that the optimum care regime for leather upholstery includes three main products; a pH neutral cleaner, a lubricating conditioner and a breathable leather protector.
A premium leather lounge care kit is biodegradable, non-toxic and water-based. Professional grade leather care products have been tested and proven to help maintain, repair and maximise the beauty and longevity of leather upholstery. In fact, it’s widely accepted that correctly maintained leather lasts around three times longer than leather that is left untreated or is treated with the wrong products. By preserving the leather top coat finish, the material is protected and preserved.
Hungry thirsty leather
‘OK great’, you might say, ‘but that doesn’t mean natural remedies are harmful’. In truth, to those in the leather care industry, who’ve seen first-hand the impact of these concoctions and inappropriately used household cleaners, it does.
Taking DIY too far
The internet and social media host a plethora of homebrew leather care recipes where everything from vinegar, baby soap, olive oil, essential oils, massage oils, coconut oil and coco butter are recommended. A homemade leather conditioner may remove some surface dirt and leave a glossy shine but that’s where the good news ends. Tricking you into thinking that you’ve given your leather a nourishing feed, that glossy shine is sticky, attracts and holds dirt and airborne particles – (think ‘’tarred and feathered’’ on a super fine level). With repeat applications, leather becomes coated in a tacky sludge that clogs the pores and does nothing for its health or beauty. And that’s just on the outside; on the inside, the situation is worse.
It’s an unfortunate myth that oil acts to nourish upholstery leather when in reality it actively accelerates its deterioration. Many articles recommend olive oil as a leather conditioner. If you’ve seen the effects of human oils (hair and body) on leather, you might rightly question this recommendation. Oil readily soaks into the highly permeable fibres of leather. Under the surface, it spreads and eventually resurfaces, appearing as dark greasy patches. When this happens, delamination (or peeling) of the maker’s coatings ensues.
The appeal of homemade leather condition is easy to understand; it seems harmless; we eat it, after all. You get instant results with the appearance of moisturisation, minimised scratches, a colour and shine boost and there may even be improved suppleness. However, what you can’t see is that the oil has begun rotting your leather from the inside out. Once embedded deep within the structure, it cannot easily be removed.
The effects of oil on leather furniture
Foot cream on your face
Oddly, household cleaners are often unwittingly used to inflict fatal damage to leather upholstery. Never risk your investment by resorting to the likes of nail polish remover, wet wipes, markers, orange oil, hairspray, sunlight soap, kitchen and bathroom abrasives, eraser sponges or window cleaner – and the list goes on. Often containing alcohol, acetone and abrasives they can strip protective leather top coat finish coatings, remove or change colours, dry out, mark, clog and suffocate your leather.
A red wine spill was cleaned using a bathroom & kitchen cream abrasive.
Large rips and delamination mark the scene of the crime.
Think of it this way, you wouldn’t use foot cream on your face,
laundry powder to wash your dishes or
stainless steel polish on your wooden dining table!
Choose a professional grade leather lounge care kit to avoid this type of damage.
The science of leather
Leather is slightly acidic with a pH level of 4.5. Most household cleaners are alkaline with pH levels of 9 or above. When in contact, this differential creates a chemical reaction that affects not only the surface but also the fibrous structure of leather. The greater the differential, the greater the effect. The use of alkaline cleaners weakens the fibres, slowly breaking them down. You won’t see this happening. What you will see is the inevitable drying and cracking that results. Further compounding this damage, household cleaners can strip the manufacturers leather topcoat finish and colour coatings. Without them, leather is exposed to everyday abrasion, body oils and soiling.
The wrong product and rubbing removed the coatings from this sofa
Other leather mistakes
Different leathers require different care. When it comes to leather lounge care, boot polish is for boots and saddle soap is for saddles. Furniture leather ‘breathes’, taking in and expelling moisture through the pores. The wrong type of conditioner, conditioning without cleaning beforehand or indeed, too much conditioning can clog the pores, trapping dust, dirt and grime within the structure. Leather furniture can cope with an occasional wipe with a water dampened cloth. Too often or too much water and big problems occur. Penetrating through the leather top coat finish and deep into the fibres, water can bond with and transport the lubricating fats (that keep leather soft and supple) out through the pores. The result? dry cracked and ripped upholstery. Selecting the correct leather care products for your leather type is essential to maintaining the health and beauty of your leather upholstery.
Let’s compare costs
Leather care products are more expensive than some other domestic cleaners. A good leather lounge care kit is designed to be used in an emergency (such as a red wine spill) and periodically (every 3 to 6 months) as part of a long-term care regime aimed at extending the longevity of leather upholstery. Pantry ingredients are generally far cheaper. However, mixing a homemade leather conditioner to make a home recipe takes time and costs can add up quickly. If that recipe then causes damage to your leather, the real cost is the early demise of your furniture.
Leather can be an expensive luxury; an investment in quality. It makes sense then, to care for it correctly. Love your leather by giving it what it needs. Avoid false economies, myths and shortcuts. Use a quality leather lounge care kit made especially for leather and it will look and feel beautiful long into the future.