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September 06, 2021 6 min read
Leather is one of the more supple and absorbent materials that are mass-produced. This works to its benefit as it can easily bend, fold, and adapt to any situation you put it in. This is especially true of full-grain leather. Its luxurious yet durable constitution is what makes it versatile and long-lasting.
However, it can also sometimes be leather’s downfall if you are not careful. Because it is absorbent, it can take in a good amount of unfortunate or damaging liquid that will stain it. One of the most common enemies of leather is ink.
We have all had a pen explode inside our backpack early in our middle school years and have our notebooks, textbooks, notes to our crush (unrequited, of course), and the backpack itself sometimes ruined by this useful but annoying liquid. It is great when it marks what we want it to mark, but when it goes rogue, we have issues.
Of course, we are past middle school and have a more elevated taste in bags (unless you were a super, super cool kid). However, the exploding pen still can rear its ugly and vicious head. Not only bags but wallets, belts, furniture, and a myriad of other items can be affected.
Luckily, we at Andar want to provide a few tips and tricks for removing or reducing the look of stained leather. We deal with the substance day in and day out, so we know it. No one is immune to an unlucky spill, so we come prepared.
If you notice the ink spill on the leather immediately, get to cleaning. Dab up the excess with a cotton swab or ball, then try straight water to remove the majority of the ink. This will save you time and a headache.
This is actually the most effective way to go about keeping your leather from being stained in the first place. The quicker you react to a potential stain, the less will be absorbed into the leather, so hop to it!
If you do not have the time to react, or if you do react, but it is a bit late, it is time to break out the big guns. The first thing that you have to do, no matter what cleaning solution you use from below, is to identify your type of leather.
We have a few leather guides that can help you potentially understand parts of the difference to make your decision easier, but in general, there are a few guidelines that are dependent upon what type of leather you have on your hands.
These rules are not hard and fast, and for some faux leather, it really does not matter, but for quality leather, the materials you use to clean the ink could end up irreparably damaging your leather, so be careful with the chemicals.
In general, faux leathers (PU, bonded, etc.) are the most durable when it comes to cleaning supplies. They also are the least supple, so their ability to be permanently stained is much lower than real leathers. If they do become stained, almost any supply listed below is going to be eligible for cleaning.
Corium leathers (suede, split, bonded) are a bit more supple. They have been listed in parenthesis from most to least supple, so react to the ink accordingly. We would suggest staying away from chemicals that might dry out the leather.
Most of the chemicals listed below are totally eligible for use, especially with genuine leathers. Suede can be treated similarly to grain leathers because of its extremely supple makeup.
Grain leathers are the most supple and absorbent of all the leathers, so they will most easily be stained. It is important to note that a well-conditioned leather will actually more easily repel ink than a piece of dried-out leather. So, the best practice is to keep the leather conditioned well.
In the event that it does get stained, it is much harder to get it out without damaging the leather. Consider slowly working the ink into the patina of the leather as cleaning and conditioning the leather many times over will make the ink work its way into the overall look of the leather more, and it can potentially add character.
There is really only one other option with full-grain or top-grain leather, and that is using a very diluted version of the first chemical we will talk about below.
The list of suggested chemicals will go from most gentle to most harsh, so in general, you should go from top to bottom when trying to get the spot out. This will make sure you do not damage your leather while cleaning it.
If one seems to be working, consider several rounds of it to ensure you do not over-treat the area. In addition, a diluted version of all of these in conjunction with a lint-free microfiber rag is highly recommended.
This is the most gentle cleaning chemical on the list but will more often than not do the job. For grain leathers, this is the only one we would recommend using as it will not fully strip the treatments of the tanning process nor dry out the leather beyond repair.
A small dab will do fine, and be sure to not press too hard and scrub as this will actually force the ink into the pores more.
Instead, light, circular motions and small amounts of the solution will work best. It may take some time and energy, but this will protect the beautiful patina and lush pores that make leather products so appealing.
These chemicals are not recommended for use on grain leathers or suede, but in faux leathers and genuine leathers, they can be used well to get out really dried stains. Once again, a little goes a long way when cleaning leathers.
With this chemical, it is recommended to only dab it on with a cotton swab and let it rest for a bit. The alcohol will suck the inks out along with any other dirt and grime. Rubbing this in will definitely damage your leather and cause it to crack since the alcohol is a drying substance.
Try to only use this on faux leathers, as any real leather will not react well at all. Try to keep it a small amount because it is so potent.
This agent may seem out of the left field, and in a lot of ways, it is. But, hair spray is an old household trick to getting it out.
Treat it similarly to rubbing alcohol: use it only on faux leather, and let it sit for a bit to draw out the ink. It does not work on all types of leathers, and even the leather’s pigment can impact how well it works, so use it as a last-ditch solution to your ink problems. Only use organic hairspray to lower the amount of chemical exposure.
In general, it is important to make sure you do not over-saturate your leather with chemicals and moisture, no matter what type of leather or faux leather they are. While it is most important with high-grade leather, it still is a rule of thumb for PU leather and bonded leather. The fibers that leather is made from do not like too much moisture.
Another tip is to make sure your leather piece fully dries after cleaning before you use it. This goes for all leather and especially highly-used leather such as a belt or wallet. Not doing so will result in odd warpings and long-term damage to the piece. Let it dry in a cool, dry area out of sunlight for the best effect.
While ink definitely can damage leather, it does not have to be the end of your relationship with your piece of leather. Remember that taking care of your leather is the best line of defense when it comes to stains.
With a bit of knowledge about your piece of leather and what cleaners you have at your disposal, you can lift that ink from your bag, wallet, belt, couch, or whatever it seems to have gotten itself into.
How to Remove Ink from a Leather Couch | How Stuff Works
How to Care for Leather | The Art of Manliness
What House Products Can Be Used to Clean Leather Furniture? | SF Gate