Basic 3- Step Leather Care
The amount of conflicting information out there is just overwhelming, correct information regarding the care of leather is scarce, often contradictory, misleading, or simply wrong. Misinformation can lead to inadvertent damage to your vehicles leather upholstery; my goal is to present clear, concise, accurate information.
There is a great deal of conflicting information on leather care being put out by leather experts themselves who recommend the same products and techniques be used regardless of the leathers finish or use baffling pseudo-scientific techno speak as another marketing ploy, Furniture, Motorcycle, Equestrian and Automobile leather are all different type of leather finishes and require different care. You do need to understand some of the basic chemistry behind the tanning and finishes applied to automotive leather to understand how to renovate, clean or care for it.
All of which makes it difficult to find a definitive, unbiased answer. Using the correct product is important in order to protect your car’s interior. If you keep your cars’ interior clean, you can easily save your car for a good couple of years and it can stay in a ‘like-new’ condition, and maintain a better re-sale value. Cleanliness is one of the major things buyers look for when purchasing a vehicle. There are several finished leather upholstery cleaners available, which need to be used in accordance to the type of finished leather used in for your vehicles upholstery.
That is why it is imperative, that if you are concerned about the results you wish to achieve, you must perform a bit of research into finding the products suitable for your requirements.
After various meetings and discussions with leather tanners, their research and development teams, chemists and fat liquoring formulators and many leather care product manufacturers I’ve gained an understanding of this versatile material on both a practical and scientific level.
It had always confounded me that such a simple subject has been made into something so complicated. I have always thought that the more facts and information you have at hand the easier it is to judge what information you are being given. After all, how can you fully understand and properly use any product unless you have all the facts? In the final analysis; it’s your vehicle, your hard earned money and your choice
Always keep in mind that you’re dealing with the finished coating on the leather not with the leather hide itself
The use of oils, replacement of fat liquor, oil-based conditioning, proteins or the adjustment of pH levels is totally unnecessary; the surface is a urethane that contains pigmentation (colour) it neither needs or benefits from any of the above
Premium leather has a recognizable fragrance that is missing from urethane and plastic; simple cleaning, hydration and protection are the steps that will prolong the life of finished leather.
Unless a Premium Leather option was purchased urethane finished leather upholstery is used by 95% as OEM in modern automobiles. It comprises a multi stratum acrylic and a urethane resin binder system covering over the leather hide; the top strata are the surface pigmentation (colour) and an abrasion resistant urethane is used to improve flexibility, fastness and adhesion to the leather, together with a clear top coat provides a very durable surface finish with an average thickness of 0.02 µ (micron)
Modern automotive leather upholstery use a completely different tanning processes and finishing system, utilizing advanced polymers and chemicals (urethane doesn’t require conditioning or rejuvenation) and as a consequence they do not need to be treated with aftercare products containing oils or proteins. Simple cleaning, hydration and protection are the three steps that will prolong the life of Micro pigment finished leather. Always pre-test the product on a hidden area.
Finished leather doesn’t require conditioning or rejuvenation; always keep in mind that you’re dealing with the finished coating (urethane) on the leather and not with the leather hide itself
There is a great deal of conflicting information on leather care being put out by leather experts themselves who use baffling pseudo-scientific techno speak as another marketing ploy, which makes it difficult to find a definitive, commercially unbiased answer. Having devoted many hours to this particular material and spending a lot of time with both leather tanners and their formulating chemists I have gained some insight and it amazes me that such a simple subject has been made into something so complicated.
Here is one definitive truth –you are dealing with the leathers finish (urethane), not the hide itself. The use of oils, replacement of fat liquor, oil-based conditioning, proteins or the adjustment of pH levels is totally unnecessary; the surface is a urethane that contains pigmentation (colour) it neither needs or benefits from any of the above
Since the leather hide has a pigmented urethane layer and clear topcoat finish, when treating the leather, so you are in fact dealing with a urethane (to all intents and purposes, a ~2.0 µ (micron) thick plastic surface coating, about the same thickness as automobile clear coat paint; that simply needs to be kept clean and hydrated…it really is that simple.
