Cleaning leather upholstery requires a different approach than for cleaning fabric upholstery. Before we start to clean, it is essential to determine the type of leather the customer has so that the correct cleaning solutions and methods can be used. This will ensure that no damage is caused during the cleaning process. With this in mind, it is helpful to categorise upholstery leather into three main groups:
Aniline Leather cleaning
Aniline refers to the non-toxic dye used in colouring leather and not to the leather itself. However the leather selected to become aniline is usually the best quality without anything removed from the surface and is known as Full Grain. Within this group we include all leathers that have minimum surface protection and absorb moisture readily. This group of leather also absorbs dirt and stains readily, so it pays to regularly maintain the surface. Following a thorough vacuuming we follow up with a cleaning solution that does not contain detergents as we only want to clean the dirt away from the surface of the leather and not push it further into the grain. Afterwards, we apply a fluoroseal protector to the leather which helps against staining. Available for purchase is a bottle of leather maintainer and a quick explanation on how to best care for the suite now it has been cleaned. Leather maintainer is a spray and wipe product that is designed to clean, hydrate and protect. If maintained correctly and regularly then dirt can be wiped off the surface reducing the need to deep clean.
Protected Leather Cleaning
The better quality protected leathers are also made from the top layer of a hide, but from one that is deemed not good enough to be Full Grain and has had any imperfections buffed out. It is normally aniline dyed and then coated with one or more pigments and includes antique and two tone finishes. Cleaning is carried out using a foaming product, whereby the dirt is encapsulated into the foam and then removed from the surface of the leather. Using a foam cleaner is a more efficient way to capture the dirt rather than using a spray cleaner that just moves the dirt around the surface of the leather. Using foam also prevents “bleaching” streaks that can prove stubborn to remove. After the suite has been fully cleaned, a coat of fluoroseal protector is applied and then it is good practise for the owner to look after the suite by cleaning the body contact areas with a leather maintenance product that can be purchased from us. This product will clean, hydrate and prevent surface cracking and reduce the frequency of “deep cleaning”.
Nubuck is a Full Grain aniline dyed leather that has had its surface buffed to give a suede effect and may have a protective coating of wax. Because the surface has been buffed and the leather fibres are exposed it is very susceptible to spillages and body oils. Cleaning is normally carried out with a nap brush and a tack cloth. Again, a fluoroseal protector is applied after the cleaning process and a bottle of leather maintainer is available for the customer to purchase from us that will clean, hydrate and protect.
You may notice that I have emphasised the word hydrate. This is because leather is marketed in a way that makes you believe it is like living human skin that regularly needs moisturising, however this is untrue. During the tanning process, all the natural stuff in the hide is removed leaving only fibrous material. At this stage the hide can now be called leather but it is very stiff, so natural and artificial oils and fats are introduced to lubricate it and make it soft and supple. These oils and fats are chemically bound to the fibres and should last for a minimum of 20 to 30 years. If you try to ‘condition’ the leather with more oil then it will just remain on the surface and attract dirt. This dirt will abrade the surface and cause cracks and the dye to fade. Because leather has a tendency to dry out, only water based cleaning products should be used. By keeping the surface clear of dirt and body oils allows moisture in the air to be carried through, keeping the leather in balance with the surrounding levels of humidity. However if the environment is too dry, as our homes often are, then a 3-in-one maintainer used on a regular basis will help to keep the leather soft and supple. The 3-in 1 maintainer is designed to clean, hydrate and add a thin coat of fluoroseal protector to the surface of the leather. The protector will help in the fight against stains and body contact oils.