If the coatings on your lounge are looking tired, there are stains, scuffs and scratches or you’d like to recolour or change the colour, this guide will help you choose the right products for the job and step you through the refinishing process.
In A Nutshell
So, you are wondering how to recolour your lounge. Here is the express answer. Using pro-grade leather finishing products, follow these 4 steps:
- clean and prep the leather
- apply primer
- apply a few coats of leather colour
- seal with a leather topcoat
It’s that simple! With the right gear on hand, it’s an immensely satisfying DIY job that dramatically improves the appearance of your furniture and can help to extend its viable life.
In just a few hours and for a fraction of the cost of a new one, you can give your furniture a jaw-dropping makeover
Surface soiling, stains, fading, scratches, peeling, wear and tear, greasy marks and delamination detract from the original good looks of any leather sofa. The good news is that many of these problems can be repaired or corrected. With a well-stocked Leather Repair Kit containing professional-grade products, you can replenish worn coatings, cover indelible stains, fill and smooth scratches and dramatically improve the look and appeal of your sofa.
What is leather ‘finishing’
‘Finishing’ refers to the coatings and treatments that are applied to the surface of the crust (tanned skin) to render the colours, touch, texture, sheen and effects you see. Leather goes through a number of steps such as pressing, tumbling, sanding, buffing, ironing, heating and embossing and is treated with coatings in addition to the colour, including base coats, primers, accent coats and topcoats. In the tannery they are applied by roller, spray and even hand-rubbed techniques.
Innovation and technology have seen leaders in the industry develop new, safe, clean and green products. Now you can use products that are the same or similar to those used by tanneries to restore your lounge.
A satisfying and lasting leather restoration happens when the tannery finishing process is replicated using pro-grade after-market products
Options, Products & Processes
There are different leather finishes, more than one way to refinish leather and a few factors to consider before buying restoration products. Exceptional DIY results can be achieved so let’s go through the major considerations, products and processes to help you arrive at the best possible result.
- the application method you can use: ie, spray-gun ‘v’ hand application
- the type of leather you have
- whether you want to keep the same colour or change to a new one
- whether you want a light quick cosmetic make-over or a full refinish
- whether there’s surface damage that needs to be repaired before recolouring
- whether you can find a sample swatch for colour matching
One of the first considerations is your choice of application method. When it comes to recolouring a lounge, leather finishes can be applied by hand or sprayed on using an air compressor spray gun. Hand-rubbing is convenient and can render pleasing results. The big win here is that you won’t have to move your furniture. Spraying tends to produce the most refined results but generally requires the lounge to be moved to a suitable work-space to avoid potential issues with over-spray.
Most products can be sprayed or hand-rubbed. Some have been developed for hand application purposes only.
|Aniline Dye Stain||Yes||Yes|
|Colour Restoration Cream||Yes||No|
Types of Leather
There are several main types of leather finishes typically used on furniture. When it comes to products and techniques for lounges, they can be grouped as follows:
- Group 1: Pigmented(painted) & Man-Made
- Group 2: Nubuck, Aniline, Semi-Aniline and Waxed (pull-up)
DIY suede recolouring is tricky and not common so we have not covered it in detail in this guide. The products and procedures needed for the 2 groups of leather differ somewhat and are covered in detail later in this article. Not sure what type of leather you have? Check out “What Type of Leather”.
Same Colour ‘v’ New Colour
It is generally easier to refinish your lounge in the same colour. It tends to require fewer materials, take less time and less work in the hidden areas such as between cushions. That’s not to say that changing colours is not possible; it certainly is. So based on your leather type, here is a guideline regarding colour:
- If your leather is pigmented or man-made, pick a colour – any colour. The world is your flamingo pink sofa!
- If it is aniline, for most DIY situations, staying within a similar colour range or slightly darker is advisable
A Light Make-Over ‘v’ Full Refinishing
Both systems have merit. Colour Restoration Cream gives a very satisfying make-over. It contains leather dyes and/or pigments and resins. With semi-opaque coverage, you can apply 1 coat as a refresher or a few coats to build coverage. It is quick and easy to apply by hand and easy to touch-up as needed. Success lies in having a good colour match. This method is not suitable for covering most repairs or for changing colours. It is ideal for DIY restoration of aniline and waxed leathers because it doesn’t deliver full opaque coats of pigment (paint). It works equally well on pigmented leathers.
