How to soften and restore old, hard leather at home
As we restore old leather, we often deal with the problem of hard or shrunken leather. There are two reasons why leather hardens. The first and main reason is the ageing and drying. Leather gets stiffer through lack of maintenance and use. It has not been re-oiled or used in a very long time causing a lack of movement of leather fibres. Another reason can be the shrinkage of leather due to heat. In the past, most vehicle leather contained processed vegetable tanned leather which hardens and shrinks at a temperature of about 70 ° C (= 158°F). However, nowadays they have been replaced by processed chrome-tanned hides which are resistant to about 90 ° C (= 194°F). Leather that hasn't been conditioned and cared for, shrinks at lower temperatures.
Shrinkage of leather is an irreversible deformation of the leather fibre. There is no magic product or trick that increases the surface again. The hardening can be reduced a little bit, but there is no way of extending the surface. Such a damage can be quite expensive if it happens on a car dashboard as they are not easy to take out and usually requires new leather or vinyl. If you are starting to notice signs of shrinkage, treat the leather using Geist. Old leather Softener to protect the leather from degradation and to make it more resistant.
TREATING OLD & HARD LEATHER
First clean the leather with Geist. Rapid Leather & Vinyl Cleaner. Important: Don't make the leather too wet when cleaning! Antique leather can be damaged by too much moisture. Therefore, only clean with foam and remove residue with a slightly damp cloth. Let it dry away from heat and sun before next working step.
Carry out any repairs of cracks and rips with Geist. Easy Filler before the treatment with Geist. Old Leather Softener. The softener is oil based and reduces the adhesion of repair materials.
Use a sponge or a soft cloth to apply the softener. For best results, the softener must be applied on the inner layer (the layer facing the cushions on the inside). On this rough surface, the leather is the most receptive to the treatment. Avoid removing the covers only for this treatment as Old leather can tear or break easily in upholstery work. In such cases spray the softener using a spray bottle or a spray gun to prevent over application. 2 to 3 treatments are sufficient for the entire treatment procedure!
Let the leather rest for 24 hours after first treatment to give time to absorb the softener and repeat. One litre of softener should suffice for a full interior or furniture suite. 250 ml should be enough to treat individual upholstery parts.
Then try to loosen the leather fibres by massaging the leather with your hands. Repeat until the leather gets notably soft. Very old and shrunken leather can easily break and won’t get soft beyond a point. So, proceed with caution, be gentle and observe changes.
Such leather never becomes as soft as it would have been when new. But leather that is not too old and shrunk will improve noticeably. Professionals use a leather-softening tool to soften leather.
After the last treatment, remove residue of Softener Oil with a soft cloth and wait a week before working further on it. In case of any repair work (filling, gluing, colouring), thoroughly degrease such areas with Geist. Surface Prep.
For ongoing nourishment and protection, use Geist. Leather Conditioner and if the leather is glossy or exposed to the weather protect additionally with Geist. Leather Preserver. Any future maintenance and treatment should be carried out regularly but sparingly - ideally no more than once or twice a year. Further treatments with softener should not be necessary.