How to Restore Darkened & Faded Leather
The epic of struggle between light and darkness is awesome. It enraptures our imaginations, buffets Hollywood’s big screen, haunts the minds of all our great philosophers contemporary and past, and shapes how we perceive the world. It’s less awesome when the struggle comes to us. It’s not a cool spectacle in our heads anymore. This time, its hungry jaws are threatening to eat our own heads. There is confusion and clarity all at once. Danger!
Which is why we like to keep that whole light vs dark mess outside of our leather at any cost, thank you very much. Faded leather and darkened leather – it’s all the same. The warm, pleasant colors have gone with the wind, and we’re left with something ugly in their absence.
Our only option is fix it.
This usually results from excessive exposure to sunlight. Many people actually use the sun to restore their leather if it has significantly darkened. This method may work, but it is harmful. Sunlight’s inherent UV rays break leather’s fibers down at a molecular level. Given significant time in the sun, faded leather will not only become a more severe problem – it may also become sticky, flake, and eventually disintegrate into dust. Aniline and semi aniline leathers are particularly vulnerable to sunlight’s effects, as they possess no protective pigments to deter the force of the sun’s rays (“How to Identify Types of Leather“). The dyes coloring the leather will retreat further into its fiber network, and as they leave, the color loses its potency, making faded leather.
Depending on how long the leather has been sitting in sunlight, the road to restoring color in your faded leather may be more or less difficult. Vigilance is key here – don’t hesitate. Watch for abnormalities in your leather – strange textures, scents, spots – anything. Assess the situation, and determine a treatment. In faded leather’s case, it can often be tempered with leather conditioner, particularly if the leather is finished.
Always give at least a basic cleaning to leather before you condition it. Conditioner acts as a protectant to leather, but this works by blockading its absorbent pores so that only small substances can move back and forth. As this blockade prevents dirt from getting in, it will also prevent dirt from getting out, and the dirt can eventually begin to suffocate your leather, rotting it (“How Does Leather Breathe?“).
To clean your faded leather, use a damp cloth and touch up anything that catches your attention. It’s good to give the entire surface a smooth over, as the damp qualities have the added bonus of opening up the leather’s pores more enthusiastically to receive your leather conditioner. If the leather has not been cleaned in some time, or has gotten excessively dirty, use a leather cleaner instead, such as Straight Cleaner no. 2. Test your leather cleaner of choice first, and keep away from commercial cleaners not specifically designed for leather.
After your faded leather has dried from cleaning, apply leather conditioner, such as Leather Care Liniment no. 1 (and test first!). Give the surface an even coat, and no more or less than it can absorb. Depending on how absorbent your leather is, this may require more or less leather conditioner. More absorbent faded leather may require a heavier leather conditioner, such as Water Protectant no. 3. Water Protectant’s unique blend of oils and waxes will also have superior darkening effects, so use at your discretion.
If this does not work, you will likely need to redye your faded leather. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
Darkened leather can be just as difficult to treat as faded leather. Darkening can often occur when oils begin to congest leather’s pores, such as body oils or leather conditioner (if too much has been used). You can best prevent darkened leather by protecting it with leather conditioner and performing regular spot cleanings before it has the chance to darken. However, leather conditioner on its own, even when used in the right amount, may darken leather by its own oily nature. For this reason, it is always very important to test leather conditioners first in a discreet area before using them. Lighter colored leathers are perhaps the most vulnerable to growing dark. We’re always fascinated with our counterparts, and leather is no different.
If you are desperate, some sunlight may get the job done. But make sure the leather’s at least protected. Auto Refreshener no. 4, although conventionally intended for car leather, contains UV repelling properties useful for any leather intended to face significant time under the sun. But if you’re in the mood to play it safe, it may best to start over and redye the surface altogether.
As with leather conditioner, it is important your leather is clean and dry before you begin to dye it. Surface dust can prevent dyes from absorbing properly, and will leave a splotchy dye. In addition, you will want to test the leather dye first to make sure the project will turn out to your liking. To obtain the right dye for your leather, it is best to consult a leather professional. Simply visit a local leather crafter and ask for a sample of dyes on a strip of leather similar to your own. This will include a strip that resembles its finish and tanned type. If you don’t know your type, ask for the samples on aniline, vegetable tanned leather. Bring your leather or a picture of it to color match the dye until you are satisfied.
When the leather is ready, set newspapers under it to prevent spills and masking tape any spots you don’t want affected (such as suede liners or hardware). Use long, overlapping strokes across the surface, working on one side of the leather at a time if you are working with a larger object. If the dye streaks, repeat the coat until it is even and color matched. Allow the leather to dry in a cool, clean location away from heat, and let the dye set overnight.
That should take care of darkened and faded leather alike. Let’s hope such a drastic measure isn’t necessary! Kudos to you for following through.
On a slightly less leather-centric note, we at Chamberlains would like to take an opportunity to express our sympathies and prayers for the refugees and armed forces of Iraq and the surrounding regions. For the unawares, a terrorist organization known as the Islamic State has seized control of a nation-sized portion of northern Iraq, and countless lives have been lost since. President Obama has authorized limited support to the Iraq government in strategic airstrikes, but progress is slow. Genocide, suicide bombing, abductions and religious persecution are out of control. If you have not done so already, please be informed about what is going on and express your support for the Iraqi peoples in whatever way you can.
Thank you for reading. God bless.
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