Real leather does not peel. The only exception is if a leather’s urethane finish has been damaged. In this case, you’ll notice the grain and texture remain intact, and it’s easily corrected. See here.
More often, peeling is a sign of fake leather whose polyurethane (PU) coating has begun to delaminate from the underlying fabric.
There’s nothing that can be done to prevent or protect it, and repairs seldom last. How you’d fix it, why it won’t hold up, and affordable options are below. But first a little background.
What are bonded and faux leather?
Bonded leather (also called blended or reconstituted leather) is a composite material made of 10-20% ground scrap leather coated with a polyurethane ‘skin’. DuraBlend® and EnviroBlend® are US trademarked names for bonded leather.
Faux (the French word for ‘fake’) and vegan leather are rayon or polyester fabric coated with polyurethane ‘skin’. They are 100% synthetic. Ultraleather® is a trademarked brand of faux leather.
These materials are the equivalent of cheap particle board and are not to be confused with better quality vinyl (PVC), which is widely used in boat, auto, and furniture upholstery.
Vinyl is very toxic to produce, however. Polyurethane-coated artificial leathers were developed in response.
Unfortunately, these polyurethane coatings can develop hairline cracks and begin to delaminate in as little as 18 months — just as the warranty has expired. This is known as ‘hydrolysis-related failure’ by the industry, and is often specifically excluded from many warranty policies.
The industry uses ISO 1419 Tropical Test Method C (nicknamed the Jungle Test) to assess a material’s ‘hydrolysis resistance’, that is, if and when a bonded or faux leather will crack, peel or delaminate in hot, humid conditions. The Association for Contract Textiles’ guideline recommends a minimum 5 week rating. “Note that there is no direct correlation of testing weeks to years of service in the field.” Even the best polyurethane resins for commercial use were never expected to last more than a few years.
What toxic pollution was spared in production is negated by these materials’ disposability and profusion in landfills.
Why are consumers misled about faux and bonded leather?
Most folks — consumers and salespeople alike — don’t know how to discern the difference between real and artificial leathers and often assume it’s real simply because the ‘leather’ appears somewhere in the description or specs. It wasn’t until 2017 that the term ‘leather’ came to be regulated in the United States.
Still, ignorance and affordability allow these inferior fake leathers to prevail.
Even at a wholesale price, top grain leather costs about $100 / yard. Full grain costs even more, and it takes many yards to upholster a piece of furniture:
- large club chair: 5-7 yards = $500-$700 leather cost
- 3-seat couch: 15-20 yards = $1,500-$2,000 leather cost
- 5 or 6-seat sectional: 30 yards = $3,000 leather cost
These figures don’t include other materials like the wood or metal frame, foam stuffing, nor the labor. Do the math. If you paid $1,500-$2,000 for a new leather couch, it is likely fake.
There’s no product that can stop ‘leather’ from peeling.
The instability of bonded and faux leather means new coatings don’t adhere well. As such, repairs don’t last and are discouraged. The video in option 2 below demonstrates how you’d repair it, and why we can’t, in good conscience, recommend it.
Ask yourself: do you want to spend time and money to improve its appearance, knowing such an improvement may be short-lived and likely a waste (option 1 and option 2)? Or would you rather invest a similar amount of time and money in a better-quality piece that will last years, even decades (option 3)?
Option 1: Stain the Fabric
Peel and scrape away all the unstable polyurethane ‘skin’, and stain the exposed fabric with one of our water-based paints.
This will take a couple hours and cost $23 – $50, depending on the scope of the damage. This improves appearance somewhat, but you will not have a smooth, lustrous leather-like surface that repels water, and the disparity in texture will be obvious up close.
Option 2: Peel, Repair, Recolor
Resurface the exposed fabric using a leather filler putty or rubberized coating, followed by color, as demonstrated in the video below. You’ll spend several hours peeling, resurfacing, and recoloring. The cost will range from $41 to upwards of $100. There’s no guarantee the repairs will hold up, and the piece will continue to degrade elsewhere.
- 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
Option 3: Cut the Loss & Invest in Something Better
Replace the piece with real, good-quality leather, and restore it or even change the color. It’s amazing how many fine quality pieces can be found on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist for just a couple hundreds dollars, if not for free. Don’t be afraid of stains, fading or even a hole. These are easily repaired with the same — if not less — effort than that of option 2. The cost may be as little as $23. Even if you need lots of repair materials and spring for color matching on a huge sectional, you won’t spend more than $250 – $300. Such an investment is worthy of a piece that cost several thousand dollars new and will last decades.