Unless a Premium Leather option was purchased a urethane finished leather upholstery is used by 95% as OEM in modern automobiles. It comprises a multi stratum acrylic and urethane resin binder system covering over the leather hide; the top strata are the surface pigmentation (colour) and an abrasion resistant urethane is used to improve flexibility, fastness and adhesion to the leather, together with a clear top coat provides a very durable surface finish
Modern automotive leather upholstery use a completely different tanning processes and finishing system, utilizing advanced polymers and chemicals (urethane doesn’t require conditioning or rejuvenation) and as a consequence they do not need to be treated with aftercare products containing oils or proteins.
Premium leather has a recognizable fragrance that is missing from urethane and plastic; simple cleaning, hydration and protection are the steps that will prolong the life of finished leather.
Simple cleaning, hydration and protection are the three steps that will prolong the life of Micro pigment finished leather. Always pre-test the product on a hidden area. Shake the foam container thoroughly. Spray the product at a distance of 12 inches from the leather to one section at a time, and allow product to remain in place for approximately 15 to 30 seconds.
1. Clean - there are two cleaning-related factors that can cause your leather to wear prematurely. The first is dirt, and the second is oil, combined they become very abrasive, as dirt / grit and subsequent friction cause the finish to wear
Remove surface dirt and dust, cleaning the seams periodically is important as dirt / grit will abrade the stitching causing them to fail, prise them apart, then use a soft brush, vacuum and then use a foam cleaner, one section at a time, and then finally wipe off with a clean, damp 100% cotton terry weave towel
The advantage of foam over liquid is the minimum amount of moisture, very important for cleaning absorbent and moisture sensitive leathers. Use foam cleaner, which should be given dwell time and then gentle agitation with a medium stiff bristled brush to get the product into the materials surface, the low moisture content of foam can then be easily rinsed and the surface dried. Remove excess product and debris with a clean, damp 100% cotton micro fibre towel. If the foam is allowed to dry the soil will be re-deposited to the surface. Check the results and repeat process as necessary
For heavily soiled areas use a foam cleaner (Leather Master™ Foam Cleaner) that contains a surfactant that will lift dirt and soil, allow react time to do its work and then use a soft brush to agitate and loosen the dirt (Swissvax Leather Brush) especially on light coloured leathers; this enables the cleaning of the micro pores and creases and lifts the dirt out and reveal any further work that needs doing (dye transfer, stains, etc.) A water based foam cleaner will work best and safely (not an aerosol foam that will contain solvents).
If you use a foam cleaner you can give the product dwell time and because the foam is already an active cleaner it will draw the dirt out of the grain pattern into the foam and it can then be removed with paper towel or a terry towel. Foams also ensure that you do not get 'streaking' from runs on the leather from a liquid cleaner - these are often impossible to get rid of without recoloring if allowed to happen. Shake the foam container thoroughly. Spray the product at a distance of 12 inches from the leather to one section at a time, and allow product to remain in place for approximately 15 to 30 seconds.
Using a cleaner that contains a surfactant that emulsifies contaminants minimizes the need for abrasion (1z einszett Vinyl Deep Cleaner) Abrasion will leave micro marring in the coating which creates more surface area for contaminants to bond with.
Optimum Protectant Plus (Leather Protectant) – a versatile product that cleans and protects and also provides ultra violet (UV) protection, can be used on vinyl, rubber, leather, and plastic. Spray mist the Protectant Plus on a microfiber towel and wipe the desired surfaces
All purpose cleaners
An all purpose cleaners (APC) generally require dilution as they are usually highly alkaline - pH 9.5 – 12.5 dependent upon mfg. they usually contain caustic soda or caustic potash. Caustics at high enough concentration can damage the urethane coated leather and cause stitching to start deteriorating. If the dilution is wrong and/or the product is too strong it could potentially damage the finish on the leather, which will lead to long term problems and/or require replacement It’s better to use a specific stain remover than to compromise. Always select a chemical / cleaner that are biodegradable, environmentally friendly and safe to use by observing any precautions recommended so that they won’t harm you, your vehicle or the environment
Many well-intentioned detailers use the so-called all-purpose cleaning (APC) chemical for detailing; if the dilution is incorrect and/or the product is too strong it could potentially damage the materials being worked on, which will lead to long term problems and/or require replacement. Damage to the finish is not always visible to the naked eye. Products that are too strong for the finish will always leave the leather very clean looking but this is only because they are removing some of the urethane finish along with the dirt.
