What does it mean if leather absorbs water?

Water absorption indicates the type of leather, its condition, and how it should be cleaned.

Water will bead on finished and pigmented leathers like those used in auto interiors. Water will also bead on synthetics like vinyl or bonded leather.  Start with a water-based degreaser like our pink Flite® cleaner or 409®. Follow with denatured or rubbing alcohol.

Semi-aniline leather has a thin clear finish that will gradually absorb water. Unfinished leathers like suede, brushed nubuck or aniline will immediately absorb water. All these materials should be cleaned only with denatured or rubbing alcohol. Cleaning is unlikely to remove stains, but a pigmented finish will conceal them.  

Faux leathers made of polyester or microfiber fabric may absorb water, particularly on worn areas. These can be cleaned with alcohol.

NOTE: Our finishes are paint, not dye. They will add a thin, protective finish. Leather that feels very warm and velvety, like aniline, will slightly cool as a result. For this reason, we discourage using our products on nubuck or suede, but we have had customers do it. The leather will continue to breathe. While it may still exhibit absorbent qualities, it will be more fade and stain-resistant.

While the product is not designed for nubuck and suede, I experimented on this sofa with the ash color and got great results. I used a mixture of one part Ash, one part Clear Prep, and one part distilled water. First I rubbed on a thin, light coat with sponge. It looked awful. Sponged on another 4-5 coats, and looks good. Doesn’t feel stiff or unnatural either.” – George Allred

Learn more about types of leather here. This video shows examples:

Video contents:

  • 0:10 – The “water beads” test
  • 0:20 – Heavy-duty vinyl
  • 0:29 – Composite leather (bonded leather, polyurethane leather, faux leather, reconstituted leather, recycled leather)
  • 1:01 – Real suede
  • 1:47 – Real top-grain leather
  • 2:08 – Aniline (or semi-aniline) leather

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  1. We purchased some of your midnight blue restore color. After watching your videos I am a bit concerned. We purchased a leather furniture set probably 25 years ago. Sofa and love seat are still in perfect shape however the chair and hassock have had problems for years. Is there a way I can send you photos to see what you think.

    If I understand our damage I should clean with rubbing alcohol, apply the clear and then stain and finish with applying the clear again? How can I send a few pictures to you to look at.



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