Subject: Care and Feeding of Leather and Vinyl
   by Larry Reynolds

   The care and feeding of the leather and the vinyl components of your
   automotive interior are two very different processes. If you are using
   one product on both, that is somewhat like using gasoline as a
   lubricant. It will work, but not for long. Here's some tips on the
   care and feeding of leather and vinyl.
   Leather having once been used to keep the insides of a cow from
   falling out was designed to pass moisture through tiny pores. These
   tiny pores absorb human perspiration and as the water evaporates,
   salts contained therein remain to absorb the essential oils in the
   leather. This accumulation of salts and other grunge should be cleaned
   from the leather about twice a year (more often if the seats get more
   than their fair share of your leftover sweat). The loss of oils within
   the leather is the first step to hardening, cracking and shrinkage.
   Leather dashes are very prone to hardening and shrinking. Your dash is
   subjected to the destructive UV rays and heat concentrated by the
   windshield. The leather (or vinyl) of your dash rests upon a metal
   backing that acts like a frying pan. This "frying" drives the
   essential oils from the leather causing premature shrinkage, cracking
   and hardening. Thus a dash should be treated more often than the seats
   or door panels.
  Leather Cleaning
   Cleaning leather may be accomplished by using a mild soap and water,
   or a specifically designed leather cleaner. Of all the products I have
   tried, I still like Lexol pH Cleaner. It is pH balanced, and gentle.
   All cleaners will rehydrate the leftover salts and grime and wash them
   from the leather fibers. Use only leather products on leather, do not
   use vinyl cleaners as these products tend to be much harsher and may
   not be that beneficial to the leather. Any cleaner should be rinsed
   thoroughly from the leather. I use a damp cloth and wipe down the
   leather repeatedly .
  Leather Conditioning
   Once the leather is clean, a conditioner should be used to restore
   lost oils and emollients. There are several conditioners on the
   market. Two of my favorites over the years are Lexol Conditioner and
   Tony Nancy Leather Conditioner. These two seem to be the most easily
   absorbed into the leather fibers and tend to leave a relatively less
   "greasy" finish than any of the other products I have tried. Another
   good product is Connoly Hide Food. This product is made from rendered
   animal parts and will turn rancid in about two years. This and the
   distinctive "cow" smell removes it from my top two list (I spent too
   much time milking the south end of a north pointing cow, so am not a
   fan of cow smells). Zymol makes a product called "Leather Treat." It
   does not, in my humble opinion, do any better job than the much less
   expensive Lexol or Tony Nancy products. Again, do not use a vinyl
   product as a conditioner on leather and above all try to avoid
   silicone based products. The silicone oil will dissolve out the
   leather's natural oils and tend make the leather sticky. Silicone has
   a very high electrostatic attraction, so will invite every dust
   particle within miles to set up camp in your interior. Apply the
   conditioner to a soft cloth and work into the leather, allow to be
   absorbed into the fibers and then buff off the excess. You may
   condition the leather as often as you wish. The leather will tell you
   if you apply too much or apply to often. The leather fibers will just
   not absorb the excess.
  Leather Softners
   If your leather has hardened or needs some intensive softening, there
   is a really nifty product called "Surflex Leather Soffener." This
   product is made from natural and synthetic oils that restore the
   natural softness to neglected leather. Clean the leather and then
   apply a liberal coat of Soffener. Allow to penetrate the leather for
   about 24 hours. Wipe off the excess. If it needs an additional
   application, repeat the above. For really bad areas, cover with
   plastic and allow to sit for a few days. Once the leather is
   sufficiently softened, allow to "cure" for another 24 hours and buff
   off any excess. You are done. I jokingly say this product will turn a
   dog's rawhide chew into a kid glove. I have had some luck with leather
   dashes with this method. Once the leather has softened, I have been
   able to gently tuck it back under the edges of the trim and windshield
   clips. This is a lot cheaper than a new dash and may be worth a try
   before spending a ton of money.
  Leather & Vinyl Scuff Marks, Scratches
   If your leather or vinyl has scuff marks, scratches or areas on which
   the surface color had been removed, you may refinish it yourself The
   key is another Suflex product. The Suflex Colorant & Finish for
   Flexible Surfaces may be matched to the exact color required. Any
   interior leather or vinyl surface may be refinished. It is not
   recommended to spot finish any area. If your seat bolsters have belt
   loop scuff marks, you should refinish the entire front of the seat. I
   usually do from welting to welting. This provides a visual break that
   does not make the non refinished areas appear quite as shabby. But
   then why not do the whole seat, dash, or door panel? Start by cleaning
   the area(s) to be refinished with a suitable organic solvent. I prefer
   Wurth Citrus Degreaser or P21S Total Auto Wash. Prior to usage, test
   all solvents on an area that does not show. I use the excess on the
   underside of the seat to test color-fastness of the finish. Spray the
   solvent on a soft lint free cloth, and then wipe down the surface(s).
   Repeat after a few minutes. Rinse with a damp cloth and allow to dry
   thoroughly (at least 24 hours).
  Old Finish Stripping!
   The manufacturer of Surflex says to strip the old finish off using
   lacquer thinner, commercial paint remover or C-P Stripper. I don't,
   because most interiors are not in that bad a shape and I have never
   found it necessary. They also recommend lightly sanding the area prior
   to usage. I don't do that either -- no guts. Mix the Surflex
   completely and use it like a wood stain. I use a small piece of lint
   free cloth and work the Surflex into the leather or vinyl just as if I
   were staining wood. Once the desired color of finish is achieved,
   allow to dry undisturbed for at least 24 hours. I allow the surface to
   "harden off" for about 2 weeks before applying any conditioners to
   leather or vinyl protectants to vinyl parts. I haven't had a lot of
   luck refinishing a dark leather or vinyl a lighter color. The old
   color tends to show through in small "cracks" and the whole panel
   seems to be "muddy." Maybe if you strip off all the old finish, it
   would look better. Someday, I will get an old seat and give it a try.