First, let’s look at the ‘light make-over’ option:
|COLOUR RESTORATION CREAM|
|Great For:||Not Great For:|
|Refreshing the existing colour||Changing colours|
|Covering minor marks & surface wear||Fully covering repairs|
|Pigmented leather||Fully covering heavy stains|
|Aniline and waxed leathers*||Covering extensive wear and delamination|
|Quick, easy application and top-ups||Maximum durability|
Aniline and waxed leathers* For these leathers, a Dye Stain and Colour Restoration Kit is generally most suitable.
Now, let’s look at the ‘full refinishing’ option:
Full refinishing refers to the more extensive process of surface prep, priming, colouring and topcoating. This is an after-market replication of the finishing applied at the tannery. Coverage is complete so this system is perfect for covering repairs and stains and for colour changes. In high wear areas, it offers the most durable finish. Semi-aniline effects can be achieved. Quality Leather Repair Kits contain a full refinishing system that can be applied by hand or by spray gun.
|Great For:||Not Great For:|
|Changing colours or same colour||Quick, easy application and top-ups|
|Covering repairs||Aniline and waxed leathers**|
|Covering heavy stains|
|Covering extensive wear and delamination*|
Covering extensive wear and delamination* When wear and tear are advanced, correct surface prep can improve the coverage and durability of coatings. As a general rule of thumb, the stronger the substrate the greater the durability (in conjunction with correct care and usage)
Aniline and waxed leathers** Can be used although full refinishing permanently changes aniline and waxed leather to pigmented finish. Semi-aniline effects can be created with pigments if desired.
Need to Make Some Repairs?
If you are repairing, it is advisable to use a Leather Repair Kit rather than a Colour Restoration Kit. Leather filler is white and must be concealed under opaque colour.
Matching To A Sample
When it comes to colour, you will need a good match if:
- Using a Colour Restoration Kit or
- Refinishing in the same colour
If you want to change the colour, go for it. All you need is a Large Repair Kit in your choice of standard colour or you can mix your own.
Here’s some more information about finding a sample of your leather and how to custom mix a matching colour.
Where To Find Professional-Grade Products
In Australia, commercial-grade products are sold online by specialist leather finishing companies. They are not available through the major hardware retailers such as Bunnings or Mitre 10. Look for professional-grade, high-quality products. When comparing prices, be alert to the likelihood that cheaper products are diluted with water or other inexpensive filler components. Typically, cheaper paints and dyes are stripped-back formulations that lack the resins that give quality products advanced wear properties. What you spend on products will likely correlate to the results and longevity of your job.
Do I need a kit or just some dye?
It’s tempting to look at a marked and damaged leather lounge and think ‘I’ll just get some dye’. Firstly, you probably need some leather pigment or paint. Most furniture is coated with pigments. Terminology differs around the world but in Australia, paints are called pigments and aniline dyes are called dye or dye stain.
Unfortunately, the ‘just dye’ approach doesn’t end well. Without suitable surface prep, adhesion promoters and a hard-wearing topcoat, the coatings may wear more quickly. In high traffic areas, results might be short-lived and disappointing.
So, now you know the type of leather, the method of application you want to use and the type of finishing you want for your project. Let’s dive into the ‘How to’s’.
Pigmented and Man-made Leathers
Is your lounge a solid, block colour? Say, white, stone, red, blue or black? Is the finish like these pigmented lounges? Yes, then this info is for you. If not, scroll down to the advice for Nubuck, Aniline, Semi-Aniline and Waxed leathers
To revamp the colour on your pigmented leather lounge, you have 2 options:
- Full refinishing in any colour using a Large Repair Kit
- Refreshing the existing colour using a Colour Restoration Kit
OPTION 1 : FULL REFINISHING
To recolour a pigmented leather lounge you will need a Large Repair Kit that includes a strong cleaner and surface prep, primer, paint, dulling agent and topcoat as well as the various accessories you need to complete the project. If there is surface damage such as scratches, scuffs and small tears, opt for a kit with leather filler and glue.
With pigmented leather, when it comes to colour, the choice is yours. You can go lighter or darker, for example, black over white or white over black. If you would like to recolour in the same colour, you will need to match the colour by tweaking the base colour using a Colour Adjustment Kit. Alternatively, some companies will mix the colour for you if you can provide a sample. See 7 Ways to Find A Colour Swatch
Steps to Recolour A Group 1 Leather Lounge Using Option 1
Step 1 : Protect Your Work Area
If you are applying the products by a hand-rubbed technique; ie, by sponge, in most cases, you can work on the lounge right where it sits. Be sure to put down drop-sheets, move nearby furnishing and move the lounge away from walls. It’s best to work in good natural light and ventilation.
