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Leather Restoration: The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning & Care

Posted by Hammond Knoll on Mar 19, 2020 10:00:00 AM

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on 7/11/17 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehension.

Ultimate Guide to Leather Restoration Table of Contents

1. The different types of leather

2. Protected or Pigmented Leather

3. How is my leather cleaned?

4. Leather restoration and furniture cleaning costs

5. Tips for keeping your leather furniture looking great

6. Leather Restoration Next Steps

Is leather restoration and furniture cleaning possible for all types of leather?

Leather furniture cleaning is possible for all types of leather. The exact processes differ according to the type of leather.

If you’re in the market for leather furniture, you probably have a lot of questions.

Or maybe you already have a piece that looks a little worse-for-the-wear.

Either way, you need to know the best way to give your leather furniture a long life and keep it looking great for as long as possible.

We’re going to take a look at the different types of leather used to make furniture, what regular maintenance looks like, the cost for leather furniture cleaning and a lot more in-between that will help you make the right decisions.

Let’s dive in.

Leather Cleaning and Repair

1. The different types of leather

Types of leather for furniture

  • Aniline

  • Semi-aniline

  • Waxed or oiled

  • Protected or pigmented

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.

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

  1. Aniline Leather

What is aniline leather?

Aniline leather is dyed with soluble dyes that allow the leather to maintain its natural surface, including scars and color variations. It’s the highest-quality leather you can buy.

 

aniline leather sofa

This is recognized as one of the richest-looking and most desirable leather types. It's a very natural-looking type of leather and retains unique surface characteristics like scars (sometimes from barbed wire) and has a great deal of color variation and depth. 

Needless to say, don’t choose this type of leather if you’re looking for a very even and uniform appearance.

Only the very best hides – about 5% or so – are used for aniline leather because the surface marks remain visible. This is also the reason it’s often referred to as "naked leather."

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 isn’t coated with any uniform surface-coloring. 

Pros of aniline leather

Aniline leather is comfortable and soft to the touch. 

Since it retains all the unique markings and characteristics of the hide, each piece is distinctive. 

This is the leather you think of when you picture that beautiful, old antique club chair in an elegant den.

Cons of aniline leather 

When considering a purchase, you have to think about proper cleaning for leather furniture

Since aniline doesn’t have a full surface coating to protect it, it’s 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! (Okay, let’s not think about these spills for now.) 

For these reasons, we don’t recommend aniline leather for use in homes with young families or for dog owners that like to watch movies on the furniture with their pets.

  1. Semi-aniline leather 

What is semi-aniline leather?

Semi-aniline leather is slightly pigmented but not enough that the natural grain or pores are hidden. These elements must be visible. The thin layer of pigment adds a bit of protection to the leather.

Semi-aniline leather sofa

Semi-aniline leather is more durable than aniline leather, because its surface has been treated with a light surface pigment. This makes it more soil- and stain-resistant. 

Semi-aniline leather will have a more consistent color and a bit more resistance to spills and soiling than aniline leathers.

Pros of Semi-aniline leather

It retains some of the uniqueness of aniline leather but has a more consistent color and tolerates stains better. 

Semi-aniline leather can also 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 of Semi-aniline leather

The markings and depth are not as apparent so it doesn’t give off quite the uniqueness and warmth. 

  1. Waxed or oiled leather

What is waxed or oiled leather?

Waxed or oiled leather is very smooth due to the layer of wax or oil that’s applied to the surface. The wax or oil may also contain a colored dye that changes the natural color of the leather. It’s more durable than aniline leathers.

waxed or oiled leather chair

These leathers are similar to aniline and semi-aniline but they have a surface coating of wax or oil applied. 

You can tell if you have one of these types because they show surface scratching and water spotting readily. A fingernail pulled across the surface will leave a very visible line.

Pros of waxed or oiled leather 

This type of leather has a deep, natural, varied color. 

Scratches and worn areas can be restored by an application of wax or oil. 

Waxed or oiled leather does take more care than other leathers to maintain its appearance.

Cons of waxed or oiled leather

Pets with nails – or even your favorite pair of jeans – can make one of these pieces of furniture look pretty rough in just a few weeks. 

To own waxed or oiled leather, you have to like furniture with a natural, varied, worn look because that’s what you’re going to have.

2. Protected or pigmented Leather 

What is protected or pigmented leather?

Protected or pigmented leather is the most durable type and has a polymer coating that may also contain colored dye to achieve a greater variety of shades.

protected or pigmented leather sofa

Protected leather is probably the most durable type of leather, which is why it’s the most commonly used leather in furniture and car upholstery. 

It 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 of protected or pigmented leather

Protected or pigmented leather is easier to maintain and stands up to heavier usage. 

Pets and children can be allowed on this type of furniture without as much worry (or supervision). 

Spot repair and restoration are possible while maintaining more of the original appearance.

Cons of protected or pigmented leather 

This type of leather does not have the uniqueness of aniline leather and looks less natural. 

When it’s manufactured poorly, it can even look like vinyl to the untrained eye. 

It doesn’t breathe as well and can feel hotter or colder to the touch.

3. Leather cleaning and repair 101

How does the leather furniture cleaning and repair process work?

The leather furniture cleaning process begins with applying an emulsifier that removes oils and other types of soiling. Depending on the type of leather, the process may be wet or dry.

Let’s get one common question out of the way right off the bat: Is there any leather that cannot be cleaned? 

Absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt, ALL types of leather can be cleaned. 

There are many, many options for cleaning and it all depends on the type of leather, how it’s colored and how worn it is. 

Cleaning and repairing leather is more challenging than cleaning fabric because 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 contaminants. The process may be wet or dry, depending on the leather type.

