Leather damages

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There are various types of leather damage. It can tear, suffer burn holes, fade in sunlight or become brittle. Leather can also become hard due to ageing.

Signs of wear on leather

Leather is a durable material. That is why it was used long ago as material for saddles or tarpaulins. Nowadays, car seats or furniture covers made of leather are considered to be durable and of high quality. Leather is often mechanically stressed, leading to general signs of wear and traces of use. The surface is scratched or the surface colour rubs off.

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Typical wear on car and furniture leather.


As long as the damages are not too severe, most of them can be coloured, filled and repaired by suitable leather care and can be protected against further wear.

leather repair - furniture leather

leather repair - car leather

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Leather quality

Traces of use and signs of wear can look different and depend largely on the quality of the leather and the colour.

When the leather is of good substance, the finish (surface pigmentation) rubs off over time. The leather itself remains undamaged. If the leather itself is unstable, the leather cracks under the finish and the paint layer cannot withstand the lack of stability in the fibre structure of the leather.

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Typical wear on good quality car and furniture leather.


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Typical cracks in leather with poorer leather quality.


Grease and sweat stains on leather

Sweat and body grease from skin or the oils from the hair penetrate the surface of the leather. This is caused over a period of time and due to regular contact. These fats oxidize (degrade) and deprive the leather of the effect of the tannins. The leather fibre loses its structure and disintegrates. The pH value of the sweat can also be a contributing factor.

Typical areas for such damages are armrests of cars, steering wheels and furniture. Men sweat more. Therefore, the disintegration is always particularly strong where men have contact with leather. Regular cleaning and maintaining of the leather delays such changes significantly. Furniture should also be provided with blankets or pillows in permanent skin and hair contact areas. Oxidative damage from skin and hair are caused by continuous use. With regular cleaning and care treatments, the process can be significantly delayed.

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Typical changes of car arm rests after continuous use.


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Typical damage of steering wheels.


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Typical fat damages: Grease on the collar in clothing or sweat damages in shoes.


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Typical changes of furniture in head and armrest areas.


The question frequently arises in the furniture sector whether the consumption of medication and the subsequent perspiration contributes to leather damage and ageing. Since there is hardly a person who has not taken medication at some time, their leather clothing, including shoes, does not appear to have suffered perceptibly. Therefore the basic risk from medication must be discounted. Only in a very few individual cases, which may be associated with liver disease, there does appear to be medicines that change the sweat in such a way that the leather ages more rapidly and becomes fragile, even during the warranty period. However, this has not been subject to scientific investigation and such cases are rare.

The professional cleaning and colouration of slightly damaged furniture leather.

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Fading of leather

Some leathers are fade-sensitive and contain no high light protection factor. In particular, suede, nubuck and aniline leather are fade-sensitive. This phenomenon is rare in strongly pigmented leather, since most pigments are insensitive for fading. Aniline dyes are much more sensitive and tend to fade stronger and faster. Automobile leathers are generally highly pigmented and rarely fade.

Such leathers should therefore be treated with care products with UV protection. Although these cannot prevent fading, they can delay it.

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Fading can happen on velvet-like surfaces like suede and nubuck, but also on pigmented leather.


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Faded suede and nubuck.


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Faded leather furniture.


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Faded car leather. Behind panels or the original belt.


The most common phenomenon of colour change in leather is fading. But there are also rare cases of yellowing.


Yellowing of car leather. A rare phenomenon.


Leather usually becomes brighter with exposure to light. The exception is vegetable-tanned, uncoloured leather, which darkens with time. As this is a desired effect it is not considered to be damaging. The leather should then be exposed to light in such a way that the leather darkens evenly.

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Darkened, vegetable-tanned smooth leather.


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Disintegration of old leather

While the tanner tries to produce the best quality leather, it still decays with time, even with careful use and optimal storage. Very old leather begins to become fibrous and decompose, while other leather can also harden and stiffen.

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Hardening or decay of antique Leather.


The patination of an antique leather folder.

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Dye transfer on leather

In recent years cases of clothing or fabrics discolouring leather or imitation leather have increased. This always applies to lighter colours as the discolourations are more visible than on dark surfaces. Such discolourations usually affect furniture or car leathers and are caused mainly by jackets, trousers or leather belts. Some cushions can leave dye stains on furniture or socks can lead to dye transfer on shoes. Jeans, textiles or leather transfer dyes onto the leather surfaces of the upholstery which then slowly sink into the leather or artificial leather surface. These stains cannot be removed with standard cleaners.

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Typical denim discolouration on car leather.


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Belt discolourations on car leather are usually so strong that only a specialist company can help.


The sensitivity to such discolouration has increased significantly over the past 15 years. In most cases the dyes are blamed. But leathers that are older than 15 years tend to be significantly less stained, even when they come into contact with the colouring materials. Therefore, it can be assumed that the change from solvent products to water-based finish-chemicals of leather and synthetic leather and the trend towards very matt surfaces have markedly increased this sensitivity. It is therefore common to see more advertising from chemical companies who have developed new additives with "anti-soiling properties".

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Colouration by protective covers made of sheepskin. Left leather, right synthetic leather.


Unfortunately, brand new, light-coloured upholstery furniture becomes dirty after a short time from the discolouration of textiles (not only jeans!). And there is no easy way to clean it.

A simple test is sufficient: Lightly moisten a light cloth and rub a small section of the discolouring material. If it leaves a strong mark on the cloth, the discolouration will also be high. There are also cases where leggings, which do not rub off during the rubbing test, still discolour the upholstery. It is therefore necessary to examine from case-to-case the potential level of discolouration. If in doubt, an expert or institute will need to check.

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High dye transfer from leather shoes and leather jackets.


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Typical jeans discolouration.


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Discolouration from the back of a fur blanket on furniture.


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Leggings with a high level of dye transfer stain a new artificial leather sofa.


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A typical case: Pillows discolour new artificial leather.


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Jeans discolouration on handbag leather. - Patent leather is extremely sensitive and discolours easily.


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Globus.jpg -> Rest of the world: partners worldwide


Other leather damages

The investigation of leather damages

Due to the abundance of possible causes for leather damages, a lot of experience in checking leather qualities and leather problems is needed. COLOURLOCK has been helping leather producers, leather dealers, leather processing companies and end customers in leather problems for over 20 years.

The causes of damages of a leather couch.

Additional information