Leather is a fascinating material that has been used for centuries in various industries, but especially automotive. But do you really know what goes into making leather? In this article, we will take a deep dive into the process of tanning, explore the different types of leather available in the market, and explain why it matters when detailing a car.
The Tanning Method
Tanning is the process of turning animal skins and hides into leather. After the animals have been slaughtered, the skins and hides are carried to the tannery in one of two forms: coated in salt to prevent deterioration or frozen for later use. The salt-coated ones are instantly turned into leather.
The tanning process starts with the removal of salt from the skin. The hides are then immersed in a solution known as “liming and unhairing.” This procedure raises the skin’s pH level, causing the hides to inflate and the hairs to fall out. It is a complex process requiring proper chemical balance and timing to avoid skin damage.
After the hairs have been removed, the hides are tanned. Synthetic tanning, vegetable tanning, and chrome tanning are all examples of tanning methods. To keep things simple, let’s stick to the fundamentals.
The skins are placed in a dye-filled drum, penetrating through the skin’s open pores. This dye provides the desired coloring to the leather. If red leather is chosen, for example, red dye is used. However, the dye does not have the same level of covering strength as paint. The color may appear uneven or spotty as a result.
The hides are sliced after dyeing to remove flaws such as scars. These flaws are sanded and repaired with leather filler. The surface is then coated with primer to make it sticky. Following that, paint or pigment is used to achieve a solid color.
A clear coat, also known as a top coat, is applied to protect the surface and enhance its durability. This top coat acts as a sealer and provides a layer of protection. Additionally, the leather may be artificially embossed to create the desired grain structure.
Types of Leather
Several types of leather are available in the market, each with its own characteristics and uses. Let’s explore some of the most common types:
- Pigmented Leather: This type of leather is the most commonly used in automotive upholstery. The dye used in the tanning process fills the pores of the leather, making it non-porous and easier to clean. Pigmented leather is known for its durability and longevity.
- Aniline Leather: Aniline leather is the complete opposite of pigmented leather. It is completely porous and absorbent, similar to paper. This type of leather is commonly used in furniture and handbags. Aniline leather has a soft touch and develops a unique patina and character over time. However, it requires protection to prevent staining.
- Semi-Aniline Leather: As the name suggests, semi-aniline leather is a combination of pigmented and aniline leather. It offers some level of protection with a primer and top coat, but the pores are not completely covered. This type of leather requires a bit of rubbing for absorption.
- Nubuck Leather: Nubuck leather is created by sanding down aniline leather, resulting in a nap-like surface with a visible grain structure. It has a soft touch and is commonly used in products like Timberland boots.
- Suede Leather: Suede leather is similar to nubuck leather but has a furry side on both sides. It is commonly used in products like suede jackets and shoes.
- Bonded Leather: Bonded leather is made by bonding together fibers from lower-quality suede. It is then coated with a thin layer of polyurethane to mimic the appearance of pigmented leather. However, over time, the polyurethane coating may peel off.
- Lionel PVC: Lionel PVC is a leather-like material made by gluing a polyurethane coating to a fabric or backing material. It is often used as a vegan alternative to leather.
It is crucial to remember that while some products may include the word “leather” in their titles, they may not contain any genuine leather. Manufacturers frequently use phrases such as “MB-Tex leather” or “BMW leather” to imply luxury and durability. However, there is a growing trend in the car sector to investigate alternative materials that offer benefits similar to leather.
Leather is a versatile material with many different sorts and applications. Understanding the various varieties of leather will assist you in making educated decisions about cleaning, protecting, and keeping your leather products. While genuine leather requires conditioning to maintain its suppleness and flexibility, alternative leather-like materials may need cleaning and protection from dirt and damage. Depending on the type of leather, selecting the appropriate goods and processes is critical.
In the next section, we’ll look at some Geist products that can be used to clean and protect leather car seats. Stay tuned for further information on maintaining the luster of your leather seats.
To be continued…