Water - for leather?

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I was detailing my car at work while we were slow last week. An older tech in the shop told me that I was doing it all wrong. He said I didn't need any of that "Meguiars garbage". He asked me if I had ever looked at the section in my owners manual about cleaning the interior. I answered honestly, "no." He told me to check it out and get back to him. Everything said "clean with lukewarm water, add a mild soapy detergent to remove dirt and stains". He said that is what all manuals say. He told me that water will keep vinyl and leather soft, plastic clean, and everything looking nice. So, I decided to do an experiment. I sprayed the interior in my old 850 down with some water and just wipe it off. I wasn't too impressed with the results on the vinyl, but the leather did something interesting. It soaked in almost immediately. Some spots turned REALLY soft too. On the back headrest that is always exposed to sun, the leather has dried and turned white (from a natural brown color). I have tried several products to revive this leather, nothing gets it soft. So, I took a damp cloth and wrapped it around the headrest and left it on over night. This morning, I immediately went outside and checked it out. WOW Soft leather. But, as soon as the water started evaporating, the color was turning back to that dry white, so I grabbed a bottle of leather conditioner and massaged it into the surface. Now the leather is soft and brown, just as it should be. Is there anything I should be careful about when using water to soften leather? Can this be used to keep good leather soft and pliable? Shouldn't I still massage some conditioners into the good leather in my newer Volvo?
 
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Leather is a protein and will absorb water. It will also release water when it is warm and shrink sometimes (like rawhide,)if not properly cured. The natural moisture and oils have long evaporated out of those headrest. What you seem to be doing is rehydrating with the water and then adding some oils back to the swollen leather. Preswelling with water allows the oils to get in between the protein fibers/ strands/molecules and help keep the leather soft and pliable. This is the same principal used in dying polyester fiber where a "dye carrier" is used to insert between the polymeric molecules and keep them apart so that the dye molecules can get inside the fiber at the molecular level.
 

KLowD9x

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 Originally Posted By: Boomer
Leather is a protein and will absorb water. It will also release water when it is warm and shrink sometimes (like rawhide,)if not properly cured. The natural moisture and oils have long evaporated out of those headrest. What you seem to be doing is rehydrating with the water and then adding some oils back to the swollen leather. Preswelling with water allows the oils to get in between the protein fibers/ strands/molecules and help keep the leather soft and pliable. This is the same principal used in dying polyester fiber where a "dye carrier" is used to insert between the polymeric molecules and keep them apart so that the dye molecules can get inside the fiber at the molecular level.
So what I am doing isn't hurting anything? If so, this is great news, but I have a lot of work to do to bring the front seats back to their soft and pliable state.
 
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Cleaning leather with Woolite and water is a well known detailing procedure. Supposedly it is in the Caddy owner's manual. It has never failed to work for me. Cut it 8 to 1 for normal and 6 to 1 for really dirty.
 
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 Originally Posted By: KLowD9x
He told me to check it out and get back to him. Everything said "clean with lukewarm water, add a mild soapy detergent to remove dirt and stains". He said that is what all manuals say.
That's not what my manual says. Of course, it looks like BMW is trying to push their own line of products... I just ordered some Griot's Garage Leather Rejuvenator, but honestly, I am not expecting any miracles. The car spent the first 6 years of its life in Florida, parked in the open sun... I'm sure the upholstery took a beating... it is very harsh/brittle at this point. I've tried Meguiars, I've tried Lexol... none of it made any difference.
 

KLowD9x

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Looks like they are. I am surprised Volvo doesn't do the same because I have looked through their chemicals catalog and they have numerous products for cleaning, maintaining, and even restoring leather. I am trying a new mix of leather conditioner and water to really bring some of the hard leather spots back now. I will keep everyone informed if my method works. I might drop some green on the Volvo product that says it will restore brittle leather.
 
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 Originally Posted By: KLowD9x
I might drop some green on the Volvo product that says it will restore brittle leather.
Definitely keep us posted, as I'm in the same boat. FYI, the leather in my mom's Volvo S40, even as it ages, seems much nicer/softer than the BMW leather.
 

KLowD9x

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 Originally Posted By: Quattro Pete
 Originally Posted By: KLowD9x
I might drop some green on the Volvo product that says it will restore brittle leather.
Definitely keep us posted, as I'm in the same boat. FYI, the leather in my mom's Volvo S40, even as it ages, seems much nicer/softer than the BMW leather.
I recommend that you use some Lexol every time you clean the car. It's what I have been doing in my S60 and that leather is still amazing! The 850 was abused, I will admit. I had that car long before I even started working on cars and even before I knew what it was to properly maintain the exterior and interior of a car. Which is why I am trying these different methods to restore the leather. When I order the parts for my t-belt (which is due on the 60) I will order a tube of the Volvo leather restorer product.
 
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You stumbles upon something most people don't understand (I just figured/found this out weeks ago through lots of research). That most automotive leather starting in the late 80's are coated with a clear polyurethane coating (called finished/coated leather). Same concept as clear coat for paint. It last longer through this process and resist fading/wear tear much better. What today's leather needs is a water based cleaner/rehydrater that can get past the coating and rehydrate the leather. Oil based cleaners/conditioners can not get past this coating (molecules to large), so everything essentially stays on top (never treating the leather). Leather Master's has a great water based cleaner/conditioner but it is pricey. http://topoftheline.com/leather-care-repair.html I picked it up here for a slightly cheaper price http://www.detailersdomain.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWCATS&Category=120
 
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I haven't used Leather Master but I hear its good stuff. My leather restoration system is from Leatherique - http://www.leatherique.com Now is the best time of year to use Leatherique as it needs heat to relax the fibers of the leather and allow the product to do its job. Whichever system you use, consider doing it soon while the warm weather works to your benefit.
 
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 Originally Posted By: KLowD9x
I recommend that you use some Lexol every time you clean the car. It's what I have been doing in my S60 and that leather is still amazing!
Thanks. As I mentioned, I already tried lexol - several applications - no visible improvement. The car was 4 years old when I bought it and the leather was already brittle at that point. I'm guessing lexol might prevent leather from becoming brittle if you apply it from day one, but it's not good at rejuvenating leather that's already become brittle.
 

irv

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One thing to remember as has already been stated, not all leather is the same and therefore different manu's recommend different cleaners/conditioners. Read your manual. follow it. The best for my new p/u is warm water/soapy mix or warm water/woolite. You can spend a fortune and not be doing any good, in fact possible harm? Just mist your dried cracked leather with water and leave it be, do this a couple/three times a week and watch it come back to life. The main culprit for leather seat damage is dirt, 90% of leather damage is caused by this. Keep it clean and moist and they will last you a very long time!
 
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 Originally Posted By: wytstang
What today's leather needs is a water based cleaner/rehydrater that can get past the coating and rehydrate the leather. Oil based cleaners/conditioners can not get past this coating (molecules to large), so everything essentially stays on top (never treating the leather).
This is interesting. I tried using neatsfoot oil on my seats, and was surprised to to find that it just sat there. I don't think much was absorbed at all.
 
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