Leather is a versatile material used for a whole lots of things. It’s certainly one of the most popular and most durable materials used in making furniture, clothes, bags, shoes, and car upholstery. But one of the most common things you will often see that tend to distort leathers luxurious looks is the appearance of air pockets known as leather bubbles.
So for this article, I did some research and I’m going to explain why this happens and show you 7 simple ways to safely remove those ugly leather bubbles.
So why does leather bubble? The reasons why leather forms bubbles is because:
- The Leather Used is Cheap
- From Pressure Marks
- Excessively Cleaning Leather Items
- Using Harsh Cleaners
- Failing Adhesives
- Moisture and Salts
- Too Much Sun
Keep reading this article to find out the details on why leather bubbles. But first, what’s a Leather Bubble?
What is Leather Bubble?
Leather bubble is when the top finished surface of leather items such as leather car seats, furniture, foot and armrests, dashboards, etc separates and lifts off from the leather itself. It’s very common around areas of the leather item that generally sees a lot of wear from sitting, arms, elbow rests.
This resulting effect is very common with bicast leathers because bicast leathers have a polyurethane top surface that tends to bubble up indicating the top surface has separated from the underside of the leather. You will also see this leather deformity on leather items made using softer leathers.
Why Does Leather Bubble? — Details
Now that we have a fair idea of what a leather bubble is, let’s head over to the details on the main question of the day!
This is without a doubt one of the major factors that causes leather items to bubble. Simply put, cheap synthetic leather like bonded leather tends to develop bubbles a few months down the line even without any external causative factors.
Within a couple of years if not months, the surface of the leather items begins to delaminate from its base causing it to rise. This will often have nothing to do with how the leather is kept, It’s going to happen and it’s absolutely inevitable. Not your fault at all!
Pressure marks on leather usually occurs around the sitting area of leather furniture, car seats, or arm and foot rests. We often put a lot of pressure on these types of goods and the pressure causes the leather to stretch out, eventually gets filled up with air, and lifts up looking like a bubble.
Generally, this particular type of effect will be a lot more serious and obvious if the item putting pressure on the leather is somewhat sharp or small like a really bulky wallet or keys in pockets, or constantly placing your elbows on the same spot. Also, leather seats that aren’t wrapped around its frame sufficiently can easily give in to leather bubbles.
Leather items that has accumulated a lot of dirt and grime over an extended period of time can cause the leather to dry out and bubble up. You will often see this on secondhand leather goods or leather items that has be abandoned or poorly stored for quite sometime.
Excessively Cleaned Leather Items
Excessively cleaning your leather car seats, dashboards, sofas, phones cases can also result in the leather developing ugly leather bubbles.
I know all you’re trying to do is to care for your leather item and give it the TLC it deserves but cleaning your leather items 3 times a week is a bit obsessive I will say. Cleaning your leather items with leather wipes can be limited to at least once or twice a week while deep leather cleaning should be limited to twice or three times a year.
Using Harsh Cleaners
There are different kinds of leather cleaners out there and while some may be appropriately pH balanced, others will have cleaning ingredients that’s going to be an absolute overkill. It’s important to look for leather cleaners that will not harm the top layer of the your leather items and cause it to weaken.
The leather bubbles you’re experiencing with your leather items can also be attributed to the adhesives used for the item is starting to give up.
This is caused by the frequent leather material expansion and contraction that eventually breaks down the adhesives used to hold the leather item together. This tends to be a lot worse with synthetic leather.
While it’s something that can happen with adhesives, leather bubbles’ common occurrence can be particularly attributed to a lot of leather goods manufactures resorting to cheap glue supplies to cut down the cost of production.
Finally, extreme low temperatures can also cause leather materials to shrink and generate tensions that some adhesives cannot hold.
Moisture and Salts
Another culprit for leather developing bubbles is the leather constantly getting wet or getting exposed to salts from sweat. This will allow moisture and salt contents to enter the leather through the seams and tiny pores.
You will see this with leather items that gets touched or held often causing the leather to start peeling and the first stage before the leather peels is the appearance of bubbles. A great example of such leather items is a leather phone case.
The sun and leather are no friends! This is why there are so many leather UV-Rays protectants out there. When leather items are left on the sun or used on the sun for too long it can really hurt the leather and can cause the leather to dry up. From this point any kind of damage is possible since the leather would have already lost it’s essential oils.
Remedies For Leather Bubbles
There are 2 general approaches to fixing this problem — the hands-on DIY approach and the hands-off approach. Let’s start with the hand-off approach!
The Hands-Off Cash-On Approach
This is obviously not a DIY alternative to solving this problem. This is somewhat a fairly safe and easy approach to the problem. I would consider this alternative if the leather bubbles are severe, so many, and tiny.
So for this hands-off approach, you solve your leather bubbles problem by simply handing over the item or your car keys to an upholsterer, saddler, or any other leather repair professional for fixing. Here are couple of things you can expect.
In many cases, getting your leather item resurfaced by professionals such as saddlers, or leather upholsterers will be a cheaper option in terms of time, effort, and possibly money. The resurface remedy will involve stripping away the top surface of the leather material and then applying a pigment coat that matches the existing surrounding leather.
Another professional fix for leather bubbles is to have the affected leather surface replaced with brand new or aged leather matches. A rewrap will be the best professional solution to leather bubbles and wouldn’t necessarily be the most expensive alternative.
Always ask your leather upholsterers what s/he is actually going to do to fix the problem especially when it comes to cars. You would want a less invasive approach rather than they taking apart your dashboard and messing up your steering wheel and electronics!
