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All you need to know about leather cleaning, conditioning and restoration

Posted by Hammond Knoll on Jul 11, 2017 11:36:57 AM



A lot of questions, concerns and unknowns about leather restoration are asked of our experts on a daily basis.

Understandably, most of our clients are weighing a decision based on the cost of restoration vs. replacement while trying to work with a budget and want to make sure they make the best decision before pulling the trigger.

The challenge is that the number of options can make getting the right result a little confusing. Let’s see if we can’t highlight some of those variables without boring you with too many details at the same time.

So, here is just some of the things we have to think about when pricing leather cleaning, conditioning or restoration services; like is it vinyl, aniline, or waxed? Is it waxed colored or protected? Has it been damaged by incorrect maintenance, pets, sun damage, hair oils or pet scratches to name a few?

Is there any leather that cannot be cleaned? Absolutely, positively without a doubt all types of leather can be cleaned. The end results depend on how it has been used, the type of soiling or damage, and how it has been maintained.

Leather can come from many different sources. The most common are cattle, sheep and pigs, but can get more unique, such as stingrays and ostriches. But let’s start with the most common types of leather, what they look like and how they differ in terms of cost and durability.

Different leather types:

Most of the leather used for furniture falls into a few main categories; aniline, semi-aniline, and protected or pigmented leather.

Aniline Leather:


analin leather

This is recognized as one of the richest looking and most desirable leather types. It’s very natural-looking type of leather and retains unique surface characteristics like scars (sometimes from barbed wire) and much color variation and depth. This is not the type of leather you would choose if you were looking for a very even and uniform appearance.

Aniline leather is dyed by immersing the hide in a dye bath which gives it color, but the multi colored look is retained because it is not coated with any uniform surface coloring. Only the very best hides, about 5% or so, are used for aniline leather because all surface marks remain visible. This is also the reason it is often referred to as "naked leather."

Pros: Aniline leather is comfortable and soft to the touch. Since it retains all the unique markings and characteristics of the hide, each piece is different from any other one. This is the leather you think of when picturing that beautiful old antiqued club chair in a elegant den.

Cons: Since it doesn’t have a full surface coating to protect it, it is much more susceptible to staining and marking. Just touching a little water to the surface will make this leather darken and discolor. Think about red wine or chocolate milk. (OK let’s not think about these spills for now) For these reasons, it is not recommended for use in furniture for young families or for dog owners that like to watch movies on the furniture with their pets.

Semi-Aniline Leather 

semi analin leather

Semi-aniline leather is more durable than aniline leather because its surface has been treated with a light surface pigment, which makes it more soil- and stain-resistant. This type of leather will have a more consistent color and a bit more resistance spills and soiling than aniline leathers.

Pros: It retains some of the uniqueness of aniline leather, semi-aniline leather has more consistent color and is more resistant to stains. It can stand up to tougher conditions and isn't damaged as easily. Pieces upholstered in semi-aniline leather might also be a bit less expensive.

Cons: The markings and depth are not as apparent so doesn’t give off quite the uniqueness and warmth. If you are a fan of the more natural-looking aniline leather, then might be willing to forgo the extra protection this type of leather provides.


Waxed or oiled leather


waxed leather

These leathers are similar to the above descriptions but have a surface coating of wax or oil applied. You can tell if you have one of these types as they show surface scratching and water spotting readily. A fingernail pulled across will leave a very visible line.

Pros: Deep color and natural, varied color. Can be restored by an application of wax or oil to remove scratches and worn areas. Takes more maintenance than other leathers to maintain appearance.

Cons: Pets with nails or course denim can make one of these pieces of furniture look pretty rough in just a few weeks. Have to like a natural, varied worn look to your furniture.

Protected or Pigmented Leather 

protected leather

Protected leather is probably the most durable type of leather, that’s why it’s the most commonly used leather in furniture and car upholstery. Protected leather has a surface coating containing pigment that provides an even color and protection from spills and stains.

The surface coating can control some of the underlying imperfections of the leather, making it appear more uniform. An easy way to tell if you have this type of leather is that dabbing a spot of water on it will not show any darkening or discoloration.

Pros: Protected or pigmented leather is easier to maintain and stands up to heavier usage. Pets and children can be allowed on this type of leather without as much worry (and supervision). Spot repair and restoration is possible while maintaining more of the original appearance.

Cons: This type of leather does not have the uniqueness of aniline leather and looks less natural. Poorly done from the manufacturer, it can even look like vinyl to the untrained eye. This type of leather doesn’t breathe as well and can feel hotter or colder to the touch.


How is my leather cleaned you ask?

This can be a long answer as there are many, many options depending on the type of leather, how it is colored and the wear present. Cleaning of leather is more challenging than cleaning fabric as the oils and soils need to be drawn out not just cleaned off the surface.

Typically the cleaning process starts with an emulsifier to remove oils and airborne soils. This can be repeated many times to remove accumulated soils and contaminates. This can be done by wet or dry process depending on the leather type.

