Q&A #3: How Does Sun Affect Leather?
Posted by Daniel Sutton on May 13th 2014
Leather Guru Ponders Animal Hide's Deepest Mysteries
Q: How Does Sun Affect Leather?
A: It’s a big, blazing ball in the sky. How could it not? While sunlight possesses a few redeeming qualities, such as giving us a steady supply of Vitamin D and disinfecting things, it can also be very harmful to any natural substance exposed to it too much. Read about that here. Sunlight acts as a natural bleaching agent: it dries and cracks leather, causes it to age prematurely, and fades color in as little as four to six months of consistent exposure. The sun’s ultraviolet rays, which seem to have everybody chattering their teeth nowadays, are the most dangerous aspect of sunlight, and can give your leather cancer. Okay, that's not entirely true - it actually wilts your leather. And yet the difference between the two is not significant.
In fact! UV rays are known to not only draw moisture out of your leather’s fibers, but also dislocate vital natural oils that cannot be replenished. During the preparation stages of making leather, which you can read a little bit about in our article “Leather Tanning Methods,” leather is soaked in various chemicals and solutions to prevent it from decomposing. These preservatives are supposed to keep it alive for a really long time, but if they are depleted prematurely by sunlight or heat, the leather will resume its decomposition. At this point, there’s not much you can do to save your leather, other than patch it or call a professional. It’s really tragic.
Now hold up just a moment there, bucko! My car has leather seats and I haven’t seen them shrivel and rot yet! Aye, good for you. Car leather is built to suffer more abuse than regular leather, what with all we’re putting them through: drinks, foods, cigarette ash, sweat, dirt, and of course, our dreaded UV rays. Car leather’s usually bolstered up big time before coming into your hands, finished with pigments to avoid stains and treated with UV protectants, which will deter the sun a bit. Nevertheless, car leather is still leather, and those protectants can’t hold against UV rays forever. It’s a good idea to get in the practice of finishing your car leather at least twice a year with a leather conditioner such as Chamberlain's Auto Refreshener No. 4, which has natural protectants against UV rays, and putting up window shields or sheer curtains. Check out “How to Clean and Condition Leather Car Seats” for more on that.
Most notorious on our list of sun scarred leathers is your friendly, unsuspecting leather couch. Sweet Zeus, my couch? How could that cruel, terrible sun affect leather so innocent and sweet and adorable as my lovely, fuzzy loveseat? About that - leather furniture is generally more of an indoors creature, so UV protectants and the aforementioned stain-resistant pigments will usually be more of a bonus feature than something to expect. That said, most furniture won't be well prepared for an extended stay under a blazing hot window. In sunny rooms, it's best to shield your furniture with blankets or other fabrics, or failing that, purchase commercial tinting film for your windows to block the sun’s rays. Take note that darker colored leather is most vulnerable to sun, and will fade more quickly than lighter colored leather. If your leather does fade, it can usually only be fixed by re-dyeing and color matching it. In this situation, a professional should be consulted. Cleaning and conditioning your leather furniture about twice a year will also help considerably. You can learn the drill at “Leather Care for Finished and Unfinished Leather Furniture.” Remember to try Chamberlain's Furniture Treatment No. 5 when you do!
So that's something to keep in mind next time you’re wondering how will sun affect leather. It’s pretty crazy what a big, blazing furnace in the black void of space millions of miles away from Earth can do. If leather was a dish in the sun god's cafe, it would totally be on the flambé menu. Keep that in mind. Sleep on it.
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