Who are Doug and Kian? Doug Snow and Kian Amirkhizi lead a company called MATRI-X. MATRI-X is dedicated to the education and training of interior repair industry technicians. Doug and Kian have a varied and extensive background in training and almost 50 years combined experience as expert repair technicians themselves. Each are past winners of the Mobile Tech Expos’ Leather Repair Contest.
Identifying, repairing and re-dyeing simulated leathers
A Rose by any other name is still a rose…right? Well… let’s say that the rose in question is plastic, is it still a rose? Well, you might return with the clever quip “it’s a plastic rose”. Uh-huh-give a dozen plastic roses to your wife on Mother’s Day and see if a plastic rose is still a rose!.
Enough about roses, let’s talk about faux leather aka simulated leather, Pleather , Ultra Leather, and Izit Leather just to name a few of its many handles that you may know it by. Simulated leathers and simulated suede products are increasingly finding their way into RV’s, automobiles and furniture. Unfortunately, this material has been providing specific challenges to interior repair technicians because of its quirky nature. One thing fo’ sure, simulated leather is NOT leather!
Simulated leathers are not “vinyl” either. Vinyl products are made from PVC (poly vinyl chloride) complete with plasticizers and something called stabilizers. Faux leather is made from polyurethanes and contains no plasticizers. And for all you tree-hugging greenies, faux leathers have considerably less impact to our environment.
The physical structure of the simulated leathers gives the material its unique stretch and feel; characteristics that closely resemble leather. Sometimes the feel and look are so uncannily close to the “real thing” it can make identifying the material tricky. Even the most experienced technician can be fooled.
If you’ve never worked on this material: you will. Faux leathers are gaining popularity over its organic cousin leather. Due to the predictable nature of high yield man-made materials these products are finding more and more uses in varying applications such as aircrafts, boats, furniture, RV’s and even automobiles. They look like leather, they feel like leather, they just don’t cost like leather. May be you have come across this type of material (usually on the side of the seat) while working on luxury cars. You may have mistaken it for vinyl.
Visual identification is performed by looking for re-occurring patterns in the grain texture (although keep in mind that leather is often “stamped” or “corrected” with a grain pattern too). However, many of these types of materials have a “specific” pattern, which is readily identifiable. Having a few intimate repair experiences with this material should get you up to speed. If you can get to the back side of the material you can confirm with certainty as all manufactured simulated leather products will most likely have a fabric or woven backing.
I helped a technician on a sofa repair with a material that was remarkably difficult to identify. The customer swore it was leather and at eight thousand dollars for the sofa, loveseat and ottoman; the price surely indicated such. However, when attempting the repairs, the material acted more like vinyl. When heat was applied to the material in the repair process the technician observed a “vinyl-like” reaction. As a side bar, here is where having a temperature controlled heat gun comes in handy. With a digital readout you can incrementally increase the temperature slowly and judge the reaction of the material in question. When exposing this particular material to heat, it surely did not resemble leather. A closer inspection of the ottoman revealed a fabric beneath surface. So the ottoman was simulated leather but the sofa was “bonded leather”. Bonded leather can be a real nightmare, but that is for another article!
Be careful with excessive heat, which can cause irreversible damage to sensitive substrates. Even during the repair process excessive heat can damage the plastisol compounds (heat repair compound) and will compromise the integrity of the repair. When re-dyeing these materials, be aware that many popular coating brands do not adhere to faux leathers. Proper preparation is critical for best adhesion. Test your coating performance to guarantee compatibility with the fabric. After coating, be aware that the material has fundamentally been changed; the hand or feel may be different. Try applying the coating very lightly as heavy coats may have a tendency to crack or delaminate. On autos with faux leather sides try to avoid re-dyeing. Just try to clean, as the material should retain it original color longer than its leather counterpart. Just clean thoroughly and tape off as necessary if performing major re-coloring on the leather inserts. Technicians have noticed that prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause premature damage evidenced by cracking. Repairing the material in this condition is not recommended.
Are you faux sure? Well by now at least you have some rudimentary knowledge to help you assess what material you just might be working on. MATRI-X seminars covers topics like these in the ever-changing field of interior repairs. We also look for your participation in our free forum at the MATRI-X website for interior technicians. There you can have discussions about repair techniques, chemicals or just chat and gain some new friends in the biz. The fastest way to get on the MATRI-X forum is to give us a call. Hope to see ya there!