If you wish to spray the lounge using an air-compressor and spray gun, move the lounge to a suitable work area. Tape or cover any components that you do not wish to colour.
Take a set of before pics. They make a satisfying comparison when you are done.
Step 2: Clean The Surface Thoroughly
Success happens from the bottom up. Vacuum to remove grit and hair then put on some gloves and working in one area at a time, spray the deep cleaning leather prep solution onto the leather, scrub gently using a soft bristle brush and wipe clean with a microfibre cloth. The aim is to remove soiling as well as any oils, waxes and silicones from the surface. If not removed, adhesion problems may ensue. Avoid household cleaners and general-purpose leather cleaners to avoid damaging the leather and compromising your results.
Step 3: Sand the surface
Allow a few minutes drying time then sand the entire surface using sandpaper in 600-800 grit. The aim is to lightly smooth any roughness, open the pores and key the surface to maximise the bond between the old coatings and the new. You don’t need to remove the old coatings. Use a damp cloth to wipe away any loose particles. Note that vinyl and faux leather generally cannot be sanded so you can skip this step.
Step 4: Repair as needed
If your lounge doesn’t need any repairs, move on to Step 5.
Use leather glue to bond loose tags and re-join cut edges etc. Allow drying time then sand to smooth. If there are pits, scratches and cracks present, apply leather filler in thin layers to fill any surface imperfections. Allow drying between each layer. Once cured, use sandpaper to smooth the repaired area. This is the slowest stage of the project. Be patient as the results are worth it.
Often the tops of seat cushions are more heavily worn than other parts of the lounge. The leather may be delaminating, flaking and showing a heavy patina of surface wear. Leather Binder is a viscous, wipe on cream that fills minor pitting and surface irregularities whilst adding surface structure to weakened and strained leather. It dries quickly, can be texturized and sanded. Applied in layers, it can radically improve the texture and finish of worn lounge seats. Leather Binder is sold separately as it’s not needed in every circumstance.
Step 5: Apply leather primer
At this point, surface prep is complete and you are ready to commence the colouring process. Primer is a clear coating that promotes adhesion thereby optimising the bond of the colour coats. It is easy to apply, dries quickly and is self-levelling. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the handling of the products by starting on the back or sides. However, your main priority is the seat cushions and armrests so ensure you reserve ample product for the main areas. Apply primer to a sponge and wipe over the surface in long even strokes until all areas are coated. Allow drying. If your leather is quite porous, you may apply a second coat.
…Between the Cushions…
Leather finishing products are designed to stick, so they will stick if pressed together whilst drying. When finishing areas where leather touches leather; ie, between seat and backrest cushions, engage a helper to hold the cushions apart whilst painting then drying off with a hairdryer.
Step 6: Apply leather paint
Wearing gloves, shake the colour, then squeeze some leather paint onto a sponge. Apply to a small area at the back to get a feel for the product and how it handles on your leather then start on the front. Apply to one area at a time using long even strokes ensuring even coverage. Use moderate pressure to press the first coat into the grain and crevices. Wipe the colour into the seams then wipe again to remove any excess.
Don’t try to achieve a perfect finish with your first coat. Multiple thin coats give the best results. Dry each layer with a hairdryer or allow an hour or two drying time between coats. Some colours are more opaque than others so the number of coats needed can vary. If you are refreshing the original colour, fewer coats may be needed whilst a colour change may require more – 2 to 6 coats are typical.
Step 7: Apply leather topcoat
Improving wear properties, 2 thin coats of topcoat finishes your project. Apply by sponge in long even strokes ensuring even coverage. Most furniture has a Satin finish. Note that Matte finish is best applied by spray if possible. If not, shake the bottle often whilst applying.
Well done! You have fully refinished your lounge.
OPTION 2 : COLOUR RESTORATION CREAM
Steps to Refresh A Group 1 Leather Lounge Using Option 2
If you’ve opted for a Colour Restoration Cream make-over, here are your steps:
Step 1 : Protect Your Work Area
See details above
Step 2: Clean The Surface Thoroughly
See details above
Step 3: Apply Colour Restoration Cream
Again, start at the back to get a feel for the way the product handles before moving onto the front of your lounge. Pour a generous amount of cream onto a sponge and wipe across the leather. Work into the grain, seams and crevices and finish with long even strokes or a cross-hatch pattern. Work quickly and avoid disturbing the finish as it dries. Wipe excess from the seams and allow drying between layers. Coverage builds as you apply more layers. Often 1-2 coats are sufficient on the back and sides and a few coats on the high wear areas (seat cushions and armrests) can extend the life of your job. And, you are done!
