Do Leather Repair Kits Work?

Like this article? Please help by Liking, +1'ing, Tweeting or Pinning. Thank you!
Leather repair kits claim you can repair rips in leather yourself. These DIY leather repair kits are available at reasonable prices but do they work? Actually they do but there are some things you need to know before you jump in and try it. I bought a kit to try it out.

The armchair of my leather sofa set has seen better days. It's location makes the leather armrest a popular spot for pets and people to sit on. Over the years cat scratches combined with the weight of people sitting on the armrest caused a number of rips and tears in the leather. I was about to call a professional leather repair expert to see what they could do but I decided it would be a good opportunity to test a leather repair kit to see if it actually works. Reviews I read were mixed so I was curious to see if I could do it myself.

Let's get straight to it. Do they work? Yes but keep reading for important information. My repair didn't come out perfect, partly because I had a lot of rips to repair and not enough leather repair compound. My lack of experience and the pillowy structure of the armrest also made it a bit difficult. As you can see though, the armrest looks a lot better than it did before. I'm happy and in the future I might try to improve the repair and I'm willing to try it again.

Types of DIY Leather Repair Kits

Before tackling this project I spent hours pouring over various information on leather repair including the materials, tools and techniques professionals use. I discovered there are two types of leather repair kits, heat dry and air dry kits. It looks like the air dry leather repair kits are the better option. Heat dry kits don't provide as strong a bond and the heat can damage the leather.

An example of a heat dry leather repair kit you might have seen on TV is this Liquid Leather Pro Leather and Vinyl Repair Kit which has terrible reviews on Amazon. Heat dry kits have the color and repair compound as one component.

A couple of the air-dry kits that looked good were the LeatherNu Complete Leather Color Restoration & Repair Kit which I bought and the Leather Repair Kit by Leather Magic which I wish I bought. They're both good from what I can tell but Leather Magic sells individual leather repair products in addition to the kit. The kits are good but you wind up not having enough of some materials and too much of others which was a common complaint among other reviews.

The air dry kits have a leather repair compound which is used to repair the tear in the leather. This is essentially a PVA glue similar to the white Elmer's glue you used in school. PVA adhesives can be modified in different ways and would assume the manufacturers tried to come up with a formulation that is more appropriate to leather repair.

The leather repair compound is white. To match the repair to the kits included various colors of leather dye which you mix to get the best match for your leather. When you're done, a leather sealer protects the dye and gives a slight sheen to the repaired area. This is how most modern leather is finished. Leather gets dyed, then a protective finish is applied over top. I knew this about leather before I looked into these kits that's why the air-dry kits made the most sense.

The way air dry leather repair kits work follows the same techniques and principles I've seen professionals repair leather.

How To Repair Leather

I think it's best to walk you through the process of how I repaired the tears in my leather using one of these DIY leather repair kits so you can decide if this is something you want to try. For each step I'll compare how a professional might have done things differently or how I wish I would have done things differently.

What You'll Need

  • Leather repair kit or individual leather repair components
  • Scissors
  • 600 grit sand paper
  • Hair dryer
  • Mixing cup and stirrer
  • Some sort of weight
  • Microfiber cloths

Step 1: Clean The Leather

There are all sorts of leather cleaning products on the market. Many have oils that claim to restore the suppleness of leather. From what I've been reading most of the leather used today is finished leather that has a modern protective coating. This is true of most modern leather furniture and automotive leather coverings.

You can tell if you have finished leather by placing a drop of water on the leather and dabbing it up. If the leather did not darken where the water was applied you have finished leather. The finish on the leather is similar to the type of polyurethane coating you might have on your hardwood floors. The oils in these leather cleaners and conditioners will not penetrate the finish. There are some cleaners and conditioners specially made for finished leathers but a damp microfiber cloth works well too. Some of the water penetrates the finish to help moisturize the leather.

If I had been properly cleaning my leather this way I think a lot of the cracks and other damage might have been minimized.

I thought you can't have too many microfiber cloths since I never have a clean one when I needed one so I bought a 36 pack of these Eurow Microfiber Premium 16in x 16in 350 GSM Cleaning Towels. Now I have enough microfiber cloths to do a full load of laundry, I always have some clean ones when I need them. These are very good quality cloths.

