Before you go out to purchase a leather couch or chair, it's important to know the type of leather that you are paying for. Leather can vary in quality depending on where it was sourced and how it was manufactured. In this post, we will discuss the various types of leather and their characteristics to help you make the best purchase.
Things To Look for When Buying Leather
Leather is a natural product made from cured animal skin, making it one of the more expensive furniture materials. That being stated, it's important to know the type and grade of leather that you are purchasing, to ensure quality and longevity. Here are a few things to look for when buying leather furniture.
The type of leather
There are a few different types of leather that are used to make couches another furniture. Their differences include how the leather is made and the individual quality of the leather. They can affect the look and maintenance requirements for your furniture. The most common types of leather include full-grain, top-grain, nubuck, split-grain, bonded, and faux leather.
How was it dyed?
Another important factor to consider before buying leather furniture is how the leather was dyed. This can affect the look, quality, and texture of the leather. Aniline and semi-aniline leathers are dyed in large spinning drums. Pigmented leathers are simply coated with a machine-formulated color which is applied at the end of their production process.
What's the "real leather" percentage?
It's not uncommon for manufacturers to use non-leather or lower-grade materials while producing leather furniture. Unfortunately, some manufacturers will not label the furniture accordingly. The issue with this is that these sections may age differently than the actual leather parts of the furniture. Be sure that your furniture label reads "100% real leather". If not, ask what percentage of the furniture is made from other materials.
Types of Leather Used in Furniture
1. Full-grain leather
Full-grain leather refers to leather that maintains its original texture, form, and imprints. In other words, the leather is kept in the same condition that it was before it was pulled from the hide (except for the removal of hairs). Full-grain leather doesn't contain any polishes or finishes that may affect the look or quality of the leather. It's the most genuine form of leather that you can purchase--which means it's also the most expensive.
Its texture is initially fairly hard but softens over time with wear. Full-grain leather can be cleaned by using a little mild soap and a microfiber cloth to remove any dents, scratches, or light stains. You can also add oils including mink, coconut, and olive oil to help restore its luster and shine.
2. Top grain leather
Top grain leather is also known as "full-grain pigmented" leather or "corrected grain" and is the second most popular type of leather used to make furniture. This type of grain is buffed using machines to remove any surface imperfections from the hide. This gives couches made from it a very soft texture and extends their longevity. It's more polished leather than full-grain. One of the best benefits of top grain leather is that it is very durable and is fairly easy to maintain--so to say, you won't need to polish your couch as often.
Top grain leather is typically treated with a protective coat or finish to maintain its natural pigment and quality. It essentially only requires a good conditioner application every year to stay soft and supple. It's best to clean up stains on it quickly, however, as they can set in and will be very hard to remove.
3. Split grain leather
The next most common type of leather is split-grain leather. It comes from the underlayers of top-grain leather. This type of leather is typically cheaper and a bit rougher in texture than full-grain. It's also more fragile and as a result, split-grain couches are typically more susceptible to damage from stains and scratches. Split-grain leather has a lighter color, tends to feel more like suede or fuzzy leather, and has a shinier quality than top-grain leather. It's actually processed so that it will simulate the feel and appearance of top grain leather, which makes it a bit harder in texture--though you may not notice this as much when you first sit on the couch.
Split grain leather is best maintained by using quality leather cleaners and polishers (you can also use a microfiber cloth with mild dish soap to clean it). Stains on split-grain leather such as make-up, beverages, and grease may prove more difficult to remove, especially in comparison to other leather types. When buying couches made of split-grain leather, it's important to check the manufacturer's label to ensure that it is 100% leather, and not composed of other "imitation leather" materials that are used to bond the couch together.
Nubuck leather refers to a top grain leather that's been buffed or sanded to give the hide a suede or velvet-like appearance. You'll often see shoes and winter boots made of nubuck, as it is typically treated with a waterproofing solution because of its fragility.
Nubuck-made couches are typically less expensive than full-grain leather couches and may require careful maintenance. The surface of nubuck leather is typically free of imperfections or normal hide prints due to buffing and is generally smooth and even. Add your own waterproofing treatment to the leather after a year or so, to help maintain it. Nubuck leather couches can be cleaned using mild dish soap and a damp microfiber cloth or using any mild leather cleaner.
