Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Leather & Vinyl Combination on Furniture - Good or Bad Idea?

When buying leather furniture, ask this question, “Is it all leather?”.

Many Advanced Leather Solutions clients are surprised to find out that the “leather” furniture they purchased is in fact a leather and vinyl combination. They make this discovery when they notice splitting or cracking in the material. This most often occurs in the side panel of a seat cushion, or at a stress-bearing seam (outside arm, outside top of backrest, etc.).

The typical construction of a leather/vinyl combination is to use leather on those areas that come in contact with your body - the seat cushion top, the inside backrest and the tops of the armrests. All other panels, including the outside back, side panels, sides of the seat cushion, and arm- and back-rest anchor-panels are vinyl.

Here’s the problem. Vinyl is a synthetic material (and has nowhere near the tensile strength of leather). Leather is an organic material. The two materials are fundamentally incompatible when joined together along a seam. This is particularly apparent on a seat cushion (see the picture) where the vinyl side panel (boxing panel) is sewn to the leather top panel. Leather is porous and loses its moisture through evaporation (which is why leather should be conditioned regularly). To replace this lost moisture, the leather literally wicks (draws by absorption) oils from the vinyl where the two materials are in contact with each other along a seam, reducing the oil content of the vinyl. As the vinyl loses its moisture, it also loses its ability to flex, and subsequently cracks. This is most commonly seen as fissures that start at stitch-holes and run perpendicular to the seam line. Over time, these cracks will only worsen. Once this starts, it is not repairable.

Leather/vinyl combination manufacturing strategies (sometimes referred to as leather-mate, leather-match, or other marketing terms) are a ploy by the manufacturer to reduce cost. And in this reduction in materials cost for the manufacturer, the life expectancy of the furniture is greatly diminished. By as much as 75%, depending on usage patterns.

Recliners are the most common type of furniture for leather and vinyl match. One prominent San Francisco bay area retailer told us that 70% of all supposed leather recliners are actually leather/vinyl.

If you expect a long, useful life from your leather furniture - be careful at the point of purchase. Ask the question, “Is the piece all leather?” If the answer is yes, then make sure that appears on your sales reciept. You can check by examining the back side of the material. If it appears to be a fuzzy material or a woven fabric (usually white, but can also be gray, black, or brown), it’s vinyl. If it looks like suede, it’s probably leather.

If you already own a leather/vinyl match, pay careful attention to your conditioning regimen. We have great Leather Care products for exactly this purpose. If the leather is regularly moisturized, it will have less of a tendency to draw the oil from the adjacent vinyl panel. Also, when sitting on or exiting the seating area, try not to put undue stress on the seams where the arm or back pillow attach to the frame.

Copyright 2009 Kevin Gillan

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Is it real Leather?

This is a common e-mail for me....

How can I, as a consumer, determine the difference between real leather and faux? I've been shopping for a sofa, love seat and recliner for my home and have looked at all kinds of products. Every store I visit has a different take on what is real and what is a good quality. I can usually recognize real leather, but not always ----- what are the obvious clues??????????

In this blog entry, here is my advice for the consumer that is shopping for leather furniture, to determine if its the real deal or synthetic.

1. The best test is the inside of the material. The inside of leather will appear as suede whereas the inside of synthetic has a woven typically fuzzy, often white material.

2. Look at the cross section. Leather is one material (a skin) whereas synthetic is a bonding of plastic surface to a fabric substrate.

3. Pinch it. Leather is thicker, vinyl is thinner. To become familiar, find something you know is leather and pinch it to get a benchmark sense of the thickness.

4. Look for imperfections (hide scars, bug bites, etc.) Leather hides are not perfect across the surface (like knots in wood). Vinyl has no surface characteristics as it's man made.

5. Look for a repeating pattern. Like wall paper, vinyl is manufactured with a specific pattern that repeats itself.

6. Large versus small panels - Leather is from an animal that has limitations dimensionally (ever see a 20 foot cow?), vinyl is produced on a roll with no limits to size.

