Resurfacing a leather seat in your automobile with today’s leathers require a real technique and the right leather dye to achieve a professional job. There are 2 types of leather that I have seen and worked on in today’s leather car seats. You have Nubuck leather or as some call it the soft leather and you have the finished leather which is mostly what you see. The leather dyes you use are completely different too. Aniline dye is used with the soft stuff and a water borne urethane dye for the finished leathers, both mixed with premium tannery pigments. Resurfacing leather applies to the finished leather, when you dye suede the aniline dye is a penetrating dye, so here’s the right way to apply dyes to a finished leather seat.
The process of resurfacing leather takes certain steps to follow, which if not followed correctly, will cause the dye to lift and peel from the seat. As I have always stressed in all my articles is the prepping process. The only way to make a dye job on a leather seat look, feel, and last is to clean it thoroughly and prep the surface for maximum adhesion of the dye. Let the leather dye do what it is designed to do, don’t cover up dirt.
The way to to do this is to clean the leather seat with a scrub brush, a mild soap, and warm water to start. Scrub the seat from top to bottom, paying close attention to the creases and crevices in the seat, these are places for the dye to lift if dirt and goo is there. Wipe it down with a clean towel, again getting down in the creases.
Now the prepping process goes on. In a spray bottle mix in equal parts, water, rubbing alcohol, acetone, ammonia, and TSP substitute. Spray the seat in sections starting at the lean back, and scrub the leather with a scotch brite pad to scuff the leather just enough for the dye to adhere and to remove any more goo hiding out on the leather wiping clean as you go with your towel. This solution will also open the pours to leather and soften up the original dye for better adhesion promotion.
Once clean and scuffed apply a thin coat of grip base or sticky primer to the seat with a damp Bounty paper towel. Apply a thin coat to whole surface of the seat, basically where your going to dye is where the primer will go. Dry it with your hair dryer. This will give you a good sticky base for the dye to adhere to and make your job last.
Dyeing the leather seat takes finesse and good gun control, the dye needs to be applied in thin coats drying between coats or the dye will not adhere properly. One way you can tell if your applying the dye to thick is when you spray you water borne dye on the seat and it “fish eyes”. What this means is you will see little bubble like places in the dye when you spray it on. So thin coats and dry between each coat. Start your dyeing process on the lean back furthest from you and work your way towards you, down, and out. This helps to keep from dragging your hoses and cords over your freshly dyed seat.
Paint gun choice is up to you, but I will say a small detail gun is choice. I have tried the airbrush, I have tried the Prevals, and I’ve tried the siphon feed guns, and the best gun in my eyes for dyeing a leather seat is a gravity feed touch-up gun. They are small enough to maneuver around in the vehicle and hold just the right amount of dye to finish the job. I use the Sharpe 7040 HVLP a small very reliable gun, in fact I bought 2, one for back up. It sprays a small enough pattern to control, but not to small like an airbrush, and lays the leather dye nicely onto the seat. Paint gun choice to me is pretty crucial to making your job a success, so make the right choice when you pick your paint gun for maximum results.
Once the leather seat is dyed, top coat with your water borne clear. I always like to add a little slip additive to the top coat to give it a soft feel. Don’t forget to crosslink the topcoat, this will help to give you more chemical resistance. This process helps to seal the dye and give you a longer lasting leather resurfacing job.
After the topcoat is dry, apply your conditioner and stand back an drool over how nice that seat looks.
Now you have the confidence to stand back and know your dye will stay and your job was done right. I have been dyeing leather seats for a long time and I would love to hear your input on Leather Resurfacing. There are so many different things you will run into when dyeing a leather seat, so drop me a question or 2.