Real leather does not peel, chip or flake. While it may just be an unstable finish or after-market paint that is flaking away, more often, peeling leather is actually a cheap polyurethane (PU) synthetic called faux leather (also known as leatherette, bonded leather and a variety of trademarked names). These are not to be confused with vinyl (PVC). When their surfaces peel, a microfiber or woven fabric is exposed.
Leather repair pros won’t touch bonded leather, because repairs are not long-lasting and cannot be guaranteed. This video compares our Soft Filler and Flex Seal® and the month-later results.
- 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 – Time to recolor!
- 6:22 – The final result after refinishing
- 6:40 – The verdict after a month of use
- 7:19 – Our recommendation
Proper vinyl and leather repairs are done with a flexible compound (like our Soft Filler) to create a new leather-like surface. This creates water repellency and reflects light similarly to the original material. Color and clear finish are the final steps to conceal the repair.
WARNING: Any repair compound or rubberized coating that overlaps the existing, unstable faux leather surface is likely to suffer the same fate. If the original coating didn’t stick to the material, why would anything else?
Some folks forego the filler. They scrape away the polyurethane coating and stain stain the exposed fabric with our finishes or a fabric paint. This improves appearance, but you will not have a leather-like surface.
Some of the newer faux leathers don’t peel. Instead their finish wears more naturally and exposes a polyester microsuede or microfiber. Again, the fabric can be stained and coated with a clear wax to create a more leather-like surface, but it will won’t be what it was. Learn more about refinishing fabric.
What is bonded leather?
Bonded leather is the equivalent of cheap particle board. It is made by mixing ground scrap leather with a resin to create a fabric base which is then coated with a polyurethane “skin”. This coating delaminates in as little as 18 months of normal use or exposure to sun, revealing the woven mesh, fabric, or microfiber substrate. 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-friendly to produce than vinyl (PVC), but the ethos of disposability has proven to be anything but green!
Bi-cast leather is not much better. It is made from a split leather, the weaker, lower half of a genuine leather hide, and coated in the same polyurethane finish–and destined for the same disaster.
Why are consumers misled about bonded leather?
There is no regulation for use of the term “leather” in the United States and Canada, contrary to places like New Zealand where it is illegal to mislead consumers into buying the real thing. Most salespeople at furniture retailers don’t even know they’re peddling a lousy synthetic. Bonded leather can’t compete with vinyl (PVC) let alone genuine animal hide, yet it is more common because of its low price point. 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 degrades before our boys can return home to enjoy it! Congress, here’s an opportunity to enact a decent law for a change!
We suggest couch-surfing Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or estate sales for used genuine leather furniture. Real leather is quite costly, and manufacturers don’t put real skin on cheap bones. Professionals charge upwards of $1000 for restorations, and most folks don’t realize they can easily restore it themselves. High quality pieces can often be found for less than a couple hundred bucks, if not free.
Look for aniline or semi-aniline leather. Its more natural and absorbent finish lends to unsightly body oil or water stains that are impossible to clean, which makes them cheap. Such leather restores beautifully with Rub ‘n Restore® finishes and will last decades, and your bonded leather blues will be only a memory!