7. Grain Pattern - If the grain pattern is totally uniform its probably vinyl. Nature does not produce complete uniformity.

What is NOT the real deal - Vinyl, Bonded leather, Bicast leather, ultra suede. Bonded and bicast are equivalent to pressed wood or fiberboard. They are made from what used to be leather waste material. Read the article about bi-cast leather for more information. that then has a heavy urethane coating on the surface. The typical color is a glossy brown. Bonded and bicast lack durability and present all kinds of problems.

What is real, but lacks durability - Split-hide. This is the remnant of a leather hide after the epidermis has been split away.

Ask the following questions:

1. Is it top grain leather? Top grain means the epidermis of the skin is intact. This is important as the epidermis is where the durability of leather comes from.

2. Is it all leather? Many manufacturers cut costs by building leather furniture with part leather and part vinyl. This is not death mind you, but a potential problem along the seam where the leather and vinyl meet.

3. Can I see a swatch of the material used? Look at it front and back. Is it the same color on top and on the inside? Is it suede on the inside? Most leather manufacturers give the retailers samples of the leather they use for exactly this reason. Be wary if they can't produce a swatch for your examination.

4. Who is the manufacturer? Do your research and look up who built the piece. There are several quality manufacturers - American Leather, Hancock and Moore, Drexel Heritage, The Sherrill Collection, Leather Craft, Ekornes (Swedish). And then there is the very high end European manufacturers - Roche Bobois, B & B Italia, Cassina, Gamma, de Sede.

Beware of claims like "it's Italian leather." It means nothing. Natuzzi, an Italian manufacturer of leather furniture has three plants Italy, Brazil and China. Just because it has an Italian name doesn't mean its made in Italy.

Ask penetrating questions. If you aren't comfortable with an answer, run.

Some manufacturers like Nicoletti had an impeccable reputation 10 years ago. Their products today simply don't measure up. So don't rely on historical performance alone. The industry is being decimated by cheap foreign imports. To combat the onslaught some companies have capitulated and moved their plants to cheap labor countries and are now producing junk.

The unfortunate fact is there's a ton of misinformation on the web, and in the leather furniture retail channel. The probability is pretty high that you'll know more about leather now than the sales person who is selling the furniture. For more detail, visit our web-site. www.advleather.com. Go to the leather care section. If your sure its leather, the next question is what type of leather will perform best in your environment? From our web-site look at the features of the different leather types and make a determination of what will work for you. Then, pepper the sales person with questions.

Happy shopping!

copyright 2009 Kevin Gillan

Friday, July 17, 2009

How a supposed leather expert be so wrong?

The web can be a source of excellent information. However, there is also hype, myths and misinformation that can have serious consequences.

Recently, a purportedly knowledgeable leather craftsman wrote the following as part of a guideline for painting leather. This is in an article that has been scattered throughout the Internet.

He wrote:

“You can clean the leather by mixing equal parts of warm water and bleach…”

Did he actually say bleach?

I have to set the record straight. Bleach has a ridiculously high alkalinity (base substance). It registers 12.6 on the pH scale. The only household item more alkaline is lye. On the other hand, leather is acidic. Leather comes in around 4.5 to 5.0 on the pH scale.

A brief chemistry lesson: The pH scale is logarithmic with pure distilled water registering 7.0, the mid-point between 1 --- the acidic peak and 14 --- maximum alkalinity. So a measure of 8.0 is 10 times more alkaline than 7.0 (water) and 9.0 is 100 times for alkaline than 7.0, etc.

When an alkaline (base) substance and an acidic substance are introduced to each other, a chemical reaction occurs as the two attempt to neutralize each other. The bigger the differential, the more dramatic the reaction. Mix bleach with an acid and watch the fireworks!

The magnitude of differential between bleach and leather is millions fold. Put bleach on leather and the reaction will cause severe damage, accelerating its demise. This is basic chemistry 101. Bleach will destroy leather, turning it to mush, like wet cardboard.