What are the benefits of conditioning?

leather conditioning.jpg

Proper conditioning of your leather is one of the best things you can do to ensure it retains its softness and durability. Over time, leather loses moisture and oils that allow it bend and flex without damage. If leather isn’t conditioned regularly, it will become hard and inflexible. Sunlight can really accelerate this process. If you ever seen an older car with cracked and dry seats, you’ll have seen this first-hand.

Despite all of this, a reason baseball players regularly treat their favorite gloves to keep them pliable and ready for the next fly ball.

Cost for cleaning-Despite all the variables, our years and years of experience combined with the thousands of leather jobs we have completed give us the ability to “ballpark” some basic costs;

Cleaning and Conditioning:

Armchair- $135-$165



Here are a few pricing examples:


leather conditioning and cleaning

This is a waxed leather sofa, when purchased new the cost was $7,500, seven years of abuse by three boys and two cats in a house full of fun activity, now the boys are in there teens. Our customer wanted to hold on to the sofa until the boys were out of the house in hopes of buying an elegant sofa for future entertaining. Cleaning and conditioning $315.00 .


aniline sofa

Pictured here is an aniline love seat, the leather felt by touch, very dry, brittle and fragile. The love seat sat in a den unconditioned by leather treatment for 12 years. Our customer was moving and downsizing her home, her idea was to use the unused love seat in her family room at her new home. Cost $245.00

Color Restoration - Sun fade, hair oil, pet scratches and worn areas cause color loss, dark or discolored spots, missing leather or the disappearance of the top finish. These and many other issues can be restored to it's almost original condition. Different types of leather react differently to the restoration process.

Here are a few restoration price examples:


leather chair before and after-1

Husbands favorite chair-wife's nemesis, turned into a "friendly" lovers quarrel of whether to replace, recover or restore the beloved chair. Replace $2,850, recover $2,000...restoration of the worn areas with cleaning and conditioning $525.


leather chair after-1


Partial Restoration Results above


leather before and after sectional

Full restoration on a leather sectional, this was in a home on the water,facing west with floor to ceiling windows...it took only 5 years to fade the leather. After paying $8,100 for this semi anilin sectional our customer had picked this piece because it fit perfect in her odd shaped family room. Recoloring of the entire piece cost $2,250.

Repair and restoration- Scratch and spot repair, deodorization, anti-allergen treatment or UV protection. We see it all of the time, actually 90% of the time customers need either some kind of repair or treatment to their leather, very rarely is it a simple clean and condition.

A handful of ideas to give you the cost of minor repairs and treatments:

Small scratch repair $25-$75

Small cut repair $50-$125

Hair or hand oil removal $25-$75 (note some removal removes color which requires additional recoloring to the affected area)

Pet deodorization:

Chair-$65-$105 depending on the damage and size

Love seat-$85-$125 "

Sofa-$95-$135 "


Chair $55-$95 depending on the size

Love seat $75-$115 depending on the size

Sofa-$85-$125 depending on the size

UV Protection

Chair $45-$65 depending on size

Love seat $65-$85 depending on the size

Sofa $75-$125 depending on the size

What can I expect for restoration for my type of leather?

Getting your leather furniture looking great again can involve many of the processes we've discussed above. Removing scratches, damage from sun fade and restoring colors can have a tremendous impact on keeping your home or business looking good. 

Having an antique family heirloom that was in dire straits, can provide an elegant show piece when fully restored, not to mention a story of history that can be enjoyed for many years to come.  With that being said it is important to maintain the restored leather; below we have included some useful tips to help.

It's good to remember that without routine care your beautiful restoration can degrade without proper upkeep.  Sometimes we see that the expectation is that the restoration is expected to be perfect forever, but this is not quite right.  

Just like a house that is painted and re-roofed will still need up-keep to keep the moss off the roof and the paint mildew free, your leather will last much longer if you keep it maintained.


This is obvious, but wipe up any spills as fast as possible so liquids don't penetrate and stain.

If your leather has been redyed, having a touch up bottle of color matched dye can allow for the inevitable touch ups that will need be done on occasion.  This doesn't have to be complicated, as some of these can be done using the tip of a finger or a q-tip to apply missing color to a damaged area.

Keep a leather conditioner in your cleaning and maintenance supplies where it will be handy to access and can be applied a few times a year. (good to remember for your car's leather also).

Have your leather cleaned about once a year to remove ground in soils and oils that cause long term damage.

As much as possible, keep the sun exposure down on your leather by closing the drapes or even throwing a blanket or sheet over it when you are not at home or using the space (good to remember for fabric furniture too).

As much as possible keep pets from direct contact with the leather surfaces. Pet oil is one of the things we deal with a great deal. If you want your pets on the couch, consider a throw that they can lay on.

Watch for sharp objects coming in contact with the leather. Pens, scissors and other sharp things, sometimes get sat on and cause damage.

We don't see it as much as we did years ago, but newspaper ink and hair care oils can be very damaging, try to keep these from direct contact

It's no lie, I promiseOur leather craftsmen are the best in the industry when it comes to cleaning, conditioning and restoring leather check out our 300+ 5 star reviews

Are we the right fit for you?  

Call us 844-208-0288 or better yet send us your info we will have an expert reach out to you quickly.

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We are thrilled at the opportunity to add you to our long list of successful cleaning, sealing and restoration success stories.









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