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How to repair peeling leather?

Real leather does not peel. It could be a lousy after-market finish. More often, peeling leather is actually a cheap polyurethane (PU) synthetic called faux leather (also known as bonded leather and a variety of trademarked names). These are not to be confused with vinyl (PVC).

Leather repair pros won’t touch bonded leather, because repairs are not long-lasting and cannot be guaranteed. This video compares our Soft Filler and Flex Seal® and the month-later results.

Video contents:

  • 0:28 – Prep peeling!
  • 0:57 – Applying Soft Filler vinyl and leather repair compound
  • 3:47 – Ugh, more peeling!
  • 3:58 – Applying Flex Seal rubberized coating
  • 5:13 – Comparing Soft Filler and Flex Seal
  • 5:45 – Time to recolor!
  • 6:22 – The final result after refinishing
  • 6:40 – The verdict after a month of use
  • 7:19 – Our recommendation

Proper vinyl and leather repairs are done with a flexible compound (like our Soft Filler) to create a new leather-like surface. This creates water repellency and reflects light similarly to the original material. Color and clear finish are the final steps to conceal the repair.

WARNING: Any repair compound or rubberized coating that overlaps the existing, unstable faux leather surface is likely to suffer the same fate. If the original coating didn’t stick to the material, why would anything else?

Some folks forego the filler. They scrape away the polyurethane coating and stain stain the exposed fabric with our finishes or a fabric paint. This improves appearance, but you will not have a leather-like surface.

Some of the newer faux leathers don’t peel. Instead their finish naturally wears and exposes a polyester microsuede or microfiber. These are better candidates for restoration. Stain the fabric and coat with a clear wax to create a more leather-like surface. Learn more about refinishing fabric.

Some faux leather furniture wears naturally, without peeling or flaking, and exposes an absorbent polyester or microfiber fabric that can be stained and waxed.

What is bonded leather?

Bonded leather is the equivalent of cheap particle board. It is made by mixing ground scrap leather with a resin to create a fabric base which is then coated with a polyurethane “skin”. This coating delaminates in as little as 18 months of normal use or exposure to sun, revealing the woven mesh, fabric, or microfiber substrate. The manufacturers casually call this “hydrolysis-related failure”.

Even the best polyurethane resins for commercial use are only expected to last 7 years. They’re touted as being more eco-friendly to produce than vinyl (PVC), but the ethos of disposability has proven to be anything but green!

Bi-cast leather is not much better. It is made from a split leather, the weaker, lower half of a genuine leather hide, and coated in the same polyurethane finish–and destined for the same disaster.

Why are consumers misled about bonded leather? 

There is no regulation for use of the term “leather” in the United States and Canada, contrary to places like New Zealand where it is illegal to mislead consumers into buying the real thing. Most salespeople at furniture retailers don’t even know they’re peddling a lousy synthetic. Bonded leather can’t compete with vinyl (PVC) let alone genuine animal hide, yet it is more common because of its low price point. The irony is that the United States military spends billions each year defending petroleum interests, while some of the world’s oil reserves are being converted into shoddy furniture that degrades before our boys can return home to enjoy it! Congress, here’s an opportunity to enact a decent law for a change!

Our Solution

Search Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or an estate sale for used genuine leather furniture, and restore it. Real leather is quite costly, and manufacturers don’t put real skin on cheap bones. Professionals charge upwards of $1000 for restorations, and most folks don’t realize they can easily restore it themselves. High quality pieces can often be found for less than a couple hundred bucks, if not free.

Look for aniline or semi-aniline leather. Its more natural and absorbent finish lends to unsightly body oil or water stains that are impossible to clean, which makes them cheap. Such leather restores beautifully with Rub ‘n Restore® finishes and will last decades, and your bonded leather blues will be only a memory!

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Susie says

    We were told that bonded leather can be sold as “leather” as there are no laws reguarding this. We bought an expensive leather recliner that wasn’t “leather”. Fooled me and that is how I found out about bonded leather can be sold leather. ? By law bonded leather 20% or higher can be labeled LEATHER.

    • Rub 'N Restore, Inc. says

      I was unaware of that law. In the US?
      The worst part is the sales people usually don’t know the difference either, so they’re unknowingly lying to customers.
      Sorry you were fooled too!
      I hope our blog and videos will be part of the movement to destroy the industry around this shoddy material!