This simple understanding of basic chemistry is what sets Advanced Leather Solutions apart. We understand these fundamentals and have constructed our SG series of leather performance products from this foundation. All SG Series leather care products (both cleaners and conditioners) are pH balanced to leather. We’re not about a “seek and destroy mission,” rather we’re about prolonging the life of a valuable asset --- your fine leather. Whether it’s leather in your car, or your leather furniture, Advanced Leather Solutions has the right chemical engineering built in our products to extend the useful life of your leather, not destroy it.

Copyright 2009 Kevin Gillan

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Effect of Body Oils on Leather

Body oils can rot leather. Check out this picture.

What you see is leather that has been saturated with hand oils from the people who sit on this furniture. The pH of the person's skin output is considerably more acidic than the leather. This pH differential causes a chemical reaction as the pH of the leather (about 5.0) and the pH of the individual using the furniture are quite different. This is NOT a universal problem but nonetheless its a common problem for us as professional leather technicians.

The chemical reaction mentioned breaks down the fiber structure of the leather, literally rotting it.

Once leather reaches this state, it can not be saved. Instead the offended panel requires replacement. That is an expensive procedure and may not be justified. So, don't let your leather get to this state.

With Advanced Leather Solutions oil extraction procedure, you can save the piece if you draw out the offending body oils before they have this type of irreversible impact.

Copyright 2009, Kevin Gillan

Before and After Pictures from Advanced Leather Solutions Studio

Click on this link and you'll be taken to a brief example of before and after pictures of a sampling of projects at Advanced Leather Solutions Hayward, CA studio.

Before and After pictures.

They represent a very small cross section of our work. I have over 16,000 photos stored on my hard drive of projects we've worked on at our restoration shop over the past 10 years. Prior to that, we weren't documenting our projects photographically. With 21 years experience in this business, we've encountered pretty much everything you can imagine.

Every project is unique based on the type of leather, nature of damage, the environment its been exposed to, how it's been cared for, age of the leather, goal of the client, etc. From color change of existing leather, to selective leather panel replacement, we've done it all.

Copyright 2009, Kevin Gillan

Friday, July 10, 2009

What Makes a Good Leather Conditioner?

Why should I condition leather? What does a leather conditioner do anyway?

These are common questions from consumers. Here's the deal: The primary goal of a leather conditioner is to replace lost moisture.

To understand the need for leather conditioning requires a little background. In the tanning process leather is infused with natural oils that reduce friction within the leather fiber bundles. This, in combination with milling (like massaging) the leather establishes a supple, soft leather. At the point of manufacture, these oils equal to about 25% of the total mass of leather.

Here's the rub: The oils are volatile. This means they evaporate. The rate of evaporation depends on variables like heat and humidity. In warm, dry regions like the desert southwest of the United States, leather will lose its moisture content much more rapidly than in the cooler and more humid coastal regions. So with regular conditioning you prolong the life of the leather by maintaining the appropriate moisture content. This all presumes the conditioner has the correct chemical engineering.

As professional leather repair and restoration specialists, clients contract with us to clean and condition their leather. There are a zillion leather conditioners on the market. We tested dozens of conditioners seeking the one that would perform the best. They range from watered down versions of neatsfoot oil, to greasy gloppy Vaseline like products, to stinky, sticky, gooey pastes. We found products where the pH was completely out of whack actually shortening the life of leather. We discovered a lot of nonsense claims like - made from secret formulas handed down from Norwegian antiquity, or, has UVX-15 added, whatever that is. This was not working for us. In the end, we needed to be in control of quality and performance not overwhelmed by hype. Like an earlier post for leather cleaners, we knew the attributes of what we wanted in a leather conditioner so we developed a wish list and turned it over to our chemists. For Professional grade performance a leather conditioner must include:

--- Quality ingredients
--- Cream like consistency
--- pH balanced for leather
--- Good tactile presentation
--- Non-darkening
--- Protective resin
--- Pleasant "new leather" scent
--- Non-greasy formulation

Our chemists were on a mission to visit tanneries, talk with the folks at the tanners council, even dialogue with the leather preservation and conservation specialists at the Smithsonian. We learned who are the best chemical supply companies that support the leather tanning industry in the USA and secured lots of sample ingredients from them. Then the testing began.

