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How to clean sticky leather or vinyl?

There are a number of reasons leather or vinyl will become sticky and tacky. Cleaning may correct the issue, but often it’s a greater issue with the material or finish.

Sticky leather could indicate:

  • body oil saturation on full-grain, semi-aniline or aniline leather. Learn more about pre-treating or extracting oil stains here;
  • excessive build-up of oil-based or silicone-based conditioners. Try cleaning with denatured alcohol or paint thinner;
  • deteriorating urethane finish on bicast (or bycast) leather. Bicast leather is split hide, meaning the lower, weaker half of the hide with no epidermis (skin surface) remaining. Urethane or polyurethane finishes are used to create a new ‘skin’ surface and are notorious for losing their shine and becoming sticky and / or delaminating, peeling and flaking like bonded leather. Try cleaning the surface with denatured alcohol or paint thinner. We have not found a fool-proof blocker or simple approach to dealing with this. Don’t invest too much in this material. It may be easier to find a better quality piece second-hand that can be restored and will last much longer.

Sticky vinyl indicates a plasticizer issue. Over time the oily plasticizers used in the production of PVC migrate to the surface. The issue may or may not be apparent until a new finish is applied which chemically reacts with the plasticizer. The solution is to clean the surface with denatured alcohol or paint thinner, and then apply a blocker that will halt the plasticizer migration. SEM® TacFree will do this, but we have not confirmed that our acrylic finishes are compatible with it. You may just want to utilize their products from start to finish in this case.

Reader Interactions


  1. John J. Pastore says

    What kind of “Conditioner” are talking about? I did the alchohol and mineral spirits. I agree that acetone can be dangerous, so I haven’t used that yet. I have ruined plastic with acetone.

    • lesandre says

      Most leather conditioners out there are oil or silicone based and end up altering the leather’s pH (in the case of the former) or building up into a greasy slime that attracts dirt (in the case of the latter).

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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.