Just dampen one, wring out as much water as you can and clean any dirt off the leather before attempting a repair. Be careful not to enlarge any tears.

Step 2: Trim Damaged Areas

The areas where your leather has ripped or torn may be frayed or otherwise protrude from the surface. Use a sharp pair of scissors to provide a clean edge for the repair. You can also use fine sandpaper (600 grit) to sand down any high spots.

Step 3: Insert Backing In Large Tears

The repair kits come with a backing fabric for large tears where the backing the leather sits on has also been damaged. The repair compound needs a solid surface so it doesn't just pour down the hole.

Cut the backing fabric a little larger than the repair area and insert it into the tear. This wasn't in the instructions but what I saw professionals do is apply some repair compound to the underside of the leather after the backing fabric was inserted to glue the backing fabric to the leather. 

Insert Backing Fabric In Leather Tear

I used the provided plastic tool (which looks like just plastic plant labels) to push the backing fabric in place. I also used it to scoop out some of the repair compound to slide underneath the leather to glue it to the leather. Let it sit a few hours to dry.

As you can see in the photo, not all the damage goes all the way through and you won't always need to use the backing fabric. The kit didn't come with a lot of backing fabric but it was more than I needed.

At this point professionals would apply pressure and heat to dry the compound faster, then use a cooling block to cool the area. For them, time is money. Since heat can damage the leather you can just let the glue dry on it's own. A little bit of weight will help provide good adhesion. Just make sure you don't wind up gluing the weight to the leather!

The armrest of my leather chair is soft, curved and pillowy, it was difficult for me to leave a weight on the surface to get as good a bond as I was hoping for.

Step 4: Apply Leather Repair Compound

You are going to need to repeat this step multiple times because as the repair compound dries, it shrinks. Your goal is to get the compound to fill in the tear up to the same level as the leather. It is best to use multiple thin layers of repair compound than it is to try and fill it all at once.

Start by pouring the repair compound over the tear.

Pouring leather repair compound on tear

Then spread it around and smooth it out with the provided plastic scraper. I got more of the compound on the leather than I wanted since I was trying to take a picture at the same time. Try to avoid this because as the glue dries it will leave a gummy film on the leather. Just like the school glue did when you poured it on your hand and peeled it off as a kid. I was able to remove it with my fingernails but it was time consuming.

Try to feather the edges of the compound.

Let the repair compound dry for a few hours and apply more compound in the same manner to fill in where the compound shrank or settled. Use a flashlight shining across the repair and your fingers to check that the repair is flush with the surrounding leather.  If you feel any high spots, lightly sand them down with the 600 grit sandpaper.

Before you let the final application of repair compound dry completely, see the next step on graining.

As you can see, I had a lot of repairs and ran out of compound before I got all the repairs smooth. If I were doing this again (and I might do this in the future) I would have bought individual components so I could buy as much repair compound as I needed and not have to pay extra for leather dyes I wouldn't need. I'm still glad I bought the kit because it gave me a chance to test everything out first.

Step 5: Graining The Repair

The glue dries smooth but your leather probably has a grain to it. To make the repair match the kit came with three grain texture sheets that are applied to the repair. What I've seen professionals do matches the grain of your leather better. They actually make a mold directly from your own leather and use that instead of textured paper.

I couldn't get a handle on how to texture the repair without gluing the grain paper to the repair. Others had similar problems. I wound up not texturing the repair at all but what I later discovered by testing on a scrap piece is that if you let the last coat of compound start to dry so that it skins over but is still flexible, then apply the grain sheet it and a weight it is less likely to stick.

Another reviewer mentioned they used the graining sheet after applying the leather dye. I tried that and while I did get some texture it didn't match the grain of the leather that well.

With some practice I think I could get a decent grain in the repair but the kit combined with the amount of repairs I needed to make didn't leave me much opportunity to experiment.

Step 6: Apply Sealer

The kit comes with a leather sealer in a small plastic bottle along with a small sponge applicator. The sealer also works as a primer that helps the leather dye adhere better to the repairs and sanded areas.

Pour a small amount of sealer onto the sponge then spread the sealer over the areas you are going to dye. I was planning on dying most of the armrest so I spread sealer everywhere. If you see any air bubbles in the sealer go over the area with a sponge to knock them down.