Most detailing chemicals are formulated to remove specific stains and a little knowledge of their pH value and chemical content will help in their correct selection and use; the most common types of chemicals include surfactants, solvents, Saponifiers and Chelators
Pigment coatings and clear coat finishes do break down over time if not correctly cared for. Once the coatings begin this deterioration it can appear that they are very dirty when in fact the 'dirt' is micro cracking of the pigment, this would not be visible to the naked eye but can be seen through a microscope. If this micro cracking is present no amount of cleaning will rectify it, it will need a restoration product to refinish the pigment coating. Products that are too strong for the finish will always leave the leather very clean looking but this is only because they are removing some of the urethane finish with the dirt. After repeated use the finish may be become delaminated or removed completely.
For extremely soiled finished leather - use a Groit’s 3- inch (speed # 4-5) an Interior Brush for Orbital Polisher ( Porter Cable 7424, Groit’s Random Orbital Polishers (3 inch and 6 inch) as well as the Cyclo ) The brush has a connector which screw directly into listed orbital polishers. For extremely soiled finished leather - use a Groit’s 3- inch (speed # 4-5) a Grey Ultra Soft Upholstery Brush for Orbital Polisher ( Porter Cable 7424, Groit’s Random Orbital Polishers (3 inch and 6 inch) as well as the Cyclo x 2 ) The brush has a connector which screw directly into listed orbital polishers.
Be cognizant that abrasion will leave micro marring in the coating which creates more surface area for contaminants to bond with. Aggressive agitation has the likelihood of removing the clear topcoat or marring it creating more micron fractures for soiling particles to lodge in. A soft horsehair brush (Swissvax) is highly recommended as it will always retain its even level upon surface contact even deep into the grooves with good memory; however horsehair brushes still comes in various design some good and some design is just too long that does not stand straight when wet, for efficient cleaning. If using mechanical abrasion it is imperative that a soft bristle brush be used (Grey Ultra Soft Upholstery Brush for Orbital Polisher)
Use with 1z einszett Vinyl Deep Cleaner (Plastik Reiniger) an intensive, non-corrosive, non-acidic two-phase deep cleaner for that removes build-up thoroughly and effortlessly, these chemicals restore the original texture, tactile feel and resiliency of the urethane finish or Leather Master™ Strong C leaner, using very little applied pressure
Cracking occurs in two levels, one to the leather-finish which comprises the color coat and the topcoat averaging 2.0 µ (micron) and the other is the leather-structure averaging form 0.9 to 1.3µ (micron) thickness.
I would strongly advise against the use of mechanical abrasion as a means of cleaning un-coated leather specially when dealing with leather that is wet. Water easily penetrates unprotected leather, which causes the collagen fibers to swell. This makes leather very soft and highly prone to being abraded and damaged. So when cleaning unprotected leather, you should minimize mechanical cleaning and instead use a cleaning system that is safe but effective to eliminate the need for abrasion.
Steam cleaning- a dry vapour steamer has a multitude of functional usages for urethane finished leather interiors; doors, leather and vinyl upholstery and trim, all clean exceptionally well with steam, it will loosen up the deep ground in soil that normal cleaning cannot reach and emulsify most types of dirt and grime that gets into what are inaccessible places for other methods of cleaning i.e. cup holders, seams, creases and grooves, between cushion and bolsters, liquid spills, etc.
Apply a cleaner (1z einszett Vinyl Deep Cleaner (Plastik Reiniger) to a sponge, work up a foam and apply to covered leather. Place a terry towel wrapped dry vapour steamer attachment on the finished leather surface and lightly agitate and then wipe dry. This helps emulsify the grime and the water vapour hydrates the leather
Use caution if the finished leathers urethane pigment coating has begun to fail (micro cracking) which cannot be seen with the naked eye but will make the leather appear dirty especially on light coloured leather. Steam or cleaning products may permeate the between the hide and the pigmentation coating causing it to delaminate (separate)
An alternative method: deep cleaning ‘spa method’ by using a heated towel it will open up the micro pours of the leather, allowing the towel to remove the ingrained dirt (this method is also very effective on perforated leather) Take a few very damp terry weave towels, place them in a bowl and heat them in a microwave. Using gloves wring out the towels just so they don't drip place them on the leather surface and allow to dwell for a short period. Take a couple of very damp terry weave towels, place them in a bowl and heat them in a microwave. Use gloves while handling them, place them on the leather surface and allow to dwell for a short period. Remove the towel and then use a leather cleaner, buff the surface similar to the action used when removing wax (1z einszett Vinyl Deep Cleaner or Optimum Power Clean™)
Note: The melamine open-cell foam Magic Eraser is micro-porous and its polymeric substance is very hard, so that when used for cleaning it works like extremely fine sandpaper. If the surface being cleaned is not sufficiently hard, it may be finely scratched by the melamine material. They work by removing or 'sanding' a very fine amount from the surface that is being cleaned - great for wood and hard surfaces but very detrimental to the fine surface finish on leather
2. Hydrated – when leather tanner’s talk about conditioning leather they are referring to its moisture content, re-hydration is used to restore or maintain fluid balance (transpiration and evaporation of moisture); not the replenishment or replacement of the fat liquoring, oils and / or waxes.
