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  • Writer's picturePeter Smith

The Ultimate Guide to DIY Leather Repair: How to Restore Your Beloved Leather Article

Are you worried about your beloved favourite leather losing its lustre and appeal?


Is it dry, cracking and faded?


Do not let it get worse. The worst enemy for leather is dryness, and if left unchecked, will cause irreversible damage.


Whether it's a cherished leather jacket, a well-used holdall, or a beloved pair of shoes, we all know the heartbreak of seeing our leather articles deteriorate.


In this Ultimate Guide to DIY Leather Repair, I'll show you how to restore and revive your beloved leather items, bringing them back to their former glory


From minor scratches to deep cracks and tears, we'll walk you through step-by-step techniques and insider secrets that will help you tackle most leather repair projects with confidence.


Discover the tools, products, and methods to mend, condition, and protect your leather articles, ensuring their longevity and impeccable appearance.


If you're ready to breathe new life into your worn-out leather treasures, let's dive into the world of leather repair and unleash your inner restoration expert!


The Ultimate Guide to DIY Leather Repair


Understanding different types of leather

Well, sound obvious to some, but we do need to know what type of leather and what finish is on the leather in order to treat it properly and with the correct methods and products. Leather comes in various types, each with its own unique characteristics and care requirements. It's essential to understand the type of leather you're working with before attempting any repairs.


The most common types of leather:

Full-grain

Used in luxury items such as furniture cases, bags, wallets and other luxury leather goods.

This is the highest quality and most durable type of leather. It's made from the top layer of the hide, retaining the natural grain and imperfections. Full-grain leather develops a beautiful patina over time, making it a popular choice for luxury items.


Top-grain

Used in furniture, cases, bags, wallets, accessories and other leather goods but slightly cheaper.

Top-grain is full-grain leather that has been sanded and buffed to remove imperfections and create a more uniform surface appearance. It is still of high quality and will also show age and patina over time.


Corrected-grain or pigmented

This leather has been heavily processed to remove imperfections. It's smoothed off on top then coated with pigments and embossed to mimic the look of higher-quality leather. Corrected-grain leather is more affordable but less durable than full-grain or top-grain leather.


Aniline

Aniline leather is leather dyed exclusively with soluble dyes. The dye colours the leather without producing the uniform surface of a topcoat paint insoluble pigmented sealant (like corrected-grain or pigmented leather). Here, we are left with the hide's natural surface. Any visible variations on the surface of the un-dyed leather such as pores, scars, wrinkles or other blemishes will remain visible in the final product.


These leathers are more tricky to care for, as they are absorbent. They will stain if you spill something on them, and they will also soak in head grease. These are cleaned with a different type of leather cleaner, but I find adding dye to these suites can help restore the natural look.


Bonded

is made from leftover leather scraps that are bonded together with polyurethane or latex. It's the least expensive type of leather and often used in low-cost furniture and accessories. Bonded leather lacks the durability and longevity of other types of leather and can easily tear. I have seen many articles created with this leather where the leather has torn along the stitching (like tissue paper!), which is irreversible of course.


This is not an exhaustive list. There are more types described in this post, each of which requires different repair and restore techniques. We will cover repair and restore of the leathers in this list above.


Understanding the type of leather you're working with will help you choose the appropriate repair techniques and products.


Common types of leather damage

Leather items are prone to various types of damage, including day-to-day use that cause scratches, scuffs, tears, and fading.


Whilst these are unsightly, the worst damage for leather is red-rot and cracking, even more unsightly, distressing and irreversible.


Understanding the different types of damage will help you assess the condition of your leather article and determine the best course of action for repair.


Scratches

Shallow marks on the leather's surface caused by sharp objects or rough handling. They can be minor or deep, depending on the severity of the incident. Scratches can make your leather item look worn and dull. In most cases, they can be repaired with the right techniques.


Scuffs

This is caused when the leather is rubbed against a rough or abrasive surface. They can leave unsightly marks and rough patches on your leather article. Scuffs are common in shoes and bags.


Tears and holes

are more severe forms of damage that require careful repair. Tears can occur due to excessive force, accidents, or ageing leather. They can compromise the integrity of your leather item and should be addressed promptly to prevent further damage.


