At Pile Up Cleaning Ltd I am frequently asked to clean vehicle interiors, and when the seats are leather this obviously requires a different cleaning process to fabric upholstered seats.
In addition to carrying out cleaning for private vehicle owners I also carry out regular work for a local prestige car dealership.
Most leather in modern cars is what we call ‘coated’ or ‘pigmented’ leather, commonly known as ‘Pigment Coated’. These are different to other leathers some of which are known as unfinished leathers and I’ll try to explain here why coated leathers should not be cleaned the same way as an unfinished leather.
On pigment coated leathers at Pile Up Cleaning Ltd I use a water based product, which includes a cleaner and a protector, and if used on a regular basis will keep a cars leather upholstery in great condition.
By definition, ‘Leather’ is the tanned skin or hide of ANY animal, the obvious maybe being cow but you could also include rhinoceros, snake, fish, etc. – the list goes on, but you get my drift. Only when the skin/hide has been through the tanning process can it be called leather but at this stage it is still in a rather unusable state and if not kept wet it would dry out to a stiff board like sheet. All ‘natural’ oils and fats are removed from the skin during the tanning process. This is known as the ‘wet blue’ stage.
At this point the leather is put through a re-tanning process where fat liquors are introduced and the correct moisture level is also achieved. These two factors combined give the leather its familiar flexibility and suppleness. These fat liquors are good in the leather for approximately 20 – 30 years and do not usually migrate from the leather during that time. However, what does alter in the leather is the moisture content and when tanners speak about ‘conditioning’ leather this is what they are referring to, not the replacement of oils and waxes.
It is important therefore that your leather is kept correctly hydrated with moisture to allow the leather to remain flexible and supple. That is why at Pile Up Cleaning Ltd I will use water based products and contrary to some ideas there is no reason to use oils and wax based products to ‘condition’ or ‘feed’ the leather. This is particularly true of pigment coated leathers that cannot absorb oils and waxes through their top finish in any case. But as with anything involving leather it is a balance that is needed and care must be taken when cleaning. Over soaking with water will result in the fibres becoming distorted and then when they are dried will not shrink back into their previous state or position and so become hard and brittle.
So just to return to the process of manufacturing leather for upholstery, once it has been through the re-tanning or fat liquoring process they move on to the finishing stage which is determined by the quality of the hide used. You might assume that the more work involved in preparing a hide for use, the more it would cost but there is a strange anomaly in the leather industry that the more you do to a hide the LESS it costs.
Hides with little damage (insect bites, barbed wire scars, branding marks etc) are used for top level upholstery and very little may be done to finish the leather so producing what are called aniline and other full grain leathers. Hides with a lot of damage are usually buffed to remove this damage and then used for pigment coated leathers.
Also, split leathers, where it is split two or three times during the tanning process are also used by bonding finishes to the leather. It is the thickness of the finished coating on leather that determines whether it can be classed as leather or not. If the leather has a surface coating, as does pigment coated leather, the mean thickness of this surface layer has to be 0.15mm or less (BS 2780:1983)
So leather is leather and is basically the same product from whatever it is produced but in this case it is the surface coatings that we are dealing with when we are cleaning and not the leather itself.
Think twice about attempting to clean your leather interior yourself. Many leather cleaners supplied through some car cleaning outlets contain oils. Some leathers have very little surface coating and are very porous to moisture and oils and you should be trying to prevent the absorption of oils into the leather as they can cause an imbalance which would then have to be rectified. Body oils can also cause many problems with leather of this type leaving unsightly patches which are expensive to fix. Why then would you want to add more oils to the leather? Here at Pile Up Cleaning I use only the best products for the job and have the training and experience to know how to correctly identify the leather type and which product to apply to it to attain the desired result.
Pigment coated leather needs to be kept clean. It is dirt and body oils together with constant abrasion that break down the pigment coating and then will begin to deteriorate the leather itself so it is crucial to stop this from happening. This can only be done with regular cleaning and protectors. If oils are used on pigment coated leather they cannot be absorbed into the leather the same way that moisture can and so sit on the surface and will only serve to attract more dirt so having a detrimental effect.
Pigment Coated Auto Leather
I recommend that deep cleaning and protecting of your vehicle interior leather should be carried out at least once a year, twice if it’s regularly used.
The best way to do this is to give me a call at Pile Up Cleaning Ltd. That way you won’t need to make the effort do it yourself, you won’t inadvertently use products which are not right for the job and you can be assured that I will take the utmost care with your cherished vehicle.