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Why is my vinyl or leather peeling and flaking?

Flaking, peeling leather is usually a disintegrating synthetic called bonded leather, though it can be a poor quality or damaged finish on real leather or vinyl.

Faux, bonded, bicast, and polyurethane (PU) leather are synthetics made from split hide or ground-up scrap leather. They are to leather what particle board is to wood, and they are notorious for delaminating – something the industry calls “hydrolysis-related failure”. Repairs are likely to suffer the same fate and are not recommended. Why and our affordable alternative recommendation here.

Leather or vinyl with a damaged finish can be corrected either with solvents or sandpaper.

  • Try blending the damaged finish with denatured alcohol, paint thinner or stripper. Acetone is a last resort and should be used with caution. Test the solvents first in an inconspicuous area and see how well they work. Some coatings or finishes may turn into gooey mess, forcing you to strip the whole piece. In this case, sanding may be the preferred method.
  • Wet-or-dry sandpaper will not gum up like regular sandpaper. Do not use anything coarser than 220 grit for leather or vinyl.
  • Once the surface feels stable and uniform, you can restore the appearance with Rub ‘n Restore®. While our colors are technically paints, their thin, water-based acrylic formula behaves more like a stain and is more harmonious with the material than other conventional coatings. Color changes will require occasional touch-up on high-wear areas, but Rub ‘n Restore® will never peel or flake.

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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.