Moisture balance is a sine qua non (an indispensable and essential action) in leather care. Leather naturally absorbs and retains moisture vapour, meaning it’s also susceptible to losing the moisture necessary to keep it pliant and soft. One of major attribute is its ability for transpiration (allowing the movement of moisture back and forth (evaporation and hydration), which it does even better than wool.
Repetitive heat cycling causes the leather to lose moisture, resulting in the formation of creasing or surface cracks, which may lead to the leather contracting; however the urethane remains stable, which may lead to it delaminating.
A regular wipe down with a damp towel on a regular basis is all you need to condition and / or hydrate finished leather, and by using aqueous (water- based) products that do not contain oils and/or waxes, check the label if they do then don't use them. Leather should be hydrated on a regular basis and is somewhat climate dependent.
3. Protected - is essential as it will protect the surface finish, without hindering transpiration, while acting as a sacrificial layer; this way you are not actually cleaning the Leather's original surface, but cleaning from the surface of the protection. It also makes dirt easier to clean off
Leather Master™ - Protection Cream (a Scotchgard™ type product specifically formulated for lather) the polymers penetrate the surface of finished leather and cross-link to form a durable protective film that is breathable, allowing transpiration and keeps the leather supple. Being aqueous (water- based) it restores moisture to urethane finished leather, it also adds abrasion resistance, whilst provides a protective sacrificial barrier against all kinds of soiling, water, oil, alcohol-based stains and perspiration marks, so you are cleaning the protective layer
3a. Ultra violet (UV) protection - 303® Aerospace Protectant will provide invaluable ultra violet (UV) protection against photo degradation (fading); especially in a roadster or convertible vehicle, steering wheel and dashboards
Is water-based and will provide invaluable ultra violet (UV) radiation protection against photo degradation (fading) protection; especially in a roadster or convertible vehicles. It doesn’t contain silicones, so it won't attract and capture dust. You should apply to a clean surface (it doesn’t contain any cleaning agents)
It will not prevent finished leather hydration (transpiration and evaporation of moisture) as it’s water-based, although it coats the leather with a micro fine coating; it will not seal it per se.
Note: this product does NOT air dry. Use a second dry cloth to finish the application process. Extra buffing with at dry cloth increases bonding, repellence and durability
Patina(softness) - used to improve and maintain the tactile feel and lustre to ensure the finished leather remains soft and supple; apply Leather Master™ Soft Touch and allow to dry for approx. 20 minutes, finally using a clean dry 100% cotton micro fibre towel buff to a matte sheen. This product is NOT a conditioner per se but is used to restore the softness to hard finished leather; place the car in a sunny location and roll down the windows. Allow the car to sit in the sun for one or two hours to warm the surfaces
Monthly hydration of leather upholstery in most southern states; Florida, Texas and Arizona, and etc. especially during the summer months, would not be out of line
Note: Both Lexol and Saddle Soap are formulated for Equestrian tack, which is an entirely different type of leather than the finished leather used for automobiles
These are just my recommendation based on my knowledge, detailing experience and the chemistry of leather. Each case is very different and you should choose the best approach based on its merits and your experience and what works best in that situation.
I hope the above article was informative. By having some understanding of the ‘What’ and ‘Why’ as well as the ‘How’ along with a little science to help you understand how the chemicals we use react, you can achieve the results you desire. Questions and/ or constructive comments are always appreciated
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