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What is the difference between peeling faux leather and a flaking finish?

Most often peeling or flaking is a sign of deterioration of bonded or faux leather which is cost prohibitive to repair. Sometimes, however, it’s just a damaged finish on real leather or vinyl that can be corrected.

Faux, bicast and bonded leather are synthetics made from split hide or ground-up scrap leather and coated in polyurethane. These are not the same as vinyl (PVC). They are to leather what particle board is to wood. They are notorious for delaminating – something the industry recognizes and dubs “hydrolysis-related failure”. Repairs are likely to suffer the same fate and are not recommended. Learn why and check out our affordable alternative 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.
  • If any suede is exposed or the surface chafed as a result of stripping or sanding, a thin coat of filler can be applied to restore integrity. This usually is not necessary.
  • 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. Stacey says

    I bought a real leather recliner and it has many tiny pin holes from a cat walking across all areas of the chair. they are not long scratches and they don’t really have flaps to glue down. what is the proper product and technique to repair/fill the holes? it al most seems like the holes are so small that just sanding will work but I want the chair to last and look and feel like the leather is not damaged. I will be dying the chair with your peppercorn color dye.

    • lesandre says

      Do a tiny bead of super glue in each hole and sand. If the hole is too tiny to subpatch, glue won’t bleed through it and stick to the substrate either.

  2. Janne says

    We have 3 small spots that are peeling on a cushion on our couch. The cushion cannot be removed. Do we need to sand the whole cushion or just the spots?

    Also does the rub affect the color?

    • lesandre says

      Less is always more. Just sand the trouble spots. I don’t understand your second question “Also does the rub affect the color?” Sanding may damage the color surrounding the peeling spots, but you’ll have to refinish anyway.

  3. Chanel Tom says

    I have a nice set of couches, chair, and ottoman. Some have recently started cracking/peeling so I’m believed they’re bonded leather unfortunately.
    I know this isn’t the best material to have and fix. But would rub and restore work on bonded leather? If so, how long?

  4. 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).

  5. 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?


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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.