Faded leather

A common problem, especially in items exposed to sunlight or harsh weather conditions. Over time, the colour of the leather can fade, making it look dull and lifeless. Restoring the colour and shine to faded leather is an essential step in the leather repair and restore process.


For more severe damage, such as red-rot and cracked leather, and how to deal with these issues, visit this blog.


Assessing the condition of your leather article

Before diving into the leather repair process, it's crucial to assess the condition of your leather article.


Take a closer look at the scratches, scuffs, tears, or fading and determine the severity of the damage. This assessment will help you prioritize the repairs and choose the appropriate techniques.


For minor scratches and scuffs, simple DIY repair methods may suffice. However, deep cracks, tears, or extensive fading may require professional intervention or more advanced repair techniques. It's essential to be realistic about your skills and capabilities before attempting complex repairs. If you are ever in doubt - don't. Contact me for a free consultation and I will help you assess your situation.


Once you've assessed the condition of your leather article, gather the tools and materials needed for the repair process.


Tools and materials needed for leather repair

Having the right tools and materials is essential for successful leather repair. Here's a list of items you'll need to restore your beloved leather article:


  1. Leather repair kit. Invest in a high-quality leather repair kit that includes all the necessary tools and materials, such as colour-matched leather dyes, adhesives, fillers, and applicators. Look for "furniture repair kits", "shoe repair kits" or "leather repair kits". Ensure the kits don't contain any oils (even mink or other exotic oils sold on popular platforms). Oil spoils leather over time. You are looking for natural ingredients, bees wax being the most common, usually mixed with lanolin (for the more expensive, but best performing products) and tallow - a natural animal fat. Also avoid any man-made synthetic ingredients such as paraffin, or petroleum jelly or other fossil oil derivatives.

  2. Leather dye. Not all dyes are equal! You will need a leather dye made for your type of leather. Ensure you get the right dye for your leather item.

  3. Gloves. Get some latex (or similar) gloves. Let me tell you, leather dyes will stain your skin for days!

  4. Leather cleaner. Ensure you get a cleaner designed for the type of leather you are working on. Use a mild leather cleaner to remove dirt, grime, and stains from the surface of your leather item. Avoid harsh chemicals that can further damage the leather. Also avoid any "home remedies" you find on some popular platforms. For most of my cleaning, I use saddle soap. It not only cleans, but feeds the leather and leaves a beautiful finish. With any cleaner, you should test on a discreet part of the article - and let it dry and sit for an hour. Leather takes time to dry and react to any treatments.

  5. Leather conditioner. Again, ensure the conditioner is suitable for your type of leather. After cleaning, apply a leather conditioner to hydrate and restore the natural oils of the leather. Conditioning helps prevent dryness, cracking, and fading. As with the leather repair kits, avoid man-made synthetic ingredients and oils.

  6. Sandpaper and sponge. Useful for sanding and smoothing the surface of certain leathers and preparing it for repairs or colour restoration. Sanding should only be done with a very fine grit sandpaper such as a 1,000 grit or higher. In some cases, I just use a mutton cloth and that is good enough to smooth off the surface and prepare it for the next stage.

  7. Lint-free cloth. Why do we always say use "a soft, lint-free cloth"? Well, often, when finishing, the surface can be sticky to start with and lint will stick to your item and it will be difficult to take off. It's just extra work you don't need. A soft cloth give a better shine. A lint free cloth will avoid a "hairy" finish - ergo, soft, lint-free cloth. This ensures a smooth, even and shiny surface without leaving residue, stripes, smudging and will be lint free.

  8. Heat gun or hairdryer. Heat is often used in the leather repair process to activate adhesives, dry fillers, or help set the colour of leather dyes. A heat gun or hairdryer with adjustable temperature settings is ideal.

  9. Leather glue. For repairing tears or attaching loose parts, a high-quality leather glue is essential. Look for a glue that dries clear and bonds well with leather. There are water based glues available now that are comparable with the traditional impact, solvent based adhesives. Water based glues is so much easier to use and to clean your applicators from.

  10. Super glue. Yes, I use super glue in certain situations. It's great to stop natural fibres and threads from untwisting and fraying.