Let the sealer dry for a few hours and rinse out the sponge applicator because we're going to use it again.

Step 7: Mix The Leather Dye

This part can be tricky for some. To have the repair look right, you need to dye it to match the color of your leather. The kit comes with a number of different colors of leather dye which you mix together. The instructions came with some guidelines for getting the right color. In my case, I had an off-white leather armchair and they recommended mixing in some yellow and or brown into a white base.

There is a tool that I saw some professional restorers use. It is a color matching usb scanner that attaches to their laptop which will scan the leather and determine the best way to mix the dye. Leather Magic offers a service where they will custom match your leather dye if you provide them with a sample but I have not used their service.


I poured some white dye into a small disposable cup then used the provided dropper to add a little bit of yellow and brown and mixed it together. The dye will darken when it dries so I applied a little bit to the leather near the repair, used a hair dryer with no heat to dry the dye faster and made adjustments.

It took me four tries to get a good color match.

Step 8: Apply Leather Dye

With the right color mixed, I used the small brush that came with the kit to paint each repair. The areas that were repaired will need multiple coats so the first coast was just on the repairs. I used a hair dryer on the cold setting to speed up the drying for the next coat. I didn't want the dye I mixed to dry out which would cause me to have to worry about matching the color again.

Next I applied a second coat feathering out the repaired areas blending it out past the repair and using the hair dryer to just quickly dry it a bit. I then pressed the graining paper on it to give it some texture. It didn't match the leather but at least it wasn't completely smooth.

In addition to the rips and tears the leather armrest just generally had a lot of abrasions on it so I went ahead and applied dye to the entire armrest. While the kit seemed a bit stingy with repair compound, there was plenty of dye.

Step 9: Seal the Leather

The leather dye leaves a matte finish which doesn't match the finish on the rest of the leather. The sealer will provide some sheen so it matches the rest of the armchair. 

Once the dye had fully dried for a few hours I applied a couple of coats of the leather sealer, drying it with a cool hair dryer in between coats. Be careful of air bubbles when you apply the sealer.

Conclusion

The end result wasn't perfect but it's good enough where I no longer have to cover the damaged leather armrest and I don't need to replace my living room set right away.

Some of the larger rips are still evident if you look closely but if I had more leather repair compound and took more time to experiment and practice I know I could have done a better job. The materials and procedures used for the repair work but it does take some patience and skill. You may want to consider hiring a professional to do it if it's in a conspicuous location. 

The repair has been holding up for a few weeks without any signs of flaking, creasing or tearing. I cleaned the armrest using a damp microfiber cloth a few weeks later and saw no indication the dye or finish was coming off.

I used the LeatherNu Complete Leather Color Restoration & Repair Kit but the Leather Repair Kit by Leather Magic also looks good. You can buy individual components and get custom color matching directly from Leather Magic's website which is probably what I'll do in the future.

12 comments :

  1. Awesome. This is exactly what I was looking for! Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I wish I'd seen this page before prodded I out almost £400 for a less than perfect repair and finish with a poorly matched colour!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great help! Thank you for posting!:)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great article. Thanks for taking the time to share. You saved me a few hours.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have the Leathernu kit; it does not say to seal after repair-before dying.

    ReplyDelete
  6. how to remove compound for redo the job?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Tom - This is a great overview - thank you. It look's like it's been over a year and a half since you made the repairs. How are they holding up? Any sign of the tears splitting open over time?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Teri,

      Repairs are holding up just fine.

      Delete
  8. "A little bit of weight will help provide good adhesion. Just make sure you don't wind up gluing the weight to the leather!"


    Maybe it's sleep deprivation and I'm delirious, but I laughed lots over this.
    Thanks for such detailed set of tips!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great job writing this. I always wondered if it's over priced elmers glue sold as vinyl repair cement. Funny you wrote about how similar it is to elmers glue, Maybe i will test a sample repair using the cheap white glue then dye and test.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you so much! Your detail description and pictures were very helpful

    ReplyDelete
  11. I have a frayed portion on my leather couch. Will the repair kit work and how can I match it. Please help.

    ReplyDelete