There is a lot of confusion as regard to conditioning leather. Manufacturers of leather conditioners provide information that sounds very credible, but, in truth, much of it makes no sense. The marketing behind these products tries to present leather as akin to human skin, containing natural oils that dry out and need replacing.
However this is not true. While leather used to be the skin of an animal, the tanning process has removed nearly all of the oils, leaving only the collagen fibres.
What is left is a sheet of dense, taut woven fibres.
Next, the tanners re-introduce oils and fats, natural and artificial, to allow the fibres to become soft and supple again.
What’s important is that these oils and fats are chemically bonded to the leather and the bond should hold for a minimum of 20 years unless the leather is exposed to unsuitable cleaning products.
The next process is to add a finish to the leather which will help protect and/or colour it . In the case of unprotected leathers such as Aniline it will just be a thin nitro-cellulose coating that will allow the natural beauty of the leather to show through or with pigmented leathers, which form the vast majority of leather upholstery, it is sprayed with a coloured pigment and then a clear polyurethane finish.
To be classed as leather, these coatings must allow air and moisture to pass through and because leather has the ability to absorb and release moisture it has a tendency to dry out. This loss of moisture should be replaced with the use of water based maintenance products.
Any oily treatments applied to the surface of the finished leather will struggle to get in, so tend to remain on the surface and being slightly sticky will attract and hold dirt. This will cause abrasion of the surface, cracking and the finish to delaminate. Compounding the problem is that the softening feel these treatments give to the surface are short lived and have to be applied regularly to have any effect.
It is interesting to note some of the unsuitable ingredients these ‘Conditioners’ contain:
Oil or lanolin– these leave a waxy film on the surface.
Beef collagen– collagens are used to make glues and thickeners.
Banana oil– although it smells of bananas, it has nothing to do with bananas but comprises of Isoamyl alcohol which is a solvent and will dissolve the nitrocellulose finish on many types of leathers.
To the uninformed all the above sounds good. Bananas, lemons, coconuts, beeswax- they must be safe and not only that they smell clean as well!
So why do these companies persist in selling unsuitable products’?
It could be that leather is perceived as being natural and old fashioned and thus needs natural and old fashioned remedies, these remedies are much easier to sell because of this perception.
Scientific research into leather care did not really start until around the 1970’s. Before that most leather care products were for the shoe and equestrian leather industry which are very different from furniture leather, however this is where most leather care products came from and have simply been transferred across. Most leather care products are stuck in this pre- 70’s philosophy and because the products have been around for a while they are easier and cheaper to produce. For most suppliers it is all about sales and not correct leather care.
A far more beneficial way to look after your leather furniture is to apply a 3 in 1 leather maintainer which contains a fluoroseal protector. It is designed to clean, hydrate and protect the surface coatings against:
If used on the body contact areas on a regular basis then your leather furniture should stay in tip top condition for decades.
Be aware though that some products have simply been re-labelled without changing the ingredients!
Remember ‘Conditioners’ do not protect leather and their use is counter productive
A 3-in-1 maintainer on the other hand will extend the life of your leather so is well worth the investment.