Leather is a complex multi-layered substance and not all materials called leather are made into similar stuff. There are many different dying and pigmentation processes applied to different types of leather. Some add a dye and then lock it in with a top coat, some dyes simply soak into the leather and darken the tone whilst adding some protection. Others completely cover the leather with a pigmented coat.
Full grain leather retains the interior structure of thick cow hide, it has pores, roots and a great many other natural features. Some leather sofas are made of reconstituted or bonded leather which is totally different to full grain and yet both are found in furniture and with many different types of colouration/finish.
So when we talk about leather discolouration, that can mean a range of issues affecting a range of different materials and colouration types.
Leather colour can go wrong for a great many reasons but in our experience there are some typical issues we come across frequently.
Common causes of leather discolouration
- Heavy use and wear (see above image)
- Sunlight bleaching pigments in leather (also found with vinyl furniture)
- Substances that bleach vinyl coating or denature the pigment
- Substances soaking into real leather (aniline) that bleach or alter the dye
- Something that removes the top coat revealing a different colour underneath
- Things that stick to the surface of the material
- Organic materials that soak into the leather and leave a deep stain (dog slobber can permanently stain leather, see our article on dogs and furniture.)
Sometimes with things stuck to leather or with organic stains it can be cleaned away to an acceptable standard but often the discolouration is still noticeable. However if your problem is any of the other issues in the list above, there’s virtually no way to undo the damage. If leather dye has been bleached adding more dye is not going to do more than improve things a bit and it could make it worse and if done DIY you could end up with dye leaking from the area. If vinyl has been discoloured, you can’t get the plastic to reabsorb the correct colour and you can’t add a top coat of vinyl back quite the way it was before or as strong.
So what can be done to restore discoloured leather furniture?
It might sound like if you have a big problem with colour on leather furniture, then your furniture is done for. Don’t worry, all those difficulties we described are real but there are solutions that can work wonders in the right situations.
Leather colour problems are usually solved not be reversing the damage but by covering them up. The trade of concealing leather damage is in some ways an art form. We have a wide range of materials and tools at our disposal and use advanced flexible dyes/paints formulated specifically for leather surface repair. The methods we use for any given job are dictated by the material we are working with and the type of damage.
We can achieve incredible results and often you cannot tell that the damage was ever there!
So what’s the problem with leather colour repair?
There are some limitations and difficulties to all leather colour repairs and some a lot more than others. Here are some examples
- No leather colour repair will be as hardwearing as the natural colour of the sofa. This means that if we re-colour an area that gets a lot of use, the repair is unlikely to last long enough to be worth the cost of the repair.
- Where a significant part of the surface has been removed. Sometimes when a big chunk or slice of leather top coat has been removed our repair may fill some of the gap and reset the surface level, we could do a good job of matching the colour but the texture difference could remain visible.
- Some leather types are too complex/difficult to properly recolour/repair. There are textures and colour types in leather that we cannot always reproduce well enough to properly conceal damage.
- Where the furniture is old, has extensive colour damage and has a range of other problems. Colour repairs are at their best on a small affected area that doesn’t take much punishment, if you have an old sofa that has widespread colour issues and maybe a few other problems too it would be a big waste of money for us to try to restore the whole sofa with colour repairs that will only last so long.
So leather colour repairs are possible and sensible some of the time but in other situations it’s not economically sensible or the results wouldn’t achieve a high enough standard (or both). Of course prevention is better than cure but if you’ve had an accident and your furniture is damaged you might not want to hear all about that now.
So if my leather furniture has a colour issue, what should I do?
Only a professional can properly foresee what a repair would mean for any given issue with leather colour. From reading this article you might already feel pretty confident of whether your problem will be a good idea to repair. Many people who contact us aren’t sure and need some advice. If you are based in our service area we invite you to send us some photos of leather colour damage, we’ll take an initial look and let you know if we think we should come out and see it in person or whether we can already make a good judgement from what we can see in the photos.
We will never agree to do work that we think won’t last, we often have to disappoint customers with leather colour issues that simply can’t be responsibly repaired. We can fix any sofa but it does’t always make it a good idea for our customer.