  11. Glue applicators. Most craft and hobby shops have glue applicators and spreaders. I also use a fairly thick, stiff bristled artists paint brush.

  12. Leather fillers and patches. Deep cracks or holes may require fillers or patches to restore the smooth surface of the leather. Choose fillers or patches that match the colour and texture of your leather article. These are usually available from furniture repair companies and sold in kits with easy to follow instructions.

  13. Finishing products. Leather transforms when you finish with the correct product. Get yourself a small tin of clear (parade) shoe polish. Don't use any polishes with colour. Parade polishes are designed to give a deep shine to your leather article and also protect the leather from moisture, spills, rain, etc.

  14. Brushes. Invest in a good polishing brush. One that has a high density of bristles. Horse hair brushes are too soft and nylon scrubbing brushes are certainly a no-no. You should have two brushes, one for applying your finish and one for polishing off.

Cleaning and preparing the leather

Properly cleaning and preparing the leather is crucial for successful repairs. Any oils, grease and dirt will just resist your finishing efforts.

Follow these steps to ensure a clean and smooth surface:

  1. Clean off any loose dirt, debris, dust, crumbs... Use a soft brush or cloth - vacuum cleaner, etc. This is a "dry clean", so don't use any cleaners at this stage.

  2. Apply a small amount of leather cleaner. Test your cleaner in an inconspicuous place first. Leave it for an hour to see how the leather has reacted to these foreign chemicals. Use a lint-free cloth and gently rub the surface of the leather in a circular motion. Focus on areas with stains or discoloration. Avoid excessive moisture that can damage the leather.

  3. Wipe off the excess cleaner With a clean, damp cloth wipe off. Make sure to remove all traces of the cleaner from the leather.

  4. Allow the leather to dry naturally. Avoid using direct heat sources, as they can cause the leather to crack or shrink.

Repairing scratches and scuffs

Scratches and scuffs can be unsightly, but they can often be repaired with simple DIY techniques. Actually, if I am to be pedantic... scratches and scuffs can't be repaired. For example, if you scratch or scuff pigmented leather you will damage the surface coating - it's like scratching your car! Ouch! So the best we can do is "hide" the damage. Of course, you can take such an article to a professional with the equipment and treatments who will then re-spray your item. For other leathers, you will just have to do your best to minimise the look of the damage.

  1. Assess the depth of the scratch or scuff. Shallow scratches may require only minor touch-ups, while deeper ones may need more extensive repair.

    1. Shallow scratches will be treated with colouring and leather conditioner. Apply a small amount of leather conditioner to the scratch or scuff and gently rub it in a circular motion using a lint-free cloth. This may help minimize the appearance of minor scratches.

    2. For deeper scratches or scuffs, you might need to lightly sand the area with a very fine grit sand-paper. All you are looking for is a smooth appearance, don't attempt to get rid of the scratch or scuff as you will be sanding too deep and making it really hard to colour match. You may also need to use a filler. Follow the instructions for the filler meticulously. It's a fussy process, which if you don't follow, will not yield the results you want. Apply a colour-matched leather dye to the affected area using an applicator or cotton swab. Follow the instruction for the repair kit. Don't get too eager - start with a small amount and gradually build up the colour (allowing drying and curing time between each treatment) until it matches the surrounding leather.

  2. Allow the dye to dry completely before assessing the results. If the scratch or scuff is still visible, repeat the process until the desired result is achieved. Remember, you won't get rid of the scratch or scuff all-together - you will just minimize the appearance.

Remember to always test the dye on a small, inconspicuous area of the leather before applying it to the scratch or scuff. This ensures that the dye colour matches and doesn't cause further damage.


Fixing tears and holes

Tears and holes require more advanced repair techniques and you may want to talk to a specialist before working on these. Doing the wrong thing can worsen the problem.

  1. Clean the area around the tear or hole. Use a mild leather cleaner and a lint-free cloth. This removes any dirt or debris that could interfere with the repair. Ensure you have removed any sign of wax, oil or grease. This is especially essential for aniline leathers. If you can't get all the wax, oil or grease out, you really can't go any further and you should seek professional help.

