Car Leather Care
Straight Talk from the Professional

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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 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!

porsche cayman car leather care

Starting With The Basics

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.

Leather Cleaning Basics:

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!

Conditioning Leather Car Seats:

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.

Let's Get You Informed!

Leather Tanning

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.

Corrected Grain Leather

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.

maserati car leather

 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

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.

bentley full grain leather

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.

Semi-Aniline Leather

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.

cadillac semi aniline car leather

 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.

The Strained Comparison

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.

Car Leather Care: understanding the nature of the beast!

ferrari car leather care

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:

  • In order to correctly take care of something, in this case, car leather care, it is best you understand what you are actually dealing with.
  • To dispel much of the bad information that surrounds automotive leather.

Car Leather Care Basics: simplifying what was learned and putting it into proper context.

bentley car leather cleaning

For the purpose of clarity, I am going to bullet-point the highlights and take-a way's of the moment:

  • Most, virtually all, only a few exceptions remain of the opposite, of the leather used within cars is either semi-aniline or corrected grain leather.
  • This means that the outdated, misinformed opinions regarding car leather care that society still clings to, must be replaced with correct information.
  • This also specifically means that virtually every leather found within your car or any car is going to be dyed first with aniline dyes, coated with color pigments to create a completely uniform color, and coated with a clear protective coating. So what you are actually cleaning and conditioning is not natural leather, but natural leather that has been enhanced, re-colored, reconfigured, and coated.
  • The car care industry not only has very little incentive to inform the public with updated car leather care specifics, but actually keep us car owners in the dark so as to continue to sell us products that are outdated.
  • Reduced down to its most basic understanding, because car leather has been coated with this clear protective resin coating, the reality is that you are cleaning and conditioning a form of plastic; plastic that is both flexible and clear.
  • You could also make the same comparison to clear coats on your car. While the clear coat on your car certainly consists of a different formulation than the clear coat on your car leather, it is still a form of polymer resins....most generally known as plastic in its most basic description.
  • Because clear coats on car paint and clear coat on car leather is a form of "plastic" (a combination a different polymers, resins, polyesters, etc., etc.) care for these coatings has changed the nature of the beast forever. It's just that most people remain in their ignorance and the industry has very little desire to educate as this would decrease their ability to continue to sell us an ever increasing array of car care products.

Additional Car Leather Care Tips

car leather care for maserati

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 on as I will explain.

  • As a rule in life, and a rule that applies to your car's leather upholstery: the more you pay, the more you get.
  • This means that purchasing what many might consider an entry level car, means limited use of actual leather will be in place.
  • Marketing and advertising people/agencies/etc. are much smarter than you or me. For this reason it is important to read not only the fine print if it ever exists, but analyze what is actually being said on the label or brochures.
  • "Leather apportioned seating", or "leather seating surfaces" will always mean that the actual leather areas will also include synthetic leather look-like materials. So a seat itself will be assembled using leather on the back and butt areas only, or often, with every other area of the seat being made with the synthetic look-alike stuff.
  • So with that rule of the more you pay the more you get, the higher the price tag of your car will mean you will actually get more "real" leather, and less of the "fake" leather. You will also get superior leather versus inferior leather (yes, not all leathers are created equal).

Moving Forward...

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!

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