Often, the difference between an amateur repair and a professional repair is having access to professional supplies and knowing the tricks of the trade. This is especially true in leather repair, where having the wrong supplies can result in making an absolute mess of your leather upholstery. Home remedies like olive oil, milk, and shoe polish will eventually cause your leather to rot and smell. Attempting to “eyeball” a color match using the repair products available at the hardware store will make a scratch look worse, not better.
My intention in this article is to share with you where to find the right products to repair scuffs and scratches in your leather, and a few tips to ensure a successful repair.
First, Identify the Leather
Upholstery leather comes in many different types and finishes. If you are repairing furniture upholstery, lift up the seat cushions and locate the tag that lists the cleaning code. The code will be “A” for Aniline leather, “P” for Protected leather, and “N” for Nubuck leather. If you are repairing auto upholstery, the leather will always be “P”, Protected leather. The repair techniques will be different for each type of leather.
Second, Identify the Damage
Leather is finished in a manner similar to wooden furniture: the unfinished material is stained or colored and then a top coat is applied. A scuff is damage to the topcoat; no color is removed. A scratch goes through the topcoat and removes color. Cuts, burns, tears and rips are more serious damage and require more serious repair than scuffs and scratches; those repairs are beyond the scope of this article.
How to Repair Scuffs in Leather Upholstery
Soft, natural Aniline leathers are finished with wax. To repair a scuff in Aniline leather, all you need to do is redistribute the wax. This is done by warming the leather with a hair dryer and rubbing your hand over the scuffed area.
Most upholstery leather is “P”, or protected leather. Protected leather is essentially painted; sometimes it is dyed through and then painted, and then topped with a clear coat of water-based lacquer. Scuffs occur when the lacquer top coat is damaged. Sometimes, scuffs can be buffed out using a quality leather cream and a rag. If that doesn’t work, it will be necessary to re-apply lacquer to the topcoat. Re-apply lacquer by misting the damaged area with nitrocellulose or acrylic lacquer, which can be purchased in a spray can at your local hardware store. Test the spray in an inconspicuous area to make sure the sheen is correct. Spray in short bursts; do not soak the area. It’s best to apply the lacquer in thin layers. Be sure the leather surface is clean and allow the lacquer to dry thoroughly between applications.
How to Repair Scratches in Leather Upholstery
Scratches are marks that have gone through the leathers’ topcoat and removed color. If color is removed, chances are you have protected leather; Aniline and Nubuck leathers are through-dyed and a scratch would not remove color. To repair, it is necessary to replace the color. The key to successfully repairing protected leather is to have a color that matches your upholstery perfectly. The only way to assure a perfect color match is with a custom-formulated, computerized color match.
The primary manufacturer of leather and vinyl coloring products in the US is a company called SEM. SEM paints are flexible and will not split and crack when used on a flexible surface. Many leather repair professionals purchase SEM products online from Vinyl Pro of Western PA http://www.vinylpro.com . Vinyl Pro has a computer color matching service; simply send them a swatch of your leather and they will match the color. When you order your custom-matched color, get it in an aerosol sprayer.
Where to Find a Leather Swatch
To find a swatch, flip your furniture over and peel back the black dust cover from the bottom of the chair/sofa, or look under your car seat. With a razor knife, cut leather from behind the staple line. You will need a swatch about one inch square in order to match the color.
How to Make the Repair
Fortunately for leather repair technicians, cowhides are not perfect. Cows get scratched by barbed wire, stung by bees and bitten by mosquitoes. All of these will leave scars on a hide. It’s not necessary to match the grain on a simple scratch; re-coloring the damage will look natural enough.
If the edges of the scratch are rough, carefully trim the loose edges with a razor knife and sand slightly with 400 grit wet-or-dry sandpaper. Clean the area well with denatured alcohol. If the scratch is deep, use an artists’ brush or foam brush to dab some of the color into the scratch. Wipe any excess paint from the edges with a Q-tip; be sure to get all of the excess paint from the grain. Dry the paint with a hair dryer. When you are satisfied that the scratch is adequately filled and the dabbed paint is dry, spray the area using the aerosol sprayer filled with your custom color. Spray using short, quick, misting bursts, and feather the edges out slightly from the scratch.
With these “few tricks of the trade” and professional quality supplies, you will be able to make professional-looking repairs to your scratched and scuffed leather upholstery.