  2. Trim any loose threads. Be careful with this one. If you are trimming thread that is part of a stitch, you will worsen the situation. If the thread is definitely man-made polyester fibre, I would burn the ends with a soft flame (match or lighter on a low setting) to prevent further fraying. If the thread is a natural fibre, I would use super-glue to bond it to the underside of the leather.

  3. Apply a small amount of leather glue to the edges of the tear or hole. Use an applicator or cotton swab but be careful not to use too much glue, as it can seep through and create a mess. If you use impact adhesive, allow it to dry per the instructions on the tin (usually 10 to 15 minutes) before bonding (next step).

  4. Reinforce the repair By applying a leather patch on the underside of the tear or hole. Cut the patch to match the size and shape of the damaged area, and adhere it using leather glue. I usually "wet glue" at this point so that you can align the edges before the glue fully bonds the leather. Hold the repair in place for a few minutes to allow the glue to bond.

  5. Allow the glue to cure - again, follow the instructions for the product. This is usually 24 hours.

  6. Once the glue is dry, you can further refine the repair by using leather filler to fill in any gaps or uneven surfaces. Apply the filler according to the manufacturer's instructions, and sand it smooth once it's dry.

Restoring colour and shine to faded leather

Faded leather can be brought back to life with the right techniques and products.

  1. Clean the leather. Use a mild leather cleaner and a soft cloth to remove any any dirt, oil and grease that could affect the restoration process.

  2. Apply a colour-matched leather dye. Do this part carefully, deliberately and in stages. Whacking on a thick layer of colour may give you the wrong colour. Colour matching starts with the right colour dye (often never exact, so you have to find a colour shade that is close to yours). It continues with layered applications of the dye until you reach the required shade to match your article. Using an applicator or sponge. Start with a small amount of dye. Allow it to dry and apply again. Do this, allowing each application to dry properly until the colour matches the surrounding leather.

  3. Allow the dye to dry completely. Before assessing the results, allow the dye to dry completely. If the colour is still uneven or faded, repeat the process until the desired colour is achieved.

  4. Apply a leather conditioner. Dying leather has a nasty side effect of drying out leather. Also be aware - any treatment you do from here will darken the leather. Treat the entire article with the appropriate conditioner. This hydrates and nourishes the leather, restoring its natural shine and suppleness. If you are treating top-grain leather, you can opt for the clear shoe polish.

  5. Buff the leather Using a soft cloth to enhance the shine and remove any excess conditioner. To give the leather a polished and finished look.

Maintaining and protecting your repaired leather article

Now that you've successfully repaired and restored your leather article, it's essential to maintain and protect it to ensure its longevity and impeccable appearance. Here are some tips for maintaining and protecting your repaired leather:

  1. Regularly clean and condition. To keep your leather in top condition and prevent dirt buildup and keep the leather hydrated. Avoid household furniture wax, especially sprays!

  2. Avoid exposing your leather article to direct sunlight. Sunlight will fade your leather. It will also cause drying, which if gone too far, is irreversible.

  3. Store your leather article in a cool, dry place. When not in use, use a dust bag or cover to protect it from dust, moisture, and scratches.

  4. Avoid using harsh chemicals. Harsh chemicals and cleaning products will damage the leather. Stick to mild leather cleaners and conditioners recommended for your type of leather.

  5. Consider using a leather protectant. This can only be done on some leather types such as pigmented and top-grain. This extra layer of protection will minimise damage from stains, spills, and UV damage.

Professional leather repair services

If you're not confident in your leather repair skills or if the damage to your leather article is extensive, it's best to seek professional help.


Professional leather repair services have the expertise and specialized tools to handle complex repairs and ensure the best possible results.


I am here to help. Contact me for a free consultation to work out your next steps.


Conclusion

With any leather repair job, patience is key. Don't rush, be deliberate and really read the instructions on products before using them.

Congratulations! You've reached the end of our ultimate guide to leather repair. Armed with the knowledge and techniques shared in this guide, you're now ready to restore and revive your beloved leather articles. Whether it's fixing scratches, scuffs, tears, or fading, you have the tools, products, and methods to tackle any leather repair project with confidence. Remember to assess the condition of your leather article, gather the necessary tools and materials, and follow the step-by-step instructions provided. With a little time and effort, you can breathe new life into your worn-out leather treasures and enjoy their beauty for years to come. Happy leather repairing!

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