  2. Karen W says

    I am so disappointed. I bought these barstools that I thought were leather only to find out they are bonded leather. One of them has a few ripples in the “leather” . Can i just glue these down? If so, what product would you recommend. Otherwise I will follow the procedure outlined in the youtube video….what have i got to lose?

    Failing bonded leather

    • Rub 'N Restore, Inc. says

      Hi Karen, This is just the beginning, unfortunately. It’s worth trying to glue it down with a teensy dab of flexible leather or fabric glue, but the fussing over it is likely to result with a similar imperfect appearance, and the rest of it awaits a similar fate. I’m so sorry you were deceived!

  3. Kerwin Maude says

    I am sorry to say, bonded leather should be banned from North American markets, its like buying a car and paying good money for it and then to see the paint crack. Keep junk off the import market that sucks the consumer while the retailers and manufacturers get profits for inferior product that does not pass the test of time. Never again will I buy bonded leather….possibly Chinese made product, typical inferior quality and we wonder why the Asian market is soaring, like Mexico. Cheap products, cheap labor, poor quality control and no accountability. Most of their stuff falls apart within a short time, and guess what, we go out and buy another new toaster, coffee maker, couch, etc. while throwing junk into landfill that is too costly to fix. Buy Canadian or USA as China is a bad market and we’re going to sell them bitumen so they can pollute more in their land and global warming?

  4. Justsome Olddude says

    Cindy Crawford, may be pretty, but she sure is endorsing some shady furniture makers with her name. I bought this Cindy Crawford ” Solid Leather ” recliner from ” Rooms to Go ” just at one year ago this month. I purchased the extra treatment and warranty . So after one year this “Solid leather” chair is pealing. ( by the way only the actual seating area of the chair is leather, the sides and back are Vinyl )
    flacking bonded leather

    • Rub 'N Restore, Inc. says

      That actually isn’t all that uncommon. This does appear to be the seating area. Can’t quite tell if it’s a corrected grain leather or vinyl, but it doesn’t look like telltale peeling bonded leather. Many leathers have pigmentation that rubs away or discolors. So long as you can’t feel any difference between the discolored and the original, it can be quickly corrected with some Rub ‘n Restore leather dye! The trick is matching the color. More info here: https://www.rubnrestore.com//product-category/color-matching-services/

  5. Jack says

    My imitation-leather couch is flaking just like these, to reveal a fabric layer below. But I don’t mind the patchy, worn-out look — I only mind the messy flakes that end up all over the floor and us. So I’m not looking to repair the damage, but is there anyway to prevent it from flaking more, perhaps sealing it with a varnish or something along those lines?

    Thanks,
    Jack

    • Rub 'N Restore, Inc. says

      Hi Jack, It’s fabric, so your option is to painstakingly strip off the polyurethane coating and then coat it with a flexible paint. What a huge investment of time! It’s so much easier (and a nicer result) to find a used leather sofa on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace and restore that. See this video:

      https://youtu.be/w7ZUz6dT8Q4

  6. James Terry says

    We bought two Flexsteel motorized Novu leather loveseats from a local store. Paid $2000 a piece for them. Approximately 1yr. later they started to peel. They made a repair. Next year more peeling in another area, they made another repair. When they came back to mount the seat they repaired they laid the whole love seat forward. Within one month the areas on the top of the arm and the front of the armrest are cracking and peeling from being pressed against the carpeting. We reported this to them, waited 2 months and contacted them again. They gave a lame excuse about contacting the company and 2 months later we haven’t heard back form them. NEVER, EVER, buy this shit again. Now we got $4000 of furniture with one piece looking like crap!!!! When they both eventually look like crap I’ll check into having the re-upholstered with material.

    • Rub 'N Restore, Inc. says

      Hi James, So sorry to hear of this! We used to encounter a lot of this expensive “ultraleather” made by Flexsteel for the RV industry. It cost almost as much as real stuff and couldn’t hold up to use or UV exposure. Thank you for sharing your woes. Would love to have this same comment appear on our YouTube video about this subject:

      (If you are so inclined. We can’t formally recommend that you illegally dump this trash in the parking lot of the retailer that sold it to you with a nasty gram attached, but we like to fantasize about it. 🙂 Be patient, and watch Craigslist! You’ll find a gem!

