Updated: Sep 16, 2020
I dont know about you guys, but everytime I think of leather I think of a certain chainsaw welding maniac in a classic horror movie from the 70s. Is that just me?
It wasn't until I really started delving into the craft of auto detailing, interior detailing to be more specific, leather care to be even more specific that I realized how badly this fellow needed someone to perform a leather treatment for him. Clearly he'd neglected it & it had become faded, torn & tattered. Thats enough to make anyone wave a chainsaw above his head in frustration!
Leather is a very complex subject, fortunately in the auto detailing world it boils down to a couple of key factors. Firstly is your leather aniline? Meaning it was dyed with a soluble dye that does not protect the hair pores that were exposed when all fur was removed from the hide. Or was it dyed through with a pigment & protective topcoat? Aniline, semi aniline & napa leathers are all very sensitive & require special care such as specialized aniline water resistant coatings along with aniline specific cleaners.
Neglected Chrome Tanning Faded Vegetable Tanned Modern Dye Through
To fully understand leather we must understand the tanning process. Tanning is what initially preserves your leather & keeps it from immediately cracking & deteriorating. Vegetable tanning for automotive leather took place from the 1920s to the 1970s, it was initially preferred along with a light layer of pigmentation because it promoted a natrual look with a softer finish, without the troubles that are associated with aniline leather. Unfortunately it usually lead to a patina look when the pigment began to fade due to improper care & exposure to harmful UV rays... often times this also meant an unhappy consumer. In the 1970s leather manufactures for the automotive industry changed to chrome tanning. Chrome tanning meant a leather twice as strong vs vegetable tanned leather, but when coupled with a complete dye through & topcoat it also meant a colder looking leather not as soft as its predecessor. All in all it was a success & 70% of leather found in cars today is chrome tanned. Audi & Porsche are the exception as they have always preferred FOC (Free Of Chrome Tanning)
Chrome Tanning & Dye Through+ Topcoat Is What You Will Commonly Find In Modern Cars
A common misconception that I have seen going around is that you should not condition your modern leather seats because the topcoat will not let the conditioner permeate down to the leather. This is only partially true if working with "Film Coated Leather" or "PU Leather" this is not the same as a leather with a topcoat.
Leather along with a pigment & a topcoat is what you will get in modern cars with a topgrain leather, keeping the leather clean & conditioning at least twice a yr is optimal for long lasting leather. It never hurts to condition more often if it begins to look or feel dry.
Film coated leather is anything that has more then 0.15mm of combined pigment & topcoat. Coated leather is usually made from low quality split leather hence the excessive coating to enhance durability, in most cases it is no longer considered genuine leather by the Federal Trade Commission. PU Leather is simulated leather made from plastics that are later embossed with leather like grains to give the appearance of pores.
PU leather has risen in popularity recently due to animal activist preferring it over genuine leather. Subsequently BMW, Lexus & Mercedes-Benz developed their own propriety simulated leathers. Sensatec, NuLux & Artico respectively. Most entry level cars from these automakers come equipped with PU leather, while their higher end models continue to tout top grain leathers unless special ordered without.
Its important to note that simulated leathers will still benefit from the same products you would use on top grain leathers with one exception, when applying the conditioner or cream its recommended that you use it sparingly as the PU leather does not have any pores for it to really go into and excessive amounts will leave a slick & undesired gloss on the finish. The benefits of suppleness, UV ray protection & stain resistance are still present & will keep your vehicles simulated leather looking & feeling its best.
Need help determining what type of leather is in your car? Advice on how to care for your
leather? Fill out this form & we will be more then happy to help you make the right call. I hope you found this read both helpful & entertaining. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook & Instagram to stay up to date with our most recent work & blogs.