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What does it mean if leather absorbs water?

Water absorption indicates the type of leather, its condition, and how it should be cleaned.

Water will bead on finished and pigmented leathers like those used in auto interiors. Water will also bead on synthetics like vinyl or bonded leather. Use denatured or rubbing alcohol to remove any conditioner, oil, or wax residue. Then follow with a diluted, water-based degreaser like our Flite®. If the finish is worn, exposing absorbent suede, clean these areas only with alcohol.

Semi-aniline leather has a thin clear finish that will gradually absorb water. Semi-aniline leather may also have stains that can’t be removed. It should only be cleaned with denatured or rubbing alcohol prior to restoration.

Unfinished leathers like suede, nubuck or aniline will immediately absorb water. As such, these leathers often show body oil and other stains that can’t be removed. Unfinished leathers should be cleaned only with denatured or rubbing alcohol prior to restoration.

NOTE: Rub ’n Restore® colors are thin coatings and will add a protective finish. Leather that feels very warm and velvety, like aniline, will slightly cool as a result. For this reason, we discourage using our products on nubuck or suede, but we have had customers do it. The leather will continue to breathe. While it may still exhibit absorbent qualities, it will be more fade and stain-resistant.

Ash Dye on Nubuck before and after photos

While the product is not designed for nubuck and suede, I experimented on this sofa with the ash color and got great results. I used a mixture of one part Ash, one part Clear Prep, and one part distilled water. First I rubbed on a thin, light coat with sponge. It looked awful. Sponged on another 4-5 coats, and looks good. Doesn’t feel stiff or unnatural either.” – George Allred

This video shows examples of different materials.

Video contents:

  • 0:10 – The “water beads” test
  • 0:20 – Heavy-duty vinyl
  • 0:29 – Composite leather (bonded leather, polyurethane leather, faux leather, reconstituted leather, recycled leather)
  • 1:01 – Real suede
  • 1:47 – Real top-grain leather
  • 2:08 – Aniline (or semi-aniline) leather

Learn more about types of leather and the difference between leather dyes and pigmented finishes.

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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.