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Why is my vinyl or leather peeling and flaking?

Flaking, peeling leather is usually a disintegrating synthetic called bonded leather, though it can be a poor quality or damaged finish on real leather or vinyl.

Faux, bonded, bicast, and polyurethane (PU) leather are synthetics made from split hide or ground-up scrap leather. They are to leather what particle board is to wood, and they are notorious for delaminating – something the industry calls “hydrolysis-related failure”. Repairs are likely to suffer the same fate and are not recommended. Why and our affordable alternative recommendation here.

Leather or vinyl with a damaged finish can be corrected either with solvents or sandpaper.

  • Try blending the damaged finish with denatured alcohol, paint thinner or stripper. Acetone is a last resort and should be used with caution. Test the solvents first in an inconspicuous area and see how well they work. Some coatings or finishes may turn into gooey mess, forcing you to strip the whole piece. In this case, sanding may be the preferred method.
  • Wet-or-dry sandpaper will not gum up like regular sandpaper. Do not use anything coarser than 220 grit for leather or vinyl.
  • Once the surface feels stable and uniform, you can restore the appearance with Rub ‘n Restore®. While our colors are technically paints, their thin, water-based acrylic formula behaves more like a dye and is more harmonious with the material than other conventional coatings. Color changes will require occasional touch-up on high-wear areas, but Rub ‘n Restore® will never peel or flake.

Reader Interactions


  1. Lesley says

    We have colour transfer on our cream suite ? It’s only sat on by 2 of us just in the evenings after bathing /showering and sitting in lounge / sleepwear ? It’s only just 3 yrs old ? It’s under warranty but there saying it don’t cover this ? Please help !!!!

    • lesandre says

      Yes, though typically a Custom Color is needed unless the leather is Black or 1997-2007 GM Stone interior color name (found by calling GM Parts with your VIN).

  2. Janetta says

    Good morning! I want to repaint my couches, however they’re peeling in the back where you rest your head/back. Is it good practice to scrape the peels off before repainting or just paint over it?


    • lesandre says

      Well, you have to determine if it’s a peeling finish or delaminating bonded leather. Our recommendations for the former are in this article; for the latter, please read the link and watch the video about bonded and polyurethane leathers.

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The Knowledge Hub is a library of articles and videos complied to help our customers complete their DIY leather and vinyl restoration projects.