A customer asked recently how you repair a scratch in leather. If you want to skip all the detailed explanation and complicated analogies, the short answer is that you don’t. The best you can do for a scratch in leather is to try to dye it so it will blend in.
Now, here’s the extended version: Leather has a rough “flesh” side and a smooth “grain” side. Recently when I was doing some research in my book I came across a very detailed illustration of the layers of leather. It’s a much better picture than I would draw for you, so here it is -
And here is the book it came from -
So the outside of your leather what-not (handbag, couch, belt, shoes, etc.) is the grain side. It is smooth and probably a little shiny. It’s the pretty side, that’s why they put it on the outside. Well, right under that nice finished “grain” side of the leather, the texture starts to change very rapidly. If you remove, ever so carefully, the very tip top layer of the leather as a paper-thin sheet, what is left is rough. Not as rough as the flesh side (the rough underside), but still pretty rough.
When you scratch leather, you’re disrupting the smooth finish on the flesh side and exposing the rough portion. Or, even if you don’t make it all the way down to the rough part, you’ve at least disturbed the smooth finish of the grain side.
How could you fix this? Well, you can’t “fix” it but you can do a few things to minimize the appearance of a scratch.
1. Try a bit of oil. Sometimes rubbing a little oil on the surface, or dabbing it on with a Q-Tip, is all it takes. Anyone will tell you to both test on a hidden part of the piece, and also to use whatever oil your manufacturer recommends. Lexol Neatsfoot oil has always been a favorite of mine, but yes, it really does depend on the leather that you are working with.
2. Dye it. So usually a scratch will show up as a lighter color than the rest of the leather and this is because the top portion, the dyed portion, of the leather has been removed. Think of it like a veneer on wood, where the veneer has been scratched off. You can’t sand it because the veneer is so thin, so you take one of those funny little touch-up pens and just color it in. It’s not fixed, but it’s not as noticeable.
It’s the same principle with leather. You’re not going to repair the scratch, strictly speaking, but you can color it so it doesn’t look so bad. If you’re dealing with chrome tanned leather, you can probably use shoe polish (yeah, all those little scratches on your shoes, it takes care of them. Suddenly it all makes sense…) but be very careful to buff it really well, especially if you’re doing it to a couch. Any residual dye or polish could deposit on your bum!
Some leathers may require a special dye, and your local leather shop will be able to give you more direction. Or you can try to color-match it online and then, of course, test a spot first.
For veg tan, you can usually just use the original dye color (if it is a Moxie & Oliver piece, I can make you a leather repair kit!) and either a Q-tip if it is a alcohol or water based dye or a paper towel for a gel antique dye to touch up the scratched spot. You’ll always want to use a topcoat in this case to seal the dye in.
3. Spray paint it. No, I’m not kidding. If you had someone or something really do a number on your couch, the consensus seems to be that you sand it down, fill it in, and then spray paint it with a leather paint to make it look like new. Here’s a tutorial showing how to repair cat scratches on leather. But again, think of it more like a veneer on wood than like a solid piece of wood – once you sand it down, you’re going to have to put on a faux finish to get the couch, purse, etc. to look like new again.
In any of these scenarios the texture of the scratch, or scratched patch, will be slightly different, but you’re probably the only one who will notice.
PHEW! That was totally the long answer. Me, I’d just make a nifty patch out of leather and slap it on the couch, or my bag, or shoes, or what have you. Those silver tips on cowboy boots are because the toes wear out so quickly and can’t really be repaired, right?
Time to take the dogs for a walk!