How to repair peeling leather?

Real leather does not peel or flake. While it may just be a damaged finish or after-market paint (click here for an example), more often, peeling is a sign of a delaminating polyurethane (PU) coating on bicast, bonded or faux leather. These materials are not to be confused with vinyl (PVC). It’s not worth repairing peeling PU materials, because no long-lasting result can be achieved.

If the original coating didn’t stick to the material, how can anything else? The video below demonstrates the repair process, comparing our leather filler to a rubberized coating, and the disappointing results. You’re better off replacing the item with real leather, perhaps second-hand. Learn how to spot the good stuff at the end of the video or this article.

Video contents:

  • 0:28 – Prep peeling
  • 0:57 – Applying Soft Filler vinyl and leather repair compound
  • 3:47 – Ugh, more peeling
  • 3:58 – Applying Flex Seal rubberized coating
  • 5:13 – Comparing Soft Filler and Flex Seal
  • 5:45 – Recoloring
  • 6:22 – The final result after refinishing
  • 6:40 – The verdict after a month of use
  • 7:19 – Our recommendation

Some folks forego the filler and stain the exposed fabric with our finishes or a fabric paint. This improves appearance, but you will not have a smooth, lustrous leather-like surface that repels water.

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worn-faux-leather-couch-polyester-fabric-exposed
Some faux leathers wear more naturally, without peeling or flaking, and expose an absorbent microfiber that can be stained and waxed.

Some of the newer faux leathers don’t peel. Instead their finish wears more naturally and exposes a microfiber or fake suede. Again, applying filler is cost prohibitive and problematic for the reasons discussed in the video. Your best bet is to stain the fabric and coat it with a clear wax to create a more leather-like surface

What is bicast, bonded or faux leather?

They’re all the equivalent of cheap particle board:

  • bicast leather is split hide (lower, weaker half of a hide / skin) with a urethane or polyurethane coating;
  • bonded leather is a composite fabric made of ground scrap leather coated with a polyurethane ‘skin’;
  • faux leather is polyester fabric coated with polyurethane.

While bicast leather can last some years before peeling occurs, bonded and faux leather are known to delaminate in as little as 18 months. The manufacturers casually call this “hydrolysis-related failure”. Even the best polyurethane resins for commercial use are only expected to last 7 years. They’re touted as being more eco-groovy to produce than vinyl (PVC), but their disposability is cost prohibitive and wasteful. 

Why are consumers misled about faux leather? 

There is no regulation of the term “leather” in the United States and Canada, contrary to places like New Zealand where it is illegal to mislead consumers. Most salespeople at furniture retailers and RV dealers may not know they’re peddling a lousy synthetic. Ignorance and low price point allow it to prevail. The irony is that the United States military spends billions each year defending petroleum interests, while some of the world’s oil reserves are being converted into shoddy furniture that degrade before our boys can return home to enjoy it! Congress, here’s an opportunity to enact a decent law for a change!

Our Solution

We suggest shopping Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or estate sales for used leather furniture. High quality pieces can often be found for less than a couple hundred bucks, if not for free.

The best quality leather will be absorbent, with a natural marbling, and may show water or oil stains. Removable cushions are always a sign of good quality too. Don’t be afraid of cracks, holes, or tears. They all can be repaired and restored with Rub ‘n Restore® products. Real leather will last decades, and your bonded leather blues will be only a memory! 

 

105 comments

    • Hi! Thank you for all of the advice. My couch is peeling pretty badly and I am planning to cover it with a slip cover. What would you recommend as the best method to stop the peeling? I don’t care how the finish looks, just don’t want the peeled off pieces to keep getting everywhere.

      Thanks!

      Reply
  1. My couch looks just like the couch at the very top (polyurethane coating worn off and now microfiber is all that’s left in most places.) What can I use ontop of the microfiber to get back that leather feel and protection?