Through this effort SG - 25, our leading leather care product was created. Besides the finest ingredients, what makes this product different than anything else on the market are two unique twists. They are the addition of a protection element and the addition of an anti-bacterial/anti-virus agent.

We understand usage patterns of leather in cars and furniture as we see how people use their leather products in our leather repair and restoration business. There is a lot of abrasion wear, especially in automobiles as the driver slides across the seat when he/she enters or exists. For long term wear resistance, we wanted a protective coating to be part of the conditioning process. So SG - 25 not only conditions leather with added moisture content, but also builds a protective clear coat.

Furthermore, in active household environments with children and pets, we wanted a product that dis-allowed the development of bacteria on the leather. So we added the anti-bacterial component.

We also wanted a product that would be easy to apply, not feel greasy or sticky, be pH balanced with leather and do what it supposed to in adding the appropriate replenishing oils back into the hide. SG - 25 has all of these attributes. It is available through our Hayward, CA leather restoration studio as well as both of our web-sites (advleather and DIYLeatherSolutions) without a lot of fanfare or marketing hype. Both consumers and professional technicians that use it have reported to us a steady stream of glowing commentary.

Perhaps it is time to pump up the marketing engine and let the world know about the best-of-the-best leather conditioner available - It is our own Advanced Leather Solutions' SG - 25.

Copyright 2009, Kevin Gillan

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What makes our Do It Yourself Leather Restoration System Effective

This paragraph is from an e-mail received today.

"Our leather furniture is Italian Natuzzi Leather, ivory color, has worn. I tried another brand of leather dye kit about 2 years ago and it looked great for about a month. Then it started to crack and fade." -- SN, Texas

We have received several e-mail like this one over the last year or so. Meanwhile, we at Advanced Leather Solutions have had wonderful success with our Do-It-Yourself (DIY) leather restoration system. Clients have transformed automobile leather as well as home furnishings from worn, faded, stained, tired leather back to like-new condition. And, it's passed the test of time.

The reason for our success is that our DIY process follows the same steps we use professionally in our Hayward, California leather restoration studio. With 21 years experience and many thousands of leather repair and restoration projects under our belt we understand what it takes to restore leather. We know empirically what works and what doesn’t.

There is much more to the story. Our R & D efforts gave us the background into why it works. We have drilled deep to understand the fundamentals that support the science of leather restoration. The knowledge we’ve gained empowered us to develop products from the finest ingredients available, thus giving us total control over our product quality. We know they work. We as professional leather technicians use them every day. They are proven in the real world standing up to the test of time. These are the same products we make available to consumers in our DIY Leather Restoration kits.

Having the best products alone will do little without knowing how to use them. The foundation of success rests on two powerful pillars. Products and Knowledge.

We are experts at leather restoration. Knowing how to do something well is a good starting point. But that’s not enough. You also have to know how to transfer that knowledge to a novice who does not have any experience in leather restoration. With a background in adult training, we have developed the “how-to” instruction set using a well thought out written guide in combination with a DVD based visual reference. These knowledge tools empower a novice to success. While the overall procedure can be intimidating, we’ve simplified the process by breaking it down into easy-to-grasp steps.

Look at this diagram to see the steps used with DIYLeatherSolutions system. (Click on the diagram to enlarge.)

Copyright 2009, Kevin Gillan

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Another Do It Yourself Leather Solutions Success Story

One of the most rewarding aspects of working for Advanced Leather Solutions is the steady stream of kudos we receive from our clients. The reaction most people have to our Do It Yourself kits is very positive. We've become somewhat "oh-hum" about their enthusiastic delight with their results.

A common comment from many of our clients after they complete their leather furniture restoration project is that the furniture looks better than they day they bought it. Now, really, I don't believe that to be true, but it certainly looks better than the day before they started the transformation.

