Leather 101: Caring for Leather Furniture

Hello BestLeather readers! I’m Chris Repp, a second-generation leather restoration professional and the creator of LeatherHelp.com. I’ve spent 25 years cleaning, repairing and restoring leather furniture, automotive leather interiors, leather jackets, bags, yacht cabin leather and private aircraft leather seating. More often lately, I’m training others to do the same.

While you are a sophisticated audience here at BestLeather, I am a blue-collar leather guy. I don’t have a degree in leather technology or a comprehensive knowledge of the many types of leather tannage. In fact, I tweeted out the other day that I learn something new every time I visit BestLeather. It’s true.

What I will give you today is insight born out of 1000’s of living-room discussions with my real customers over the decades. The result has been lots of practical advice on:

  1. Choosing the right leather furniture for you,
  2. Caring well for that leather furniture so it lasts a lifetime
  3. Dealing with the inevitable leather problem.

So here’s 25 years of advice in short.

Choosing leather furniture

  • Buying quality leather matters most – For a leather restoration guy, I say no to a lot of leather jobs. Mostly because the people bought cheap, junk leather or faux leather and I can’t fix it for them. So my first piece of advice is buy good leather from a knowledgeable furniture retailer or none of the rest of this advice will matter. It’s only lipstick on a pig.
  • Leather furniture for active families – Lots of my customers ask, “I have small kids and we have pets, should we get leather or not?” I say, “Certainly”, but then I point them back to my first piece of advice. If you buy cheap leather, the family will tear it up in no time. If you buy quality, I can teach you how to care for it and it will last for decades.
  • How much should you spend and why – For most consumers, I recommend mid-grade, mid-priced leather furniture from a good furniture or leather retailer. Spend more than you initially wanted to but not enough to break the bank. Heres why: Cheap leather from a warehouse is obviously going to be a mess in no time. But on the other end of the spectrum, the highest grade aniline (unprotected) leather sofa is beautiful and butter soft but very delicate and may not be appropriate for most buyers. I’d talk to a good salesman about investing in a mid-grade, top-grain finished leather. A mid-grade pull-up or distressed leather can also be a great choice if you like a leather that will distress and patina with age.



Caring for your leather furniture

  • Tips for cleaning your leather furniture – Some of these tips may sound elementary, but I’m just telling you the facts. These are tips I give because I get customers learning the hard way all the time!
    • Don’t use Windex, Simple Green or anything not made to clean leather. Only use cleaners made for leather.
    • Apply the cleaner to a soft, t-shirt material type cloth, not directly onto the leather. Clean an entire section at a time from seam-to-seam.
    • A good maintenance routine is:
      • Weekly – Dust off the leather with a dry cloth or soft-brush attachment to a vacuum cleaner.
      • Monthly – Clean the leather with a good leather cleaner
      • Quarterly – Condition the leather
  • Keys to conditioning your leather furniture – Most customers have the best of intentions but aren’t going to follow the rigorous routine above. So I suggest that they at least use a cream conditioner on their leather twice a year. However, if I see a fireplace or lots of direct sunlight in the home, I will urge they do the 4x conditioning a year. Dry heat will dry out leather if not treated. The final common suggestion I offer for conditioning applies to pull-up leather furniture. Pull-up leather has been “stuffed” with wax. After a few years, that wax comes off the seats and arms of the furniture. In that case, I suggest they get a thicker wax-paste conditioner and wax the leather almost like you would wax your car. Then I suggest waving a warm hair dryer over the wax to set it into the leather.
  • Unexpected household items can damage your leather furniture – I get calls each week from customers who just noticed a big discolored spot on their leather sofa. Once we trace it back, we discover it often is caused by a normal household chemical that they never guessed could take the color out of the leather. Here are several culprits I get all the time: Instant hand sanitzer, Dog flea and tick medicine, skin creams, hair gel or ointment, Windex, wood furniture polish, nail polish remover, and hot surfaces such as mugs or hot plates. All these items can easily remove finish from even a good quality leather furniture.


Dealing with damaged leather furniture

  • What damages can be repaired – If you are planning to keep your new leather furniture for decades, it is inevitable that something may go wrong. No matter the damage, re-upholstery is always a possibility. The challenge with upholstery is to find a color and grain pattern that match. The cost of upholstery can be prohibitive, so it’s important to check if it can be repaired before spending too much money. My expertise is in leather repair, so I’m familiar with type of damages that can be repaired: Scratches, cat scratches, dog scratching, transit scuffs, stains of all types, discoloration, punctures, small tears usually less than 2”, sun fading, normal wear and tear, ink stains and surface cracking. I’ve seen them all, and a good leather pro in your area can repair them so they are almost like new.
  • An easy DIY cut repair video – My claim to fame on YouTube is a video I made late one night that teaches you how to fix a simple straight cut in your leather furniture. Watch the video here.

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Save money by hiring a leather repair pro

As a leather repair pro I have to make a pitch for our trade. So, here are a few ways you can hire a good leather pro to solve leather problems and save you some money:

        • Restoration is a great, green alternative to replacing 5-10 year old leather furniture. The frame, the cushions and even the leather itself are often in great shape. Only the leather surface needs cleaned and spruced up for a leather set to have decades more use in int. This usually costs 20% of replacement.
        • Restoration is a often a great alternative to reupholstery- For the more minor damages I described above, restoration is a cost effective alternative to reupholstery. I know many upholsters and they do great work, but will readily admit it can cost just as much as replacement. Restoration is less and can often be done in one day in your home.
        • Check around online or in your local classified ads and buy a gently used but quality leather sofa. A good pro can restore it for you for 20% of the cost of new.
        • Color change is an option for those who still like their leather furniture style but could update the color scheme in a room. This usually costs about half the price of a replacement set.

So that’s it, a small slice of my best stuff to help you choose and care for your leather furniture for a lifetime. I’ll admit leather furniture that lasts a lifetime is not the norm these days. I’ve seen some leather 10, 5, heck even 2 years old that is a mess already. I hope my experience and advice will help you be the exception!   There’s nothing like having a still beautiful leather sofa that’s 20 years old and has served you through decades of life memories.

Chris Repp is a second-generation leather restoration professional and the creator of LeatherHelp.com. You can sign up for his newsletter here. Follow him on Twitter and YouTube.

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  1. Chris here from LeatherHelp.com Thanks for letting me share my experience with your audience. Just wanted to toss it out that if anyone has specific questions about choosing, caring for or repair to your specific leather furniture, I’m happy to help. Post a question below and I’ll get back to you.

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