The difference between leather and vinyl repair materials

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The difference between leather and vinyl repair materials

Postby jmurray2112 » Mon Aug 20, 2018 7:17 pm

I did some internet searching for the first time in while to see what was currently available to the consumer as far as DIY leather repair and restoration materials are concerned. We obviously have our own version of a DIY solution, based on our service business model. I was reminded within just a few different search string iterations that the bulk of the “solutions” offered by other providers out there are rooted in a complete contradiction.
Almost all of the materials offered by the top-ranking providers advertise that they are “for leather and vinyl”. This drives me nuts. Leather and vinyl are inherently different materials. Leather is an organically grown material. It is the skin of an animal, whether it is cow-hide, or some other animal. I have worked on bison, calf, lamb, snake, gator, horse, monitor lizard, tapir, sting-ray, and a multitude of other types of leather. These are all without exception water-based life forms, and their skins reflect that. When tanned, they all have similar characteristics. They all have some level of absorbency.
Vinyl is PVC plastic that has been impregnated with oil to make it flexible. If you remove the oil from vinyl, it will revert to the rigid plastic form that it was before the introduction of oil to change its original state. One other point. Oil does not stay put if put in contact with an absorbent material. It begins to migrate as soon as it is in contact with a material that is absorbent. That’s why we use paper towels to wipe up oil spills. Google “leather vinyl combination problems” and you will get any number of articles confirming what I’m talking about.
Say you had a gouge to a leather surface that you needed to fill prior to applying color to it for a repair. If you use a filler that is compatible with vinyl, then you are using a filler that is based on the PVC/oil chemistry. Once cured, the filler will lose the oil over time to the absorbent leather surrounding the repair, because leather is an absorbent material. Once the oil wicks away (is leeched out of the repair filler by the absorbent material surrounding it) to a sufficient level, then the filler reverts to its original rigid state. It stiffens, and eventually cracks when forced to flex. This is why systems that claim that they are good for “leather and vinyl” are so, so not.
There’s an inverse rule here. If you are using a water-based filler on vinyl, you will have to wait for a long, long time for the filler to cure, simply because the surrounding material is based on an oil chemistry, and oil and water do not mix. Therefore, the water that would have been absorbed had the surrounding material been leather will have to make its slow way out of the fill material itself by oxidation alone, with no help from absorption.
I know that a lot of the techs that I interact with get products from multiple suppliers. I’m totally cool with that. Use what works. But, educate yourself. Know why it works. It’s chemistry, but you don’t have to become a chemist to understand it. Also, if you are a consumer looking for a one size fits all remedy for your restoration project, I urge you to ask questions of those solution providers that you are considering to help you. Education is everything in this, like everything else.

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