Congratulations! Now, How To Care For Your Handywork
Just like a pro, you have refinished your pigmented leather lounge. Allow 2 days drying before using the lounge again. The new coatings will be cured in 14 days and need careful care and handling during the curing stage. This process is a simplified, safe and user-friendly version of that used by tanneries. With good care and maintenance, it is capable of delivering lasting results. Keep pets off your lounge; their claws are like sandpaper to your leather coatings. Remove soiling, body and hair oils and perspiration regularly as they are the enemies of your lounge.
Nubuck, Aniline, Semi-Aniline and Waxed Leathers
This group includes unfinished and semi-finished leathers. Often, the colour you see comes predominantly from dyes rather than pigments (paints). The exception is semi-anilines which can have some transparent pigments or pigments as well as dyes in the finish.
When nubuck and aniline leathers become permanently stained or faded, the addition of coatings (a semi-aniline blend) can provide a means of covering and blending the blemishes and bleaching. This inherently changes the finish from uncoated to coated. For this group of leathers you have 2 choices:
- Full refinishing; a solid, painted finish, using a Leather Repair Kit
- A semi-opaque finish using an Aniline Dye and Colour Restoration Kit
Option 1 is not a popular choice for this group because it covers the natural features of the leather more than is usually desired. Having said that, it is possible and can produce excellent results.
Option 2, an Aniline Dye and Colour Restoration Kit is a clever blend of aniline dyes, pigments and resins that produces a hand-rubbed semi-aniline aesthetic. The dye stain boosts and balances faded colour. The colour restoration cream lends coverage and finish. Balancing the vibrant translucency of dyes with the opaque coverage offered by pigments, it lightly conceals marks whilst allowing the beauty of the natural leather to shine through. Coverage builds with each additional layer. This is a light cosmetic make-over that leaves leather with a refreshed and protected finish. Unlike a Leather Repair Kit, it’s not advisable to attempt to achieve a lighter colour with this system. If desired, you can change the colour to one that is harmonious and slightly darker. Here’s the process:
The steps for recolouring Nubuck, Aniline, Semi-Aniline and Waxed leather (Group2) are the same as for Pigmented and Man-Made leathers (Group 1).
Steps to Refresh A Group 2 Leather Lounge Using Option 2
Step 1: Clean the surface
Dampen a microfibre cloth with water then a good slug of deep cleaning surface prep. Working quickly, wipe thoroughly over the lounge. Due to the porous nature of this type of leather, you may not see much soiling on your cloth.
Step 2: Apply dye stain
Start at the back to familiarise yourself with the product and process. Wearing gloves, apply some dye stain to a sponge and squeeze to incorporate. Do a small test patch and wait 15-30mins for the moisture to evaporate. Check the colour. If the test patch is too dark, pour some dye stain off into a separate bottle and dilute with water. When you are happy with the intensity of the colour, using even strokes, wipe the dye across the leather, gently pressing it into the grain and structure. Aim for an even application but don’t worry if it is not perfect. Leather is fibrous and it is inevitable that there will be variable absorption and the occasional sweep mark. Where UV fading has occurred, a second or third application may be needed.
Step 3: Apply Colour Restoration Cream
Pour a generous amount of cream onto a sponge and wipe across the leather. Work into the grain, seams and crevices and finish with long even strokes or a cross-hatch pattern. Allow drying between layers. Again, start at the back to get a feel for the way it handles before moving onto the front of your lounge.
Custom blends can be created by leather finishing professionals for your specific needs. For waxed leather, a blend without pigment may be preferable, whilst for heavily marked and stained nubucks, the inclusion of pigments can provide much-needed coverage. This truly is an easy to use colour refreshing system that produces excellent DIY results.
You don’t have to live with a solid yet weary-looking leather lounge occupying the heart of your home. With the right products, you can dramatically improve how it looks whilst extending its viable life. So whether you love the comfort level, don’t want to contribute to landfill or don’t want to splash out on new furniture, this may be your next DIY restoration.
The feedback we’ve received from customers and DIYers says it all. Here are just a few samples:
“My wife REALLY loves me now”
” We’ve decide not to sell the house because the lounge looks so good in it”
“The couch looks absolutely incredible. I am lost for words. My son came home and said “Mum, what did you do?” I said “I found Leather Hero”