5. Bi-cast leather
Bi-cast leather is a split-grain leather that has color applied at the end of the manufacturing process. It's considered " treated leather" and is not as durable as top or full-grain leather. This type of leather is made of splint hides of leather that are bonded together and then coated with a treatment of polyurethane (or other finish). Bi-cast leather couches won't display the same signs of wear and distress as full-grain leather ones, and as a result, they may be less durable (prone to scratches and scuff marks).
It's fairly hard in texture, and the biggest benefit of bi-cast leather is its price point, with an average cost of about a third of that of top grain leather. Bi-cast leather couches will stand up well to food and drink stains and requires only a simple wipe of a damp cloth to get rid of them. On the downside, these couches may need to be treated regularly or they will be prone to cracking and splitting. Overall, bi-cast leather is a great purchase if you want a "leather look" without the leather cost.
6. Bonded leather
Bonded leather is also commonly used to make leather couches and other furniture. It is made of leather scraps and other fibers that have been blended using adhesive and that are then pressed into one large sheet of leather. During this process, the leather sheet is heated and then pressed using industrial irons to add unique textures or embossed specific patterns.
Compared to other types of leather couches, the leather on these couches will be relatively thin and they won't have the durability of full or top-grain leather couches. Bonded leather is an easy-maintenance type of leather and is one of the more inexpensive types that you can purchase today. These couches can be easily cleaned with a non-detergent or non-alkaline soap, or an approved leather cleaner.
Many manufacturers do not consider a bonded leather "real" leather because it actually only contains anywhere from 10 to 20% leather fibers, and in some cases, might be marketed as "genuine leather".
7. Faux leather
The most important thing to remember about faux leather is that it isn't real leather (it animal hides)--and due to their price-point, faux leather couches are rising in popularity. These types of couches are manufactured from a material that's a combination of synthetic materials including rubber and plastic. Unsurprisingly, faux leather has come a long way since its first conception and oftentimes can resemble feel genuine leather.
Couches made of faux leather will be durable (not prone to stains and scratches) and won't require the type of maintenance or careful handling/cleaning that genuine leather couches may. They can also come in various forms, some of which may be soft and smooth to the touch, and others that may be hard or more on the rough side. The price of faux leather couches makes them a suitable option if you were looking to save money and not have to worry about the ongoing maintenance of your couch.
8. Royaline leather
Royaline leather is a natural leather material that has notable high markings which include scrapes, scars, and a pebbled finish. It's one of the most expensive types of leather that you can purchase and it's more popular in Europe. You'll typically find these types of leather couches in high-end or specialty furniture stores. Royaline-made couches will require protective treatment to prevent damage from moisture and the oil secreted created by human skin (which can alter its appearance, making it darker).
The surface of these couches may be fairly hard to the touch though they tend to soften over time. Royaline is also a very durable leather that requires significant maintenance and careful upkeep to prevent it from developing stains and scratches. These couches should only be cleaned and polished with approved leather products that are recommended by their manufacturer.
9. Aniline leather
Aniline leather refers to leather that has been dyed inside of a large drum during the manufacturing process. This type of leather couch will still show the initial hide markings, but the texture will be softer. The color will be whatever is dictated by the manufacturer (and will often be requested by the consumer).
It's made using full-grain leather for the most part, but in some cases can come from top-grain leather as well. The dye treatment also makes the couch's surface more durable and can extend its longevity (these couches are often waterproof). Analine leather couches will typically cost around the same amount as full-grain leather couches. It's best to follow the recommended cleaning and care options before applying any cleaning solutions directly to them.
What is the difference between leather and suede?
Suede and leather are both made from cured animal hides (which are mostly cows and sheep). The main difference is that suede is leather that's been split, buffed, and sanded to create a softer and smoother feel and appearance.
How long should a good leather couch last?
Furniture experts say that a good leather couch should last at least 20 to 25 years. And with proper care and maintenance, they can even last up to 40 years.
Wrapping Things Up
We hope that this post has introduced you to the different types of leather and provide you with valuable information on what to look for when purchasing leather furniture.
Before you go, be sure to check out our other posts: