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Caring for a Vintage Leather Sofa

Caring for a Vintage Leather Sofa

Oct 12th 2021

There are some materials that simply cannot be effectively imitated. Genuine hardwoods, cold, silk, satin, and genuine leather are among them. Even when the visual effect is replicated, a simple touch betrays the imitation.

A vintage leather sofa can add an immeasurable accent of elegance to your interior arrangements, and an experience that cannot be matched. It is one of those fixtures that can be imitated but not duplicated; and for the fact that it is durable, beautiful, unique, and unrivaled for comfort and visual aesthetic, leather remains in high demand.

But leather, like all natural materials, requires special care and attention to preserve its character and quality. For all the trite observations of the durability and unflagging fiber of leather, it actually requires fairly in-depth care to maintain its character for the long term.

Fortunately, we know just what you need to care for your vintage leather sofa.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Leather is well known for its durability and for its ability to stand up well to lots of wear through the years. One of the reasons that so many people love vintage leather furniture is not simply that it is long-lasting and tough, but because each piece of furniture will develop its own unique patina over time. This gives each piece of leather furniture its own sort of individual “fingerprint,” yielding an unmistakable air to the atmosphere of a setting.

But despite the fact that leather is long-lasting and tough yet comfortable, leather can actually be easily damaged. Liquids like oil and water, and the acids and other ingredients in food and even in some cleaners can irreparably damage the natural fibers under the surface of leather, weakening them over time.

Leather consists of a weave of natural fibers (present in the hide) that naturally flex and bend. They’re also naturally absorbent, and will readily “drink up” cleaning compounds and other liquids like oil. If this happens, there is almost no way to get them out. Minor damage to leather involves staining, spotting, or discoloration; more severe damage will weaken the fibers of the leather, causing it to stretch, warp, or even crack.

The first step in caring for a vintage leather sofa is protecting it from damage in the first place.

Protecting a Vintage Leather Sofa from Damage

First, some good news. Most leather is tough enough to withstand indirect sunlight as well as changes in temperature, so most indoor settings are perfectly fine for a vintage leather sofa. There are some things, however, you’ll need to protect against.

One, which might seem obvious, is food. You must protect your vintage leather sofa (and all your leather goods, period) from food. Food (nearly regardless of what it is) contains water, oil, and acid, all of which can be highly destructive to leather. Foods will also cause staining on the leather surface that will be difficult if not impossible to remove.

You must also take special care to protect a vintage leather sofa from exposure to atmospheric moisture. While temperature fluctuations are perfectly acceptable, maintaining a steady, relatively low humidity level is advisable. You must also protect the leather sofa from exposure to water. For example, never lay a wet coat on leather; this will damage the surface.

Leather will absorb water, causing its fibers to swell. As the water evaporates from the leather, the fibers will recede, actually shrinking to a smaller size than they were original. This can cause the surface of the leather to warp or wrinkle. Much of the time, it makes the leather harder, stiff, and brittle, making it likely to crack. Water damage can also cause discoloration and staining.

Periodic Cleaning and Conditioning of a Vintage Leather Sofa

An vintage leather sofa

For those times when you need to actually clean the surface of a vintage leather sofa, we have a few pointers.

-Never use commercial solvents, detergents, polish, varnish, abrasive agents, or anything that contains ammonia or bleach. Most soaps are also not safe for use on leather.

-Use a damp rag, not a wet one. You only want the rag damp enough so that dirt and dust adhere to its surface and lift off of the leather. Try spot cleaning in an inconspicuous location first, as moisture can change the color of the surface of leather. If that checks out, simply use the damp rag to gently wipe off the surface of your vintage leather sofa and it should be good as new.

-For light scratches to the surface of leather, you may be able to gently buff them out with a microfiber towel, or even a piece of chamois or a square of leather.

There is no universal agreement on the use of leather conditioners or leather oil. Since the tanning process removes natural oils in order to preserve the hide, and most natural oils oxidize, replace them in the leather can cause discoloration or long-term degradation. However, since some people advocate for their use, here are our tips.

-Be sure to research the conditioner to ensure that it is suitable for use on your type and style of leather. We advise against using synthetic conditioners that contain silicone and other synthetic oils; these can cause the leather to dry out further over time and will not let the leather breathe.

-Apply the conditioner to a damp cloth, this prevents too much conditioner from being used on the leather. Never apply the conditioner directly to the leather, and always test the conditioner in an inconspicuous area first to check for staining or discoloration.

-Apply the conditioner very lightly, as lightly as possible. Apply several light coats instead of one heavy coat, if possible.

Those who advocate for the use of leather conditioners contend that it may be able to help the leather remain supple and soft for longer, protecting it against incidental environmental factors.

Contact Us for Inspiration

Caring for a vintage leather sofa or couch doesn’t require extraordinary care; it just requires you to be aware of a classic vintage sofa’s unique needs, and that leather, as a natural material, has them as well.

If you have any questions about how to arrange the ideal setting for your living room, or just how to care for your leather furniture, feel free to reach out to us for help. We pride ourselves on our customer service, and you can reach us at or at 310-876-0661.

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