Love your leather

| Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, 8:50 p.m.

Leather cleaners know what you did last winter.

As the fall chill descends on the Pittsburgh area, many people are reaching into their closets for heavier clothing, only to find there's grime and smudges on them from last winter.

Even their leather sofas and lounge chairs can use a touch-up.

“The wear and tear they put on their piece last winter is just becoming visible,” says Jeff Schwegmann, executive director of the nonprofit Professional Leather Cleaners Association. “You don't see it (getting stained) as it happens. You're going to see it more later.”

Just as dermatologists warn about the risks of the sun's damaging rays in summer, leather professionals are trying to remind those who wear or lounge on cowhide that it's not too early to clean up their acts.

Phones at Roberta Weissburg's leather store in Shadyside have been ringing constantly since daytime temperatures began dipping. While spot-cleaning can sometimes work in a pinch, you should leave the big jobs on suedes and more-delicate lambskins to the professionals, she says.

And don't make the mistake of storing your leather coat in plastic. It needs room to breathe.

“We recommend leather jackets be cleaned, typically, every year, though so some can go a few years,” she says. “It all depends on how you treat it.”

Furniture leather cleaning can be much easier, but you have to use the right materials. Otherwise, you can permanently damage a piece, costing you dearly to fix or replace.

Most furniture leather is made from cow or lamb. Some also are treated with a synthetic coating, which protects the skin a little more.

Some leathers can be cleaned by hand with water, a soft cotton towel and a mild soap. Saddle soap generally works best.

But be careful when you hand clean; you can break down the color of some leathers, especially suede.

Harsher cleaners like Pledge and 409 can seal the pores on leather, making your piece prone to cracking and fraying.

David Nock got into furniture upholstery work nearly 40 years ago after college, and says he has seen changes in the industry.

“There weren't many teaching jobs out there when I finished college,” says Nock, who runs Nock on Wood Upholstery in Etna. “I loved working with my hands, so why not?”

Paying attention to your furniture extends its life, saves money, and prevents pieces from ending up in landfills.

Upholstering a damaged leather chair or sofa isn't like stitching a pair of pants or re-hemming a suit that just doesn't fit right. Most times, whole sections of the piece have to be replaced so the colors and textures match.

Nock says there used to be a time when calls for repairs for leather sofas, chairs and other furniture generally came in early November, before the holiday season kicks into high gear.

Not as much now.

The tighter economy has forced some consumers to scale back on cleaning costs, sometimes replacing certain pieces with less-expensive vinyl.

Customers should look at purchasing leather furniture as a long-term investment, Nock says.

“Leather is so popular because of its durability,” he says. “If you take care of it, it should last longer than most things in your house.”

Chris Ramirez is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-380-5682.

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