    Reply
  2. Would love anyone’s help! I was very drawn to this vintage school library chair (underside has old stamp specifically stating it’s a Kerrville, Texas public school chair) and bought it thinking it was leather…eyeroll…not leather, of course. But whatever kind of synthetic faux leather it must be is very different than I’ve seen these days. No peeling, cracking, even has a natural sun faded look to parts of it. The “leather” material is just so thin I know it can’t be real. I want to update the chair with a modern twist and fix a few small knicks and scratches on it but how would I go about doing that if it’s not the modern day version of faux leather and def not real leather? I’m afraid since whatever kind of synthetic leather this may be is already around 65 years old, so definitely dont want to ruin it, because for being a senior this chair is still got it!
    -thanks in advance:)

    Reply
  3. I have a faux leather sectional that has not peeled or cracked. I simply want to change the color. But I’m not sure if its a pvc or pu product and want to make sure your product will work. I would like to change the color to a medium gray.

    Reply
    • You can either send a sample to us for free testing or you can test it yourself and return it if the material does not take it well. Apply a thin coat, let dry, repeat until covered. Then pinch, twist, stress. If it develops hairline cracks and looks like it will flake off, then it’s PU.

      Reply
  4. I have a similar situation with my sofa “Some faux leather furniture wears naturally, without peeling or flaking, and exposes an absorbent polyester or microfiber fabric that can be stained and waxed.”

    How can I fix this? Please advise

    Reply
  5. I already removed the PU fabric on my bar stools, would your product still have a longer life span than a month? What do you think would be the average.

    Reply
    • Absolutely. Color will permanently stain the fabric, but you need to apply filler first to create the new leather-like surface. That should adhere well so long as it does not overlap any PU.

      Reply
  6. Hi I had my furniture in storage and when I got it out it was all messed up it looks like the furniture is peeling how do I go by fixing the peeling of my furniture is this product a good product for my furniture it’s a leather sectional not sure what type of leather it is .

    Reply
  7. Thanks. I have a vinyl sectional not sure if pu or pvc. No existing cracks or peeling just color fading from wear. But no microfiber exposure (Bobs discount furniture) I ordered your product and tested undiluted on a hidden area. Product doesn’t crack or peel when stressed. Just takes a long time for a thin coat to dry. After 48 hrs I still get a faint color rub off. Any suggestions on improving the drying/curing time? I live in MD. It’s not humid here. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Huh, I’m trying to envision what your material actually is. Sounds like some sort of fabric if it’s taking a long while to dry. It should irrevocably stain any fabric and not transfer. Just keep a fan on it. Dry buff the surface with a soft rag to remove any unstable pigment.

      Reply
  8. The top surface of a large sofa cushion is flaking and it’s a huge mess. I’d like to try and repair it myself with the soft filler, but there are so many types that I’m not sure exactly what kind of filler to purchase or the best way to color match a dye. I’m also not sure how much I’ll need to buy in order to get the job done. The cushion is about 3’x6’ and the entire area will need to be redone. What materials would you suggest and where are the best places to find them?

    Reply
    • As per this article, we ultimately do not recommend repairing this stuff nor will guarantee results. Our filler is superior to the rubberized coating more painstaking work and expensive. There’s info about quantity needed on the filler product page; I’d guess 2 oz. and 1 oz. Color matching is another issue. Here are your options; I wouldn’t invest much on a piece made of this inferior material.

      Reply
  9. Hoping you can help! I spilled acetone on my bonded/faux leather couch. I know I can’t totally repair it, but would love to do something to at least help the appearance of the damage. Would your soft filler work? Any other advice you would give me?!?

    Reply
    • You’re on the right page for how to do it using filler. I would order swatches to try to match the color. Hopefully one of ours work, as it’s not worth investing in a Custom Color, and you do not want to unnecessarily apply a finish (i.e. a color change) on undamaged areas.

      Reply
  10. Hi. I have bought a leather lounge around 5 years ago having had a faux leather delaminate previously. I noticed two small areas on my lounge around where my husbands head rubs that look like the surface has lifted. Can this happen on leather? It does not seem to be extending. Is there a name for this and have you any directions within your site that might help?

