How to Distress Nubuck

Leather furniture can look a little cold when new.
Aged leather has a timeless, comfortable look.Aged leather has a timeless, comfortable look.
Not so with nubuck leather. By definition, this soft leather is already treated for a lived-in look. Nubuck is aniline, or unsealed, leather in its natural state that has been further brushed or sanded for an aged look with a velvety feel. You can distress the nubuck even more to make your sofa, chair or throw pillow look like a much-loved family heirloom.

Step 1

Examine your nubuck leather piece before you start to work to determine where the piece would naturally get more wear. This is usually around the edges -- anywhere it would come into regular contact with people sitting, and be worn by friction or darkened by skin oils over time -- the front edges of seats, head- and armrests, and the edges of pillows.

Step 2

Gently rub the nubuck with a fine-grit sandpaper sponge in areas that would receive the most wear.

Step 3

Rub edges with a rough chunk of rock or coarse sandpaper for more focused wear, being careful not to go through the leather -- you probably want to avoid the ultra-distressed route of patches or Frankenstein-like stitching on your nubuck item.

Step 4

Spritz your absorbent nubuck piece with water and rubbing alcohol, cold tea or a leather conditioning lotion. Leather conditioning products leave nubuck leather looking darker than their original color with a slightly slicker texture.

Step 5

Scratch the surface of your nubuck furniture or accessory with your fingernails for lighter scratches, or the dull edge of a key for deeper gouges. Take care not to rip the leather.

Step 6

Brush your nubuck item all over when you're just about satisfied with your distressing job. Smoothing the nubuck with a brush, as the manufacturer did when it was originally processed can blend the different distressed areas for a more natural look.

Things You Will Need

  • Fine and coarse-grit sanding sponges
  • Rocks
  • Rubbing alcohol, cold tea or leather conditioning lotion
  • Key
  • Soft brush


  • Step back and look at the effect before moving on to another step -- you can't take away any distressing if you go too far.

About the Author

Patricia Hamilton Reed has written professionally since 1987. Reed was editor of the "Grand Ledge Independent" weekly newspaper and a Capitol Hill reporter for the national newsletter "Corporate & Foundation Grants Alert." She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University, is an avid gardener and volunteers at her local botanical garden.