Like genuine leather, vinyl cracks as it ages and desiccates (dries out). Unlike leather, however, the cracks often create sharp edges that curl upward and stand above the surrounding surface. These must be carefully shaved away or melted with heat. Even the most skillful repairs often result in a slightly elevated mound, and they cannot be expected to perform better than the original material.
While you can use an air-dry putty like our Soft Filler, just as you would real leather, the superior method for cracking vinyl is to use a heat-cure compound along with graining papers. This requires a heat gun. If you plan to make this a hobby or vocation, invest in a graining kit to make your own, as the papers crease over time.
The graining kit is comprised of a compound and a catalyst. Mix these together and pour onto an undamaged horizontal surface and allow to cure (about 20-30 minutes). You’ll have a strong, floppy, heat resistant pad with a negative of the material’s grain for embossing the heat-cure putty as it cools. Buy only as much as you need, as the compound and catalyst spoil within a few months. Or commit to making a variety of grains, as they will last decades.
Here’s how to repair cracking vinyl with a heat gun and grain pad. This method also works for leather, but take care with the heat gun. Leather can shrink and pucker if it is overheated.
- Subpatch and glue any holes.
- Holding a clean, new razor blade almost parallel to the surface, carefully shave away any sharp, curling edges that stand high above the surface.
- Those too low-profile or risky to shave can be gently melted with the heat gun ~550°F at a distance of 2″-6″ for 5 to 15 seconds (we’ve even ‘nuked’ some heavier duty vinyls with 1000°F and a reducer nozzle, but be cautious). The vinyl will begin to get more glossy.
- Remove the heat gun, and immediately apply the grain pad. Use a small board or block to apply even pressure and avoid dents in the upholstery. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds.
- Repeat as necessary. The vinyl needs to be room temperature and as level as possible before filler is applied.
- Clean the vinyl with denatured or rubbing alcohol.
- Apply a thin coat of heat-cure filler just as you would our air-dry filler, using a palette knife or needle tool. Level and remove excess with a plastic spreader.
- Use the heat gun ~550°F at a distance of 8-10″ from the repair and warm until the filler begins to change from a glossy white cream to a more translucent, frosted appearance. If it gets very hot, it will go become glossy again and better receive the grain, but careful not to melt the surrounding area.
- Immediately apply the grain pad and wooden block using gentle, even pressure. Hold for a 5 to 10 seconds. This will emboss the filler as it cools.
- Allow the surface to return to room temperature before continuing. Some pros invest in a chill block, but water and a few minutes will do the trick.
- Repeat steps 7-10 until the surface feels even.
- If necessary, apply a final thin coat of heat-cure filler and texturize with a gloved hand to blend any lines or inconsistencies in texture. Heat and emboss with grain pad once more.
- You can also use a spray grain like SEM Chip Guard to further blend texture.
- Apply Rub ‘n Restore® color and Clear Prep+Finish™ if desired.
- If the repair needs, re-working, use Flite™ or rubbing alcohol to remove the color before applying more heat-cure filler.