  Leather & Vinyl Colorant
   The Surflex Black Colorant works great on black bumpers, black
   spoilers or black rubber/vinyl trim that has been scratched or
   scuffed. Clean the entire part thoroughly with Wurth Citrus Degreaser,
   rinse and dry thoroughly. Stain the area with the Colorant and allow
   to dry. It will look like new. After about 3 weeks hardening off, coat
   with a protective coating of Mequiar #42 Rubber Treatment or Black
  Repair of Cuts, Crack or Holes
   Small cuts, cracks or holes in leather may be partially repaired using
   another Surflex product called Flex-Fill. This is a semi-flexible
   cosmetic filling material. You use it like a spackle compound. It will
   take the Surflex colorant similar to leather or vinyl. I have been
   able to repair several damaged areas and hide them so they are not
   visible to the casual observer. Will it make a three inch crack in
   your dash look like new? No, but it may help hide it so that it isn't
   quite so obvious. I have found that forcing Flex-Fill under the
   repaired area and forming an inverted T patch works best. Once the
   patch is dry, sand lightly to blend in with the leather or vinyl.
   Clean the area thoroughly and refinish with the Surflex Colorant. This
   is a learned skill, so you should practice on a test piece of leather
   or vinyl. Perfect your techniques before you tackle your expensive
   Vinyl is the carefully prepared hides of virgin pampered Arctic
   Naugas. Many Naugas must die to furnish enough material for just one
   interior panel.
  No Silicones
   The dash, door panels, seat backs, and numerous other
   interior/exterior trim pieces are usually vinyl. Vinyl may be viewed
   as raw semi-liquid vinyls that are held in place by a solid vinyl
   "skin" (this description is for illustration only and not a PhD
   chemical dissertation ). The dash and other vinyl parts of your car
   are constantly bombarded by ultraviolet rays (UV) that breaks down the
   molecules of the skin, allowing the raw vinyls to escape
   (off-gassing). These free vinyls then may deposit themselves on the
   glass, forming a haze that is difficult to remove. If you have such a
   haze, it is probably your dash that has decided to pick up stakes and
   migrate. Silicone based vinyl dressing products do not usually contain
   UV protectants, and the silicone may act as a magnifying glass,
   intensifying the UV degradation. Silicone oil may also dissolve the
   essential oils in the vinyl skin, hastening the premature formation of
   cracks in the vinyl skin. A quality vinyl protectant will contain a UV
   protectant and essential oils to replace lost oils from the vinyl.
   These protectants are expensive, so the K-Mart specials may do more
   harm than good. Silicone also has very strong electrostatic attraction
   which may be considered beneficial in that it will tend to stay where
   it is placed, but will also attract every dust particle in the
   surrounding three counties.
  Vinyl Protectant Application
   Any vinyl protectant should be applied to a soft cloth and worked into
   the surface. After a few moments of allowing it to work into the
   surface, buff off the excess. The dash should be treated more often
   than any other area, as it is subject to the most severe attack by UV
   and heat. Here are some vinyl products. None contain silicone.
     * Lexol Vinyex Spray -- this is my personal favorite vinyl
       protectant and, in my humble opinion, it has it all. A very strong
       UV protectant, essential oils, anti-static (helps keep dust off)
       and a soft patina finish.
     * Harly Polyguard -- this used to be my favorite, till I lost my
       heart to Vinylex. Leaves a touch more shine to the finish than
       Vinylex. Something else -- this is the sister to Black Again. Has
       all the right ingredients and people who love it are
       died-in-the-wool. I prefer the Vinylex, but that only a subjective
       opinion. It leaves a "new car" smell. I think that is why it is
       not my favorite. I am not a fan of artificial smells.
     * Harly Interior Magic -- an old standby that leaves a lemon scent.
       Some people love it. I don't think a car should smell like lemons,
       but that's my opinion and I could be wrong.
     * Zymol Vinyl -- another tropical oil product. Leaves a pina colada
       smell. Diehards will defend this product to the death. I just
       think it is too expensive.
     * Meguiar #40 -- a great product that cleans and protects. Does not
       leave a slippery finish.
     * Meguiar #39 -- a very strong cleaner. This should be used
       carefully and very infrequently. It will clean just about anything
       out of vinyl. Must be followed by #40 or other vinyl protectant. A
       great cleaner for plastic Targa tops.
     * Tony Nancy Rubber/Vinyl Cleaner-- I don't recommend use on the
       inside. The smell is a bit much for me (reminds me of dead rats).
       Some people do and swear by it.
     * Sonax Cockpit Spray -- this is a German product that is designed
       for German vinyl. Does a great job, but leaves a little more shine
       to the surface than I care for. There are a gaggle of users who
       love it.
     * Wurth Cockpit Spray -- ditto above. Wurth people don't like Sonax
       and vice versa.
     * Formula 303 - this leaves an Armour All type of high gloss shine
       to the vinyl. I personally don't like this type of finish. Some
       people do, so feel comfortable using it.

       I hope this has shed some light on the subject leather and vinyl
       care. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call or
       write. If you can't find the products locally, I stock all of them
       except the Formula 303 and would be glad to send a product
       description/price package by mail.
       For any additional information or help please contact me
       Larry Reynolds also operates Car Care Specialties Inc.,
       Distributors of Quality Porsche Care Products,
       Post Office Box 535,
       Saddle Brook, NJ 07663-0535.
       Phone 201-796-8300, Fax 201-791-9743,