Welcome to the new world of the Internet and what I like to call the age of information overload! The Internet today has become a truly love/hate relationship as anyone with an opinion now has a place to give his/her opinion....car leather care is no exception!
Visit any one of the hundreds of the car or detail forums available through a simple search on any of the endless search engines, and you will find yourself quickly buried in endless opinions as to what proper car leather care really is. If you find yourself more confused than ever by contradicting opinions and reports, you are not alone. Not only are misinformed and inexperienced people repeating bad information, but the industry itself offers very little useable help in simplifying an area that is full of so much bad and misleading opinions!
I have found that as people, we often complicate the simple things, and over-simplify the more complex things. Car leather care is an area where people seem to want over-simplify an area that isn't necessarily over-complicated, but is an area that most people remain ignorant about.
If you found this page in search of proper car leather cleaning, you can go straight to cleaning your leather car seats. I don't recommend that just yet since the purpose of this page is designed to lay the foundation so you can be listed amongst the minority of society called the informed!
If you are among the over-simplifier's of the world and are trying to circumvent the more critical part of proper car leather care by searching for the best in car leather conditioners, you can go to leather conditioning for your car. Of course I don't recommend this yet either without educating yourself by reading this page, as this page itself is dedicated to laying the foundation of knowledge so as to help you become an informed consumer and car owner.
There are many steps to the finished product of any leather product; car leather included. Since most people ignorantly use the term tanning when referring to car leather, I start here. But only to say that the tanning process is mostly irrelevant when it comes to the proper care of car leather. For it is the way your particular car leather has been finished which is the more important and critical part of the equation.
I start with this type of leather as it is the most common of leather finishes. Corrected grain leather as the name implies, is leather that is considered to be at the lowest end of finished leathers. It has been "corrected" through artificially creating uniformed texture by impressing a desired texture along with aniline dyes, color pigments, and then finished with a clear top-coat.
So while the material at the heart of this "natural" product does indeed come from nature, the end result has very little left as truly natural. The color, texture, and feel have all been altered to create a rather durable and uniformed looking material, which has now been transformed into the leather seat your butt sits against.
Pictured: An example of not only "details" that are built into high-end cars like this head-rest from a Maserati GranCabrio, but also highlights some of the many ways leather can be formed, re-textured, embossed, etc., when it comes to modern-day processes.
Full aniline leather gets its name from aniline dyes used to soak leather hides that permeate the leather and give it color. These translucent dyes don't mask or completely cover the natural markings, blemishes, scars, or other inconsistency's of the leather hide. With that said, only approximately 3% of all hides are finished in this manner as only the finest, blemish free part of any hide will be finished in this manner.
These high-end hides are used for the finest of leather products where natural weathering are desired and allows for the leather product to develop a natural patina due to an unprotected surface. These leathers will absorb moisture, spills, oils, etc. In addition, will also change, weather, or oxidize due to sun exposure. These types of leathers have not been used in the production of cars since the very beginning of leather seating. As you can imagine, most people probably would not like their leather car seating to look like a heavily soiled and worn out baseball glove or horse saddle.
Pictured: This example from a Bentley simply highlights the various forms of leather textures that are used within cars; from highly textured leathers that have been "corrected" with heavily textured patterns, to this example which is extremely smooth, free of virtually any texture. This picture is not to suggest that Bentley uses full aniline leathers in their cars (which they don't), but simply some examples that can be found in the various car leathers on the market.
Some higher end cars still use what is called semi-aniline leather. This is leather that has initially been dyed using aniline dyes, but has also been colored with opaque pigments to create uniformity of color, but has not been corrected for grain texture. Small imperfections and blemishes can still be evident if close examination is done to these types of finished leathers. Semi-aniline leathers will only be found in the highest-end of cars. These leathers have still been finished with a clear protective resin coating and therefore still remain very resistant to natural wear and tear of daily use. Very few cars, even at the high-end of cars use semi-aniline leather seating material.
As a culture, we have been groomed to expect perfection. Despite leather being a natural product which would suggest that inconsistencies would be natural, the industry has been steered into developing leather that looks perfect in every way, while still delivering a material that feels somewhat natural, but can withstand years of use.
Pictured: This example taken from a new Cadillac shows an extreme example of color use within car leather interiors. Not only has this leather been dyed with aniline dyes, but coated with color pigments to create such a rich and consistent red color. At best this would be semi-aniline leather, but most likely it is corrected grain leather due to its rich color, flawlessly smooth texture, and the fact that virtually every car manufacturer uses correct grain leather except for a very few examples.
In the event you find all that information difficult to digest, I like to use the example of clothing and screen printing. Let's insert cotton in the equation instead of leather...
If you took a white cotton shirt (all cotton starts out white) and you needed or wanted it to be brown, you would put it into a drum of dye which would soak into all the many fibers of the cotton shirt. This would be the equivalent of aniline dyes used to dye the leather as the starting point. The cotton garment would still be prone to dirt, spills, oils, fading, etc., as the garment is worn and washed over time.
Now lets say you took the same shirt but now after you dyed it brown, you applied a design on the front with screen printing. This would give it a completely solid, permanent layer of color that would also be impervious to absorbing anything liquid in nature. This would be the equivelent of opaque (opaque is the opposite of transparent; doesn't allow light to show through) pigments used to color leather; the next step in semi-aniline, and fully corrected grain leathers. The only addition in the case of these car leathers that are corrected grain or semi-aniline is that a clear protective resin coating is also applied for additional protection; once again, the good news.
This car leather care page has been written so as to lay a healthy foundation for you in understanding the nature of the beast in which we are discussing here: car leather.
The purpose of this page serves a number of objectives:
For the purpose of clarity, I am going to bullet-point the highlights and take-a way's of the moment:
Let me also add the following as additional car leather care tips in helping you to fully understand the nature of the beast when it comes to your car leather upholstery; whether this be the leather or the vinyl. The reality is that you will be dealing with both...read on as I will explain.
While the purpose of this page was not intended to outline the exact steps to proper car leather care, laying this foundation is critical towards your immediate and continued success when it comes to cleaning, conditioning, and maintaining the leather car seating win your ride. My entire section on leather car seats will take you through the various techniques and products I use professionally to care for the car leather in my own customers' cars.
I will close by adding the proverbial adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And car leather care is no exception and the sooner you learn what and how, the better and longer your own car leather is going to look and maintain!
Leather Car Seats
Car Leather Care