Many people struggle with the concept of leather care with specific reference to ‘protecting’ vs. conditioning
Many suppliers of ‘conditioners’ for leather (particularly in the Auto Industry) provide information that sounds very plausible, but, if you read into it more carefully and research it, even a little, you will find that it much of it is nonsense.
The whole marketing ethos behind what they are presenting is that leather is like human living skin with natural oils and things that need to be regularly replaced by feeding it with a variety of ingredients
This whole concept is untrue, especially with regards to auto leather
The leather used to be the skin of something (generally cattle) but the tanning process removes virtually all of the natural ‘stuff’ in there leaving only the fibres (these are made of collagen as is most of the rest of the tissue in a body). What is left is a sheet of naturally woven fibre that is very stiff and hard (Wet Blue)
The next step for the tanners is to introduce a mixture of oils and fats (synthetic or natural – it varies) to re-lubricate the fibres and the hides are then tumbled to further facilitate the spread of the oils and make the fibres soft and supple
The whole process is called re-tanning or fat liquoring
The important point here is that the oils/fats are chemically attached to each fibre and the bond is good for 20-30 years minimum unless the leather is damaged by VERY harsh chemicals
Immersing your seats in a high acid or alkaline bath for a few days may do it, general cleaning and daily use will not
The next process for auto leather (99% of it) is to add a protective coating (a coat of paint) to the surface
This is to protect and colour the surface
The leather is then coated with a clear coat finish
If the product being produced is to be sold as leather then this coating has to be designed to allow air (and the moisture carried in it) to pass through. This is known as transpiration. Because oils and waxes are a much heavier molecular structure they take far longer to get through so remain on the surface for a long time where they attract dirt to the surface
So leather (processed skin) has the ability to absorb and release moisture and will balance itself to the surrounding humidity level. As this is generally warmer and dryer in cars and homes than normal, leather has a tendency to dry out (lose moisture) which should be replaced with the use of water-based products
The fats/oils inside the leather are chemically attached so never leave
Any fats and oils introduced to the outside surface of the finished leather will struggle to get in so tend to remain on the surface and being slightly sticky (low melting temp) will attract and hold dirt
They will give a temporary ‘softening’ feel to the surface but this will be short-lived (although this is another reason they sell so much product!!) as it ‘feels’ as though it should be applied regularly to have any effect!
If ‘conditioners’ do get in they will generally upset the balance inside or release the bond of the coatings to the leather which will down the line create another series of problems
Some of the things ‘Conditioners’ contain
- Most ‘conditioners’ contain oils – oils are not a cleaning agent and will go nowhere other than the surface of the leather
- Lanolin is a wax extracted from natural excretions found in sheep’s wool. It has no cleaning properties and will leave a wax residue on the surface
Neither oils or Lanolin will dissolve in water but both form good emulsions in water. So using anything with oils as a cleaning agent does not make sense but it conforms to the old fashioned dogma about leather care, so it sells!!
- Beef collagen, there is no scientific proof that this product ( there are many categories of collagen, beef being a general term not a category) can be absorbed by live skin let alone tanned skin with a heavy protective coating. Collagens are used to make glues; gelatins and thickening agents…..get the picture.
- Banana oil, sounds nice and natural. Banana oil has nothing to do with bananas apparently but comprises of Isoamyl alcohol (solvent!) and acetic acid (solvent!). It is called banana oil because it smells like bananas. The Isoamyl alcohol can be used as a solvent for certain varnishes and nitrocellulose lacquers (often the basis for many leather finishes). Doesn’t sound so good now?
But ………to the uninformed it all sounds good and from a marketing point of view that is great…..natural products, bananas, lemons, coconuts, beeswax……..must be safe……and ‘smells’ so clean!
So why do these apparently large well-established companies persist in selling ‘the wrong products’?
Usually, because they are not expert in every field that they sell in. Most of them sell products for all areas of car detailing. Often leather is just an add on.
They market heavily and concentrate on what people want not what they need.
They have existing product lines and philosophies that they have invested in that are expensive and time consuming to change and while they are selling why rock the boat.
Leather has a perception of ‘natural’ and’ old fashion’ so needs natural and old fashioned remedies, these are easier to sell because of the general perception of leather
Serious research into modern, scientific leather care products did not really start until the 60/70s, prior to that most products were for shoes and equestrian leather both of which are very different from furniture and auto leather but is where most leather care products started out and have simply been transferred across to another sector of the industry
The majority of products on the market are stuck in the pre 70’s philosophy because the products are easier and cheaper to produce so can offer lower sale prices or the potential for higher margins
For the majority of suppliers, it is all about sales not correct leather care
Protection is far more beneficial to your leather interior as a protector is designed to protect the surface coatings that have been applied
A good quality protector guards against
- Dye transfer
- UV damage
making the leather easier to keep clean and therefore free from cracks and damage to the pigment which is generally caused by dirt
Protectors do not contain oils or waxes so check the ingredients (some ‘conditioners’ have been re-labelled Protectors without changing the ingredients!)
Remember ‘Conditioners’ do not protect the leather and their use is actually counterproductive
A Protector, on the other hand, will extend the life of your leather so is well worth the investment