How to clean sticky leather or vinyl?

There are a number of reasons why leather or vinyl may become sticky. Cleaning is worth a try, but tackiness often is a sign of a deteriorating material that may not be salvageable without niche products and much experimentation.

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What causes sticky leather?

Sticky leather could indicate any of the following:

  • 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 lacquer thinner;
  • or a 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. We have not found a fool-proof blocker to correct the issue. Leather Doctor claims to have an effective process here, but it’s not simple. Our recommendation is don’t invest too much in this material. It may be easier to find a full-grain piece second-hand that can be restored and will last much longer.

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What causes sticky vinyl?

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.


  1. 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.

    • 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).

  2. So in other words… I just wasted 15 minutes of my life, reading an article that doesn’t answer the question of how to correct the problem? 🙄

  3. I just bought leather furniture. I had no idea that disgusting film that I’ve seen on vinyl can also happen to leather!!! How do I prevent it from happening?


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