The DIY Hands-On Approach
These methods will equip you with great simple hacks for solving leather bubble problems. You will be able to solve this problem by simply using some household items. Let’s jump right in!
1. The Pressure Method
This is probably the most easiest but effective way of dealing with bubbled leather. This particularly may not work for synthetic leathers but will definitely work for natural leather items with flat surfaces. This is because natural leather can be easily formed.
Here’s What You Need:
- Any flat heavy item like a book with waterproof cover, marble slab, or a granite stone, etc.
- Soft clean cloth
- leather wipes
Step 1: Clean out the bulging areas with leather wipes to ensure there are no salts or dirt. Plus this will also dampen the leather slightly.
Step 2: Dry off the cleaned surface with a soft dry cloth.
Step 3: Gently place the heavy flat item of your choice on the leather bubble. Be as gentle as possible when laying the weight on the leather bubble! You wouldn’t want to smack the leather bubble(s) or try to exert pressure with your hands. This is to prevent the bubble from expanding suddenly or shifting.
Step 4: Leave the weights on the leather for 3-4 hours and see how the leather improves.
While there can be complete and drastic improvements within the said 3-4 hours, it’s also important to add that the material either natural or synthetic leather and how thick, heavy or soft the leather is will definitely impact the recovery process.
Generally, soft natural leathers will be restored a lot better than synthetic leathers and leather that’s quite thick, will required you to keep the weights on for a longer time.
2. Heat & Cold Pressure Method
This method as the name implies involves applying heat and pressure to restore the leather back to normal.
Here’s What You Need:
- Heat Gun or Hair DryerCold Iron, Cooling Element, or anything that’s firm, smooth, or flat that can get cold.
Step 1: Use a heat gun or a hairdryer to heat up the surface of leather that has the leather bubbles. Don’t hold the gun or dryer too close to the leather surface!
Step 2: With the leather still heated, push down, roll with a roller, or massage the bulge to remove the pressure marks.
Step 3: After the leather bubble(s) have been nicely flattened, cool down the leather surface quickly with a cold iron, or a cooling element.
The heat and cold pressure method is particularly easier and more effective when the back of the item has no backing.
Also if the thing that caused the pressure mark stayed on the leather item for long, then the fibers of the leather would have been already deformed , hence the harder it’s going to be so you would want to lower your expectations and expect improvements, but not a complete disappearance.
3. Steam Treatment Method
The Steam treatment method is the most common method for remedying leather bubbles on natural leather goods.
Here’s What You Need:
Step 1: Dampen the parts of the leather with the bubbly bulges with your wet sponge. Make sure to apply the wet sponge gently to avoid scratching up or tearing up the leather.
Step 2: Use the soft rag to remove any excess water from the leather surface.
Step 3: Now use your hairdryer to dry up the affected area thoroughly. The drying process will shrink the leather back to its original shape. It’s important to add that the heat you apply should be gradual and very steady as leather can be very sensitive to too much heat.
4. Adhesive In Syringe Method
As funny as this may sound, this method is not a session in the ER! 😀 This method is great for leather bubbles that occurs as a result of adhesive failure. What you will be doing in this method is essentially filling up the leather bubble with adhesives and gluing the raised bubble back down.
Here’s What You Need:
Step 1: Load up the syringe with glue. Put in just about enough based on the number of bubbles you have going on.
Step 2: Poke and inject a small amount of glue into the spot where there’s the bubble. Use your discretion in terms of the quantity of glue per each bubble. Don’t fill up the leather bubble with the glue, only put very small spreadable amount.
Step 3: Use a roller to smooth it out. Do this a couple of times with the aim of keeping the two pieces together till it’s dry. A 23g needle (0.6mm x 25mm) will work best because it’s thin enough to get the glue in and won’t leave any needle marking.
The key to this method is finding needle that’s thin enough so it doesn’t leave any ugly needle holes. You can make do with a slightly bigger size needle if that’s all you can find. Also, it won’t be a good idea to apply this technique on leather bubbles that are really small.
5. Deflation Method
The deflation method is pretty simple and it’s particularly great for fixing bubbles on vinyl leather (synthetic leather).
Here’s What You Need:
- Needle (saddlers needle)
Step 1: If you have ever seen an acupuncture treatment, stick your needle into the leather bubble.
Step 2: Use the hairdryer to warm the entire surface of the leather with the bubble and begin to push and massage the leather surface towards the point where you stuck the needle — releasing the trapped air pockets.
This is going to warm up the adhesives that’s giving up causing the leather to bulk up into bubble and allow you to rebind it back to position. You can poke multiple bubbles and repeat the process.
This method will work on all types of leather, especially vinyl because of how easy it is to puncture through. Real leather on the other hand, is puncture resistant and will take a bit of effort and can be a pain to do multiple punches on there.
Tips On How To Prevent Leather Bubbles
- Seat areas of cars and furniture are the most affected and can get deformed and creased easily. While this is somewhat inevitable, you would want to minimize this by not putting sharp items in your pockets when you sit. This can dent the leather surface.
- While on the subject, it’s also important not to allow direct sunlight on the leather surface. What you can do with most furniture is to watch the positioning, but for car seats, dashboards, and other general leather car accessories, it’s important to have sun shades up.
- Also wrongly storing leather items can make it wrinkled resulting in those tiny leather bubbles that’s hard to deal with.
- Usually during extremely cold conditions, some leather covers on furniture and car interiors may develop minor bubbles. But with this kind of situation, it’s best to wait it out as they tend to go away completely when things warm up.
- Sometimes a bubble may be caused by a lack of glue in a particular area of the leather item probably missed out by the manufacturer. In this case, it’s prudent you give your supplier a call and in many instances it will be fixed on warranty terms.