      • Julia Miller Dukes says

        That red sofa looks exactly like the brown sectional we just moved to the curb after just 3 years of use. Loved the size & sit, but once it started delaminating, there was no stopping it! Unfortunately, the store where we bought it (actually a very reputable local furniture store) has closed because the owners retired & couldn’t find anyone to take it on. I suppose it’s no coincidence that the piece has absolutely no manufacturer’s ID on it that we can find.
        Live & learn!

  7. Gail says

    Can a badly peeling bonded leather love seat/duo-recliner be reupholstered? I mean, not with more leather or vinyl…can fabric be put on? How costly would it be if it is do-able?

    • Rub 'N Restore, Inc. says

      Reupholstery is expensive, especially if the cushions aren’t removable and therefore more easily accessible, which is a hallmark of bonded leather furniture. In the end, it’s cheaper to find a used piece of leather furniture (worth thousands more) and restore it. Or scrape away all the polyurethane surface and just live with the fabric substrate as this gentleman demonstrates:

        • Rub 'N Restore, Inc. says

          Some sort of “elastic” paint. For example LeakSeal or Rustoleum’s FlexSeal followed by their FinishAll paint. Question is what does it look like after another 18 months of use? Not to mention you’ll be huffing a lot more chemicals in these processes. But if the piece appears to be well made (despite the bonded leather), it may be worth it.

  8. Dena says

    I have a 10 yr old Paliser bonded leather set that is starting to show fading and very light cracking on the top of the cushions ottoman by the seems. Am I able to re-color it as long as it isn’t peeling?

    • Rub 'N Restore, Inc. says

      Great question! Yes, but the paint is not going to repair the cracks, and I wouldn’t recommend a color change, because then you’re adding more layers of paint (and therefore) weight to the surface, which *may* cause it to wear faster. That being said, ten years with only a few cracks is good news for a bonded leather, so it’s certainly worth a try. I don’t think it would worsen the situation, but I would ensure this by being minimalist and conservative in your approach.

  9. Laura lake says

    I wire brushed the furniture to get the maximum fake leather off. Then I painted with acrylic paint mixed with fabric medium. Came out just fine for the family room.

    • Rub 'N Restore, Inc. says

      Right on! We’ve heard of some folks doing this. It’s an affordable solution if you’re willing to invest the time. How many hours did it take you? I can image it to be painstaking work, depending how unstable the polyurethane coating is, and in the end you have a fabric sofa that’s painted, not a piece with leather or leather-like surface. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Coleen Coleman says

    I bought a bonded leather chair from Johnny Janosik in Dover, DE. I was lied to and made to believe it was real leather. Also, it was a power recliner but the motor broke in less than two years. It cost $100 to get another motor and have it installed. I will never buy anything from Johnny Janosik again. I’ve only bought something twice from them. Several years ago I bought a bed. I didn’t want it delivered before such and such a time because it was a surprise. Wouldn’t you know it, they didn’t follow directions and delivered it much earlier and the person was home. I’m sure most people have had good luck with Johnny Jonosik in Dover or else they would not be in business, but I find them to be a great disappointment and would never recommend them. Each time my bonded leather chair starts to rip, I cover the rip with duct tape. It started to rip after three years.

  11. Nicole Barnett says

    I Wana post a picture of my couch I will not buy another bonded leather couch when I bought I truly believed I was buying a leather couch I love the red tho and leather we are mess ppl and it’s nice to wipe clean the couch.
    Degraded bonded leather couch

    • Rub 'N Restore, Inc. says

      Bummer! There’s no reason for bonded leather. Genuine leather and other synthetics (vinyl) wipe up nicely too. Leather does have a propensity for discoloring and grabbing dirt over time. Rubbing alcohol or our Flite cleaner (maybe a soft nail brush too) will greatly aid in this. Whatever stains remain can be dyed.

  12. Robert Breton says

    By now folks should know that bonded leather is Chinese trash that should be banned from being imported into the USA

    • Rub 'N Restore, Inc. says

      They don’t. We get phone calls and emails every day, which is why we wrote this blog post to assist in answering these inquiries. Planning to make a video and hopefully optimize it for Google search results to put an end to these inquiries entirely.

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