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 absolutely 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 and saddle soap will eventually cause your leather to
rot and smell. Trying to match your furniture’s color using the repair products
available at the home store will make a scratch look worse, not better. In this
article I’ll 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 not
sure about how your sofa/chair leather is finished, lift up a seat cushion and look
for the tag that lists the cleaning code . The code will be A for Aniline leather, P
for Protected leather, and N for Nubuck leather. Automobile upholstery is
exposed to extremes of heat, cold, and sunlight, so it is always heavily finished
“P”, or Protected leather. You will use different repair methods for each type of
Second, Identify the Damage
Finishing leather is very similar to finishing wood: the raw material is stained and
then a topcoat is applied. Damage to the clear topcoat wherein no color is
removed is described as a scuff. A scratch is damage that goes through the
clear topcoat and the color coat and exposes the raw leather. 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.
Repairing 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. Use just
enough heat to warm up the leather.
Most upholstery leather is P, or protected leather. Protected leather is always
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. Occasionally, scuffs can be buffed out using a good quality leather
cream and a rag. If that doesnt work, then topcoat will have to be re-applied.
Re-apply the topcoat by lightly misting the affected area with clear nitrocellulose
or acrylic lacquer, which can be purchased in a spray can at your local home
store. Make sure the sheen is correct; test the spray in an inconspicuous area.
Spray in short bursts; do not soak the area. Apply the lacquer in thin layers. Be
sure the leather surface is clean and allow the lacquer to dry thoroughly between
How to Repair Scratches in Leather Upholstery
Scratches will pass through the leather’s topcoat and color coat and expose the
raw leather underneath. 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 a scratch, the damage must be re-colored. The key to
successfully repairing protected leather is to have a color that matches your
upholstery perfectly A perfect match is only possible with a custom-formulated,
computerized color match.
The largest manufacturer of leather and vinyl coloring products in the United
States is a company called SEM. SEM paints are are formulated for use with
protected leathers; they are flexible and if applied correctly will not split or peel
as the leather flexes. 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.
When you order your custom-matched color, order it in an aerosol sprayer.
Where to Find a Leather Swatch
To find a swatch, turn your furniture upside down and pull part of the black dust
cover from the bottom of the chair/sofa, or look under your car seat. With a razor
knife, cut a bit of leather from behind the staple line. You’ll need about one
square inch of leather in order to match the color.
How to Make the Repair
Fortunately for leather repair technicians, cowhides are often flawed. Cows get
scratched by barbed wire, stung by bees and bitten by mosquitoes. All of these
will leave scars on a hide. All that needs to be done to repair a scratch is to re-
color it; it will look natural enough without filling and graining. 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
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