Caring For Leather Upholstery

When I told him the damage to his new leather sofa probably wasn’t covered by his warranty, I thought he was going to cry. Or hit me; I couldn’t tell which.

“But I used a leather cleaner” he pleaded. In fact, he did use leather cleaner; he bought it at an automotive supply store, and it said right on the bottle “Leather Cleaner”. Had he read the cleaning code tag on his sofa as closely as he read the label on the bottle he was holding, he would have known that his sofa was Nubuck leather, and couldn’t be cleaned with the same cleaner as auto upholstery.

Leather is a beautiful and durable upholstery fabric. It will last a long time if it is properly cared for. The keys to properly caring for your leather are to know what kind of leather you have, and what the appropriate cleaning and conditioning methods are. Those keys will be covered in this article.

Upholstered Furniture Has a Cleaning Code

The American Furniture Manufacturers Association recommends that upholstered furniture manufacturers place a tag on their products that contains the product’s cleaning code. The tag is most commonly found on the decking fabric under the chair/sofa cushion or underneath the chair/sofa attached to the dust cover. Although all types of fabrics will have a cleaning code, here I will focus only on leather products. The cleaning codes and characteristics for leather upholstery are:

“A” code for Aniline Leather; also known as Naked, Natural, and Unprotected leather

Analine leathers are colored with transparent aniline dyes. Because the dye is transparent, you are able to see the actual surface grain and markings in the leather. The identifying characteristics of Aniline leather are that it is very easy to scratch; water drops will darken the color and then will dry back to its’ natural color. These leathers have very little or no protective treatments applied to them. Aniline leather is especially sensitive to sunlight and should not be placed in front of windows or under skylights.

“P” code for Protected Leather; also known as Finished, Pigmented, or Painted leather.

Protected leathers are colored by the application of pigments to the surface of the leather. The leather then has a clear finish applied to the surface, making it more resistant to scratching. The identifying characteristics of Protected leather are that it has uniform color and grain patterns, it will not scratch easily, and water drops will not change its’ color. Protected leathers are the most common leather; they are found on over 90% of upholstered furniture and all automotive upholstery.

“N” code for Nubuck Leather; also known as Bomber, Brushed, Buffed, Split Grain, or Suede.

Nubuck leathers are actually Aniline leathers whose surface has been brushed to create a texture similar to velvet. The identifying characteristics of Nubuck are similar to Aniline; it is very soft to the touch, it will scratch or scuff very easily, and water drops will darken the leather but return to its original color upon drying. Although Nubuck is usually very expensive leather, it is not as durable as “top grain” protected leather.

How to Properly Clean Leather Upholstery

This may be self-evident, but a reminder is in order: automotive leather cleaners are too harsh for upholstered furniture. Buy the cleaner that is recommended for the type of leather you are cleaning. Always pre-test in an inconspicuous area for colorfastness with a soft, clean, white lint-free cloth.

When it comes to cleaning any type of leather, liquid is the enemy. Turn your cleaner into foam before putting it on the leather. Foamers can be purchased at Bed, Bath, & Beyond or similar stores. Simply pour the cleaner into the foamer, and then pump the trigger; it will dispense foam similar to shaving cream. It you don’t have a foamer, pour the cleaner onto a sponge and rapidly squeeze the sponge until foam is produced.

Apply the foam to soiled area in a gentle circular motion. Wait a few minutes, then blot with a soft, clean white lint-free cloth and reapply if area is heavily soiled. If your leather extremely dry and the leather cleaner absorbs quickly, then add 20% distilled water to the leather cleaner to slow down absorption. When the leather has dried, rub a cream leather conditioner into the leather to keep it soft and supple. These instructions apply to both auto and furniture upholstery. Ashley Clarke

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