Why Does Leather Crack? (With Helpful Tips to Prevent Cracks)

While leather cracking is one of the biggest problems among leather users, it is however very easy to fix. First, before we get into how to fix cracked leather let’s take a second to understand the reasons why leather cracks in the first place. I did thorough research and I’m ready to share with you my findings.

So, why does leather crack? Leather cracks for several reasons and they include;

  1. When leather is Low-Quality
  2. When leather absorbs oils and dirt
  3. When leather Lacks Care and Maintenance
  4. When you Use Alcohol Dyes
  5. When Leather Items are Not well Ventilated

I will now delve into the details on the reasons why leather cracks. Let’s start with the quality of leather.

Details on the Reasons Why Leather Cracks

1. Low-Quality Leather

The quality of leather counts a lot in the leather cracking or not. There are different grades of leather namely the full-grain, top-grain, corrected grain, and bonded leather. Just imagine this four grade as layers with the first layer (the most durable) being the full-grain and the last being bonded leather (least durable).

Among the four grains, the full-grain and top-grain are of the best quality. They are both tough and have a lot of tensile strength. They primarily consist of tight collagen bundles and corium making it really tough and resistant to abrasion.

On the other hand, the corrected grain since its layers down and far from the toughest layer of the skin is not as durable. Usually, the corrected grain is buffed and finished with dyes and polishes that keep its fragile grain side protected. The key point with the corrected grain is that it is always with a solid protective layer.

The last and the least is bonded leather and this right here will offer you a luxurious feel of leather but only for a few weeks or months tops. Then the cracks, peels, wear, and tear begins. You will find that most leather cracks are usually made of low quality leather AKA bonded leather.

Bonded leather is made from the shavings and skivings after full-grain, top-grain and corrected grained leather is produced. The shavings that fall off are gathered and bonded together with an adhesive over a fabric. You will find that bonded leather contains only 10-20% real leather with the remainder being synthetic materials.

The key takeaway is that Bonded leather is the ideal culprit when it comes to cracks.

2. When leather Absorbs Oils and Dirt From its Surroundings

Leather is a very porous material and because of its porosity, it soaks up oils and dirt from our own body.

The problem starts with us as we transfer oils and dirt from our own hair, neck, legs, arms, hands onto the leather item.

The dirt and oils are absorbed into the top coating and weakening the fibers on leather. It eventually becomes abrasive as it breaks down causing the grain surface to crack.

3. When Leather is Not Regularly Maintained

Regular care and maintenance for leather is vital to the lifespan of leather. Leather occasionally needs to have tender loving care. This will get rid of the body oil and dirt that the leather absorbs into its porous fibers.

The best maintenance practice for leather is cleaning and conditioning. Cleaning and conditioning of leather is supposed to be done at least once or twice a year depending on how often the leather item is used.

Boots, shoes, wallets that see everyday use should be cleaned and conditioned about 2-3 times a year.

While not cleaning and conditioning is bad and may cause the leather to dry and crack, so is over cleaning the leather. Overcleaning and conditioning can also damage the grain surface of the leather.

You are to follow the strict instructions on the leather conditioner label you buy. In many cases, I have found that most conditioners also contain cleaning agents so make sure to check it so that you don’t double clean causing damage to your leather.

4. Using Alcohol Dyes

Dying is one of the basic decorative techniques in leatherwork. But the majority of dyes you’d find most people using are alcohol dyes. Alcohol dyes are very harsh on the leather. Alcohol dyes cause leather to dry out almost immediately after it is applied and make the leather very stiff.

You definitely do not want to get your leather to be stiff and dried out. It will crack with a slight bend, twist or stretch to it.

The dye you should use instead is oil dyes which is gentle on the fibers of leather.

5. When Leather is Not well-ventilated

Placing your leather items in an air-tight and not well-ventilated place can also cause the leather to grow mold and mildew. Mold, mildew, together with other bacteria and fungus can lead to the distraction of the grain side of the leather.

Leather always needs to be stored or kept in a cool dry place especially if not in use. This helps to regulate the natural oil content in the leather to keep it nice and fresh.

How to Maintain Leather to Prevent Cracking (Tips)

Here are a few tips that will help you maintain your leather.

1. Regular Cleaning and Conditioning

Regularly cleaning with saddle soap and a leather conditioner ensures the top of the leather stays clean and supple.

Light-colored our frequently used leather items may need deep cleaning before applying a leather conditioner. When cleaning leather items your best bet is to use mild saddle soaps or pure glycerin soap. The type of soap must not contain any harsh chemicals that will damage the leather.

My favorite leather soap is the Fiebing’s Saddle Soap and my favorite conditioner is the Leather Honey not only because they are cheap but it gets the job done perfectly. For more information on Fiebeing’s Saddle soap click here and here for leather honey conditioner on Amazon!

2. Prevent Cracks from Extending

Tack down any cracks or peels immediately with leather glue to prevent the crack from extending. If you’re interested, I will recommend this leather glue on Amazon. Do well to apply according to the instructions on the package.

3. Seek the Help of an Expert

A leather expert is also a sure way to go. Seek leather expert’s advice especially if you are unsure on how to repair a leather crack damage or if you need them to occasionally care and maintain your leather items for you. This might be a relatively expensive route but totally worth it if you do not have enough time to do it yourself.

4. Dampen Leather When you Stamp, Carve, or Tool Leather

For leatherworkers, when you need to make folds, bend lines, bend backs on leather during carving or stamping, you have to do it while the leather is wet with water. After doing what you need to do, make sure to air-dry your leather item.

Refusing to dampen the leather can cause the leather to crack because when leather is wet it becomes much easy to form, mold, and adaptable to any shape its put in.

5. Use Oil Based Dyes

If you are not going to be stamping or carving the leather but would like to dye, you can do so with a leather oil dye, not alcoholic dye.

For most individuals who aren’t leather workers but would want to change the color of a leather item, you can as well ensure using oil dyes.

I recommend this leather oil dye from Amazon specifically because it’s cheap and will not peel, crack or rub-off when fully dry while remaining flexible.

After using an oil dye, you would want to finish it off with a top-coat to further protect the layer of dye and grain leather.

There are two ways you could go from this point. You could go with a very thin film or layer of lacquer-based top-coat finish. The only problem with lacquer is that if the layer of coat is too heavy, it will cause the top-coat of the leather to split and eventually crack and peel off the top grain of the leather.

Watch a Video on How to Fix a Cracked Leather Item


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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