Interior and Leather

Which Parts Are Leather, Which Are Vinyl?

See the FAQ section Leather or Vinyl

 How Should I Clean The Interior?

[GM] Clean with a barely damp cloth. Lexol leather cleaner on tough dirt.

[NM] For Leather, Paint, or Vinyl Care tips and products, go with a professional (with a good sense of humor too).

Those of you who saw at NSXpo washing my car 3 times in one day (between rain storms – I finally gave up) voted me the "most anal" of the clean car people. My secret? I grew up in an Italian household and I found out about a guy named Larry Reynolds who taught me everything I needed to know about which products really work (for the money) and how to properly apply them.

The following information is on my Racer NSX site and was written by Larry Reynolds of Car Care Specialties. Larry has been active in the auto detail and products areas for many years, and offers his personal knowledge of many products and care techniques in a free packet when you order. He considers the NSXCA a marquee club and has arranged for us a 10% discount off his already competitive prices (+ s/h are free for orders over $50). I found out about Larry from the BMW club / lists and you can ask your BMW friends yourself about his knowledge, experience, and techniques. I e-mailed him for his knowledge guide / catalog and now just e-mail my orders in (very convenient). He also welcomes and answers questions. Here are his details:


Full Name: Larry Reynolds

   Company: Car Care Specialties
   Bus: (201) 796-8300
   Bus Fax: (201) 791-9743

Larry Reynold’s notes on leather and vinyl care:

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 have tried spraying off with a hose, but that just seemed to fill the car with soapy water (a hole drilled in the floor was needed to drain it out – just kidding). I went back to using a damp cloth and repeatedly wiping down the leather.

[LL] I have to chime in. Whats the definition of "mild soap"? It’s real hard totell the harshness of products. IMO *never* use generic "soap" anything on leather, you want to keep the natural oils in as long as possible, soap will strip them right now. Saddle soap has thick conditioners in it, so it’s no good if you plan on following with a proper conditioner like Lexol or Zymol, you don’t want to mix conditioners.

I use Lexol cleaner once a year, I can’t speak of Zymols.

BTW don’t ever put Zymol treat on top of another product, I saw it make a very bad mess on anothers NSX. If he would have used something like Lexol cleaner first, he propably would have been just fine though. Treat does seem to be a good product. I’ve had such good luck with Lexol though, I’m sticking with it.

[HH] Having tried just about every leather cleaner/treatment on the market and spend hundreds of dollars for all kinds of high-tech stuff, I’ve returned to good ol’ leather grease. It’s available at shops that sell boots for $4-5 a 10oz can, it’s by far the best leather cleaner you can imagine and it makes the leather resistant to water and stains. The results are unbelievable – you get out the dirt and stains you never knew were there.

I ‘ve used it on my leather shoes, clothes, furniture and car upholstery for five years now and I’m very satisfied. The only drawback is that after rubbing it in, you have to let it absorb for ~10 hours and make sure that you’re not wearing a suit when you sit on the seat the first time after that. I’ve rubbed the seats with a towel the next morning to be sure that my clothes won’t get stained.

A small price to pay for having the interior stay in excellent condition for years 🙂

 What Should I Use To Protect And Treat Leather?

[GM] Zymol Vinyl and Treat for protecting vinyl and leather. I don’t like Connolly Hide Food. The list has debated the urethane coating on the leather seats but I’ve used Zymol Treat for leather on mine for 7 years and they still look very  fresh. Leather is supple too. Use Zymol Vinyl on the vinyl dash and door  panels for a semi-gloss finish. These products are much better than others I’ve tried.

[NM] Larry Reynold’s notes on leather and vinyl care:

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.

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.

[KJ] I put a thin clear protective film over parts of the seats to protect that portion from being excessively rubbed and worn out (from getting in and out of the car.)   It’s some clear vinyl film I bought at Tap Plastics. It’s sold  by the foot from a roll that’s 3 feet wide, I think. I removed the  seat bottom cushion and back cushion and wrapped the clear vinyl over  the back of the seat and bolsters and underneath the cushions, using  the pins that hold the seat back cushion to hold the vinyl in place. Harry says it now looks like his grandmother’s couch :-), but I think it’s pretty unobtrusive, at least when viewed from outside the  car. The real question is whether the leather will be hurt from the  lack of regular moisturizing (Lexol), since I can’t easily get under  the covering.

[MBA – 2000/5/5] I have used Connelly’s Hide Food for 15 years or better in all my (leather) cars and I think its fabulous. I do my cars twice a year with it. Its a bit pricey, but you know the old adage, you get what you pay for.

[KHR – 2000/5/5] Yes, I can vouch for Connelly too. Have used it on furniture too. If the issue is using a dye to cover cracks, Tandy Leather Co. had good and very reasonable products.

 How Can I Fix "Wear Spots" On Leather?

[AW] For seats that are showing wear, try Surflex, from:



   3767 Sunrise Lake
   Milford, PA  18337
   Phone (570) 686-3158
   Fax    (570) 686-4161

8-oz costs $26.75. Black is a standard color, but they can custom match a sample (for you Ivory interior guys). It’s specifically designed for refinishing leather and vinyl. BTW, my car, with 18K miles, had slight scuffing down to the underlying leather just on the edge of the side bolster. Total area of damage =~ 1/2 sq. in. But you can’t tell now after I put the Surflex on.

[NM] If your leather or vinyl has scuff marks, scratches or areas that 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 colorfastness 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). 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 have not 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.

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 interior. Vinyl is the carefully prepared hydes of virgin pampered Arctic Naugas. Many Naugas must die to furnish enough material for just one interior panel. The dash, door panels, seat backs, and numerous other interior/exterior trim pieces are usually vinyl.

Car Care