    Reply
  11. We bought a nice leather sofa and love seat from a quality store. 8 years later it looks like new, except for the piece across the top. It’s shredded, just like all of your pictures, and very careful examination indicates that the pieces across the top actually are slightly different if you look very close. They used bonded leather for one strip across the top of both sofas and now that is crumbling. It’s a shame, because the rest looks like new. It will be so wasteful to be forced to dump these.

    So I know you don’t advocate any repair attempt, but it’s really difficult to find furniture now and used is not an option here in the middle of nowhere. I would like to somehow make these look ok through Christmas. Is there a temporary fix? Good enough to last awhile?

    Reply
    • If you can scrape it all away, and it seems like a low-traffic trim piece, then it’s worth repairing with filler and color as demonstrated in the video. Even color alone will improve appearance.

      Reply
  12. Thanks for the how to guide. Truly appreciate it
    Plz let me know if you can address my current sofa problem, where it started peeling from the top edge as shown in the picture

    Reply
  13. Hey!
    Great information, your details are particular and precise making it very interesting, informative and useful blog. spreading out such a useful information is very thoughtful, thankyou for doing this.

    Reply
  14. Great stuff, but I don’t really see product names—or am I missing it? I have what appears to be the exact problem as in the video; the coating is peeling from the fabric it was attached to. What filler, and what to put a finish coat on with?

    Thanks, and keep up the good work!

    Reply
  15. Hi there ! I have a couch and a love seat I want to restore. How much product would you recommend I would need ?? The leather is in perfect condition,
    The colour has just faded.

    Thanks !!

    Reply
  16. Would you recommend getting ahead of pleather flaking and coating what is still “good” with something as a preventative measure? Perhaps with the flex seal?

    Reply
    • We’ve been dealing with this stuff for 15 years and have yet to find something that prevents it from doing so. Doesn’t seem the manufacturers of this stuff nor other companies that sell repair products have been able to develop anything. It’s just an inherent flaw in the material.

      Reply
      • Thank you for the insightful video. I bought a set of “Italian leather” for $300 purposely for restoration. I was very enthusiastic about the project but, I got into some troubles I don’t have answers to. The first is that the arm rests of the chairs were peeling after dye application but, not in large size. The peel is very similar to a new born having dry skin. I wish I could post pictures here so you can better advise.
        The other issue was that I had some discolorations on the couch. I used dark brown dye but, encountered some charcoal-like discoloration. What do you think is the problem? Did I purchase Italian leather?

        Reply
  17. I have a solid sofa couch made with (fake) leather? that is peeling and flaking everywhere. Would it be worth me having the furniture reupholstered??

    Reply
    • Maybe, if the frame and stuffing are good quality, and it’s a unique piece / size. But often these pieces don’t have removable cushions, and they’re difficult to dismantle and reupholster. You’ll just have to inquire with a local upholsterer.

      Reply
      • Thanks for your reply. I will look into it further, before throwing it out. Currently we use it covered in a large rug.

        Reply
        • my friend had the same problem with a faux leather couch flaking everywhere driving her nuts but with 3 small kids she wanted to wait to buy new furniture until her kids were older and a bit less destructive. it was still solid and sat really well so we found a stretchy/fitted durable sofa cover on amazon and secured the bottom hem all the way around the underside of the frame with a staple gun (making sure the staples were very close together so the tiny flakes were sealed underneath and none could escape) and sure enough, it worked perfectly! took maybe an hour with two of us and looked like a brand new couch! that was 2 years ago and not a single flake has escaped since then and the cover is still holding strong! hope this helps 🙂

          Reply
  18. I have a fake leather couch and it is starting to show hairline cracks like the picture you posted, is their something that I can put on it to slow the process? I am just trying to extend the life. No peeling has occurred.

    Reply
    • We haven’t found anything that will slow the degradation. Seems everything (UV, use, other chemicals) only hasten it.

      Reply

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