Here’s how to spot the finest quality leather:
We love aniline and semi-aniline leather (top grain or full grain leather that has been dyed but has little or no clear finish). These are the finest quality hides with few scars or flaws. They exhibit a beautiful marbling and are absorbent. However, this makes them susceptible to stains and fading. It also means they can be found for cheap, often free.
Their absorbency also makes them the best candidate for a change of color, so even if you find one in the wrong shade, you can transform it to suit your décor.
Look for these features:
- Removable cushions – These require more yardage and labor. If the cushions unzip, the interior stuffing can be cleaned, plumped up or replaced. Note that most recliner chairs and sofas do not have removable cushions, but many are still a decent quality finished (non-absorbent) leather.
- Stains – Absorbent leathers with little or no clear finish will easily stain. Water marks, body oil, and pet stains may permanently stain leather, but they can usually be cleaned and concealed with a new color.
- Sun fading – Absorbent leathers often show severe and uneven fading. The dyes used in these leathers are not as UV resistant as synthetic materials, and it will be obvious.
- Marbling – Look for variation in color paired with absorbency. Many fake and real leather will have a ‘base-and-print’ or two-tone appearance, but they will also repel water.
- Suede backing – The backside of the material (or areas exposed by cracks or tears) will be real suede, not microfiber or a woven fabric.
Don’t be fooled by other kinds of faux leather. While they don’t peel or flake, their smooth surface becomes worn and absorbent. They lighten in color, but it’s due to wear, not sun fading. It also exposes a microfiber with a distinct nap that can be brushed in any direction. These materials can be stained and coated with clear wax, but they are still poorer quality and not recommended.
Learn more about the types of the leather as well as the differences between dyes and finishes.
If you need help, submit photos and request a consultation from the gal in the videos!
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?
A coat of Sherwin Williams high bond primer will give you the coverage and adherence you’re looking for to re-paint your peeling sofa.
Dude, did you even bother to read the article??
Watch the video.
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:)
It’s likely some type of vinyl. We can be of help if you submit photos and answer some questions in the evaluation.
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.
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.
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
Click the link about refinishing fabrics.
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.
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.
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 .
You’re on the right page with all the info. You can email us a photo to confirm material.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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?!?
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.
Thanks! So I should order filler & swatches to hopefully salvage it a bit?
Yes, just don’t invest too much, and know that we can’t guarantee long-lasting results for repairs on faux leather as we would with real leather or vinyl.
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?
Sounds like body oil (and possibly hair care products) are the culprit. If it’s real leather, you should be able to even out any damage to the finish. See here.
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?
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.
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
No photo was attached. If it’s just the piping / welting that’s peeling, it’s worth fixing, so long as you can scrape away all the polyurethane. Piping can be a tricky repair.
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.
Very informative post. I have learned my lesson and will never buy faux leather furniture again.
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!
All the products are in our shop here. But as the article and video demonstrate, we do not recommend investing much money or time in peeling leather, except perhaps for a small, isolated area. We cannot guarantee satisfaction when working with bonded or faux leather.
Thank you! I did miss them!
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.
A 16 oz. bottle should be enough. See here about estimating quantity.
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?
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.
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?
Please email photos to firstname.lastname@example.org with information about the other products used.
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??
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.
Thanks for your reply. I will look into it further, before throwing it out. Currently we use it covered in a large rug.
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 🙂
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.
We haven’t found anything that will slow the degradation. Seems everything (UV, use, other chemicals) only hasten it.
I have a set of nice kitchen table faux leather chairs, I purchased this used about 7 years ago and still look great. Only issue with them is the previous owner’s cat scratched them and there are tiny pin holes. One of my chairs now is starting to peel more where the cat had scratched, this chair is also where my 5 year old sits and is probably rougher in the chair. I’ve thought about redoing the chairs but don’t have the time right now with two little ones. I want to stop this from tearing anymore. The other chairs are still fine, I did notice a little peeling on the edge of the cushions where it squishes down but for the main seat part is still fine. I’ve seen many bonded leather chairs peeling but this hasn’t been peeling like those, I’m not sure what type of faux leather it is but any advice – if it can be repairable would be much appreciated.
Peeling is seldom a good sign, and repairing cat scratch damage on artificial leather is painstaking. Email photos to email@example.com or submit through our contact page.