Here is an example of an e-mail I just received that makes the point.


"Attached are before and after photos of our sofa. It might as well be brand new! The color match is perfect and the finish is like new. I appreciate all that you and your team do. The kit was complete and well-organized, with easy-to-follow instructions. The DVD was very helpful as well. I also appreciate the generous supply of materials in the kit. We are well-prepared for the future.

"I'm so glad that I found your website. My family loves this sofa and your process helped save it! I'm telling everyone about ADVLeather.com!


Here are Ron's Before and After photos...

<----- So as you can plainly see, the system works beautifully. ----->

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Nubuck (brushed leather) and Suede Cleaning

Suede and nubuck are versions of leather with a nap. A common characteristic is that they are both highly porous. This means that any liquid spill rapidly soaks in. The result is generally a stain representing the coloring agent or solids after the moisture evaporates away. This means any liquid cleaner will be useless as it also will simply soak in. Leather cleaners resolve what is on the surface, not a stain inside the leather. A stain in nubuck or suede is sort of like a tattoo in your skin. You can't clean it off. The only exception is if the stain is made up of solids on the surface (like food particles stuck to the leather).

The professional leather technicians of Advanced Leather Solutions use a different technique.

Instead of using a "wet" cleaning strategy, we use dry abrasion or sanding technique. First some background. Nubuck is created by sanding leather which raises a nap. Suede on the other hand is the inside of the hide, not the epidermis or grain side. In either case there is a nap and it's porous.

When a stain develops, the dominant component of that stain is in the nap. The basic idea is to sand or abrade away the ends of the nap and re-nap simultaneously. As a technician, I use a variety of tools ranging from a nubby, stiff towel formed into a ball in my hand to a medium grit sanding tool. Most commonly I use either a soft-bristle nylon brush, or 400 to 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper.

Abrasion will remove the ends of the nap, any surface solids and free up the nap fibers. The technique often resolves the stain completely and at a minimum will lighten the stain, and restore the nap. In those cases where the staining agent is known to be solids on the surface of the leather, and to be water-soluble, then to pre-dampen the stain with a damp, white cotton cloth before using the abrasion method may have some effect. Occasionally, I will very carefully use the end of a razor blade to gently pick off solids that are stuck to the leather.

If you are using something with little abrasion capability, like a nubby towel, you can be aggressive in application. On the other hand, if you step up to a medium grit sandpaper, you must be very gentle in application. As a general rule, the more aggressive the tool, the lighter the application, else you'll leave score marks in the leather. Do not be overly aggressive. Here are some additional "Does and Don'ts."

---- Do not focus exclusively on the stain. Rather, blend to the surrounding areas.
---- Do not start with the most aggressive abrasion tool. Start with a light tool and gradually step up more aggressive sanding tools.
---- Do not abrade in only one direction. Move your abrasive material side to side and up and down.
---- Do not dive right in. Start in a non-obvious area first to see the effect of the sanding tool.
---- Do not expect perfection. Instead, the goal is to minimize the stain to the degree that it is far less noticeable from five feet. If that happens, be happy.

Expect some lightening of the leather. Success is dependent on the depth of the stain, and its chemistry. Caustic fluid like coca cola will leave a reference even after the stain as been resolved as it alters (erodes) the topography of the hide.

If the stain is not resolved with moderate effort, consider contacting Advanced Leather Solutions for advice prior to any more aggressive attempts. When completed, wipe that area with a dry white towel to remove any leather dust created. Do this several times, turning the towel to a clean section each time.

For instances where topical soiling or discolorations cannot be resolved with this methodology, please visit our services page, for more information about our leather repair and restoration services, and why cleaning alone may not be enough of a remedy.

Finally, know the distinction between real suede and ultra-suede. Ultra-suede is a synthetic and is generally very thin. If you aggressively sand ultra-suede, you'll quickly sand through the material.

Copyright 2009 Kevin Gillan