The end results depend on how it has been used, the type of soiling or damage, and how it has been maintained.

What are the benefits of leather conditioning?

leather conditioning

Have you ever wondered why baseball players regularly treat their favorite gloves to keep them pliable and ready for the next fly ball?

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 to bend and flex without damage. If it isn’t conditioned regularly, it will become hard and inflexible. Sunlight can really accelerate this process. 

For example, if you’ve ever seen an older car with cracked and dry seats, you know first-hand.

4. The cost to restore leather

The cost for leather cleaning and repair, conditioning or restoration depends on the furniture, its condition and a few other factors, such as: 

  • Is the piece vinyl, aniline, or waxed? 

  • Is the furniture waxed, colored or protected? 

  • Has it been damaged by incorrect maintenance, pets, sun damage, hair oils or pet scratches?

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. 

Here’s what to expect for various types of leather cleaning and condition, color restoration, and repair and restoration.

  1. Restoration, Cleaning and conditioning costs

Though actual prices will vary, these estimates give you an idea of the price range to expect for your different types of leather furniture:

  • Armchair Cleaning and Conditioning: $146-$178

  • Armchair Restoration: Starting at $380, by estimate
  • Loveseat Cleaning and Conditioning: $232

  • Loveseat Restoration: Starting at $595, by estimate
  • Sofa Cleaning and Conditioning: $297

  • Sofa Restoration: Starting at $892, by estimate
  • Ottoman Cleaning and Conditioning: $48-$81
  • Ottoman Restoration: Starting at $132, by estimate

Here are a few pricing examples.

Example 1

before and after leather furniture cleaning

The waxed leather sofa in the photo above was $7500 when purchased new. At this point, it had endured seven years of abuse by three boys and two cats in a house full of fun activity. Now, the boys are in their teens and our customer wanted to hold onto the sofa until the boys were out of the house in hopes of buying an elegant sofa for future entertaining. 

The owners were able to get their sofa cleaned, conditioned, and looking like new for $315.00.

 

Example 2

 

aniline leather loveseat

Pictured here is an aniline leather loveseat. The leather felt very dry, brittle and fragile to the touch. The loveseat sat in a den, unconditioned by leather treatment for 12 years. Our customer was downsizing her home, but wanted to use the previously-unused loveseat in her family room at her new home. 

In the end, our customer only ended up paying $245.00 to return her loveseat to its former glory.

  1. Leather color restoration

There are a lot of factors that can cause your leather furniture to have color issues, including:

  • Fading from sun exposure.

  • Oil from hair.

  • Pet scratches. 

  • Natural wear and tear.

All of these situations can cause color loss, dark or discolored spots, missing leather or the top finish to disappear. 

These and many other issues can be restored to an almost-original condition. 

Of course, the various types of leather react differently to the restoration process.

Here are a few restoration price examples.

Example 1 

leather furniture restoration

This husband’s-favorite-chair/wife's-nemesis turned into a "friendly" lovers quarrel of whether to replace, recover or restore the beloved chair. It would cost $2,850 to replace it and $2,000 to recover it.

We were able to make both spouses happy by restoring the worn areas with cleaning and conditioning for $525.

Check out the end result:

restored leather chair and ottoman

Example 2

leather restoration on a sectional couch

This piece was in a home on the water, facing west with floor-to-ceiling windows. It only took five years to fade the leather. After paying $8,100 for this semi-anilin sectional, our customer had chosen this piece because it fit perfectly in her odd-shaped family room. 

We saved this customer a bundle in replacement costs by recoloring the entire piece for $2,250.

  1. Leather repair and restoration

Our customers commonly request scratch-and-spot repair, deodorization, anti-allergen treatment or UV protection for their leather furniture. 

In fact, 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 job.

Here are the costs of some of the most common requests we get to give you an idea of the expense for minor repairs and treatments:

  • Small scratch repair: $25-$75

  • Small cut repair: $50-$125

  • Hair or hand oil removal: $25-$75 (Note: Some removal procedures change the leather’s 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 

  • Anti-allergen treatment:

    • 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

5. Tips for keeping your leather furniture looking great

Getting your leather furniture looking great again can involve many of the processes we've discussed above. 

Removing scratches, fixing damage from sun fade and restoring colors can have a tremendous impact on keeping your home or business looking good. 

An antique family heirloom that was in dire straits can become an elegant showpiece when it’s fully restored. Not to mention providing 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. 

Remember that without routine care your beautiful restoration can degrade. 

Sometimes customers expect that the restoration will make their piece of furniture perfect forever, but that’s not quite right.  

Just like a house that is painted and re-roofed will still need upkeep to prevent moss from growing on the roof and the paint mildew-free, your leather will last much longer if you maintain it well.

Here are some useful tips to help keep your leather furniture looking great:

  1. Wipe up any spills as quickly as possible so liquids don't penetrate and stain.

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

  3. 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. (This is good to remember for your car's leather also!)

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

  5. 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’re not at home or using the space. (This goes for fabric furniture, too).

  6. Try to keep pets from direct contact with the leather surfaces. Pet oil is one of the things we deal with frequently. If you want your pets on the couch, consider a throw that they can lay on.

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

  8. 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

6. Leather Repair and Restoration Next Steps

You’ve learned about the different types of leather for furniture – aniline, semi-aniline, waxed or oiled and pigmented or protected – and you know what type of care you can expect it to need.

You have an idea of the cost for leather furniture cleaning, repair and restoration, so the question is, “What’s next?”

Leather furniture is an investment and you shouldn’t trust its care to just anyone. 

At HammondKnoll, our leather craftsmen are the best in the industry when it comes to cleaning, conditioning and restoring leather. We can help with any problem or issue you have with your leather furniture. Just give us a call!

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