Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Leather Care for Automobile Grade Leather

I'm often asked: "What can I do to prolong the life of my automobile leather?"

To understand the effectiveness of leather care products, you should first get a solid grounding on the properties of automobile grade leather.

Here are the issues that must be considered.

1. Automobile grade leather is typically low to mid grade. (I use the word 'grade' here to define the long term durability characteristics.) This is true across the board regardless of brand name. The few exceptions are custom installs, and very high end like Rolls, Ferrari or Lamborghini.

2. The leather is generally a 'corrected' top grain where the word corrected means sanded. At a tannery hides are sorted based on a variety of characteristics. Commonly, hides that are heavily marked with range marks (barb wire scars, bug bites, brand scars, urine burns - a cow will lay in its own urine, etc.), are not fit for high end application due to the unsightly nature of these anomalies. These hides have the epidermis sanded down to eliminate or significantly minimize the scaring.

3. As a skin grows from the flesh side to the out side, it develops layers, gradually building very tight and tough fiber bundles that end up as the epidermis. The epidermis is what classically provides leather's durability and ranges in thickness and toughness based on where on the animal you measure. For example across the top shoulders and down the backbone ridge you'll find the thickest and most durable epidermal tissue. (Natures way of protecting the animal from predators). So the epidermis ranges from 0.2 mm to 1.5 mm in thickness.

4. When you 'correct' the hide by sanding the epidermis you are removing the unsightly characteristics but you are also compromising durability to the degree that you sand away epidermal toughness.

5. To counter this reduction in durability, the corrected top grain hide destined for an automobile application is processed with a coloring strategy that uses a tough resin as the binding agent of the pigment color coating, and an even tougher resin for the clear top-coat. Both the color and top-coat are applied heavily, covering over and concealing any remaining hide scars. The resin is typically a urethane derivative of some kind. While the resin imparts toughness, it also stiffens the feel. So you compromise tactile presentation for the benefit of wear resistance. In an automobile, the feel of the leather is not as important as in home furnishings.

6. Please note that leather is acidic on the pH scale. It runs between 4.5 and 5.0. If you expose automobile leather to harsh cleaners or conditioners that are not pH balanced, you are accelerating the demise of the leather. You may think you are helping prolong the life of the leather, but if you expose leather to inappropriate chemicals you are in fact accelerating the demise of leather.

7. When leather is processed at a tannery, it is infused with moisture (natural oils) that promote flexibility and suppleness. This moisture represents about 25% of the mass of leather. When exposed to heat, the moisture content gradually evaporates, stiffening and shrinking the leather. Examine the headrest in the backseat. This leather is exposed to intense sun through the back window. If the car has any age on it, generally you can detect a significant stiffening due to moisture loss.

8. Finally the wear patterns in a car are different than in a home. The driver slides across the seat as they enter and exit creating abrasion wear, gradually eroding the top-coat, and eventually wearing through and into the color coat. Once the top coat is compromised, the color coat will erode quickly, exposing raw leather. Additionally, look at the wear pattern of the driver's seat. Notice the crease lines in the seat bolster panel (driver's side door). These are created by the "torqueing" action on the leather of entry into the vehicle. The leather is being pulled and stretched by the weight and movement of the person entering and dragging their body weight across that panel, thus creating the creasing. These crease lines eventually develop into cracks which means the demise of the leather.

All of this is important background information to understand the characteristics of the best leather care products for an automobile application. The chemical construct of http://www.advleather.com/ products take all of this into consideration. For example, SG - 5 is an excellent cleaner that has been pH balanced for leather, thus is safe to use. It actually helps correct pH which then avoids fiber brake down. SG - 25 and SG - 50 are conditioners to which resins have been added. This is a combination of moisturizing agents (conditioner) and protection. While the conditioner component instills lost moisture, the resin re-builds lost top-coat, therefore prolonging the life of the leather by increasing its wear resistance. The combination of conditioner and resin also imparts a silky hand or feel to the leather and tends to brighten dull leather by boosting its reflective value.

With the right products and a little bit of care, you can dramatically improve the life of your automobile leather. The SG series of leather care are all chemically engineered with these facts in mind.

copyright 2009, Kevin Gillan

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