Leather Furniture Buying Guide
By Randall Silva, CEO of Plymouth Furniture | 1659 Words, 6 min, 58 secs Read Time
Information on the "grains" and "types" of leather can assist you in making an informed choice when selecting your next leather piece. This is because the quality of genuine leather depends on the type and grain of the leather furniture you choose.
The distinction between the categories of a Top Grain leather and Full Grain leather are important. Top Grain leather refers to the process of sanding away the natural grain from the top surface of the leather. Imitation grain gets stamped into the leather to give a more uniform look, but no genuine grain remains. The word "top" often confuses seekers of the finest leather because it infers that it is "the tops" in quality.
- Full Grain Leather
The real "tops" in quality is Full Grain leather. The best upholstery Full Grain leathers should display the natural markings and grain characteristics from the animal from which it was taken. Full Grain leathers generally come from a better quality hide or skin, and no sanding processes are applied to its surface. Full Grain leathers offer a natural look and feel and are treated by transparent aniline dyes.
- Pure Aniline Leather
Pure Aniline leathers fall into the elite 5% of Full Grain leather available. These grains are sometimes referred to as Aniline Full Grain, True Aniline and Naked Aniline, or Natural grains. People who love the natural characteristics and markings of the purest quality hides and are searching for the softest leather generally seek out Pure Aniline Grains.
- Semi-Aniline grain leathers are processed a little more than Pure Aniline leathers. As a result, they receive a nominal level of manufactured coatings that conceal minor surface defects but do not cover the hide's natural characteristics. As a result, semi-Aniline grains fall into the top 10-15% of the Full Grain leathers.
Nubuck is a type of aniline leather that has a velvet-like texture and an incredibly lush appearance. The grain has not been processed, but it is brushed and polished. The surface of Nubuck will change shade when you run your hand across it. The grain of Nubuck has a velvety look and feel and is of a slightly higher quality than suede, which is the inner side of the skin that gets buffed into a soft nap.
- Aniline leather can be identified by lightly scratching the surface of the leather. If the leather scratches to a lighter color, it may be an Aniline grain. You may also test the surface by lightly rubbing a wetted finger or a protection cream into a hidden area of the leather. If it darkens slightly and then dries invisibly, it is Aniline grain leather.
- Corrected Leather grains
Corrected Leather grains fall into the Top Grain Leather category. These leathers go through considerable processing of sanding, buffing, stamping, and then dyeing. This process aims to create a uniform look that removes insect bites, barbed-wire scratches, and other environmental markings that might appear on the hide. Corrected Leather grains fall into the next 18% of leathers.
- Grains of leather that fall below the 18% mark should be avoided in the upholstery of your next leather furniture purchase. The tissue structure of materials in split-grains, patent leather, and bonded leather does not measure up to the durability and quality of Full Grain and Top Grain leathers.
Types of Leather
When considering leather furniture, it is crucial to understand the difference in both the "types" and "grains" of leather to make an informed choice. Genuine leather is very versatile, and no other material can compare to its durability and strength. Much of the quality of genuine leather depends on the type and grain of the leather you choose.
- Vegetable Tanned leather
Perhaps the most versatile type of leather is Vegetable Tanned leather. Oak tree bark and other plants contain natural tannins used to make Vegetable (or Vege-Tanned) leather. The benefits of this type are that Vege-Tanned leather stretches well when soaked in water, and it can be carved, molded, painted, dyed, oiled, or waxed. This proves to be extremely useful in making leather furniture and can also be the most expensive type of leather.
- Chrome-Tanned leather
Chrome-Tanned leather is another type of leather, but it stretches much less than vege-tanned and cannot be carved or molded. Instead, this type of leather is made by soaking the hide in an acidic bath containing a high chromium level. Chrome-tanned leather is relatively inexpensive and does take well to some dyes. This type of leather can be easily identified by a gray-toned edge when it is cut.
- Oil-Tanned leather
The unique feature of Oil-Tanned leather is that it is usually the most agile type of leather available. If you have ever touched a piece of leather with a slightly oily surface feel, it is probably an Oil-Tanned leather type. This oily feel will not rub off on your hand, but it gives this type of leather a unique and interesting finish.
- True Buckskin leather
The True Buckskin leather is a strong and pliable deer hide that gets treated in a basic solution of wood ash and lime. This type of leather is exceptionally soft, supple, and water-friendly. When investigating Buckskin, be careful to find out if the hide has been treated by other tanning methods that may cause the buckskin to lack the very highest qualities and feel of True Buckskin.
The term Rawhide refers to an untanned type of leather considered to be at a hide's most basic state. These cattle hides become very stiff when dried, yet flexible and stretchy when wet.
- Leather processing
Sometimes combining types of leather bring down the costs of what might otherwise be a more expensive type of leather. For example, a combination type like Vegetable-Oil Tanned leather may be processed first as a factory tanning that gets, followed by a Vegetable Tannin bath to enhance the feel of the leather. Combinations of processing can give the illusion of a higher quality type of leather. However, be aware that while the look and feel might be enhanced, the characteristic of a true Vege-Tanned type of leather is really of a higher quality.
How long should high quality leather furniture last?
Well cared for quality leather furniture can remain beautiful for many generations. It is fade and tear-resistant and maintains its plausibility over the years. It proves itself to stand the test of time.
Many fine wines are known to become more robust and full of flavor over time, and premium leather furniture works much the same way. It proves to be strong, long-wearing, and supple as it enhances with age. An advantage of owning a piece of leather furniture is its exceptional durability.
Leather is the strongest natural material available. Most experts rate the endurance of leather 4 to 5 times over fabric furniture coverings. Leather is extremely tear-resistant and requires 400 lbs/181 kg of pressure to puncture. Generally, seam lines are also less prone to tear or puncture because of leather’s natural resilience.
Leather furniture is also burn resistant and does not require additional flame retardant treatments like those needed for upholstered materials. Although it should be kept from prolonged direct sunlight and high temperatures, leather has a high tolerance against sun damage and fading.
Leather does not crack or peel because it stretches and molds to the shape of the individual frame without sagging or losing form. Since it remains cool in the summer and warm in the winter, it maintains a comfortable temperature which actually increases its elasticity. This natural flexibility assists in the age-defying character of the leather surface. Since leather is non-allergenic, dust can easily be wiped away without the use of harsh chemicals that would otherwise wear on the surface over time. The motion of polishing the surface with a dry cloth causes the leather to become very supple and acquire a glossy look. The cleaning procedures of fabric furniture coverings cause those surfaces to look worn and tattered over time.
How to care for Leather Furniture
The most durable of all upholstery covers, leather is also the easiest to care for, the key is regular dusting, vacuuming, cleaning, and of course, protection.
- Cracking Leather
Placing your furniture next to strong heat sources such as fireplaces, radiators or in direct sunlight can dry out the natural oils in the leather and cause cracking and stiffening of the leather. The ultraviolet rays in sunlight will eventually fade most natural products and leather is no exception. We recommend that all leather furniture be kept out of direct sunlight to protect against fading.
- Scratches in your leather
Should a sharp object like a buckle or a knife scratch your furniture, it may be possible to disguise the mark with a felt tip pen of similar color. Test your technique on a swatch or an inconspicuous area first. Surface scratches on pure aniline leathers often can be rubbed away with your hand. Leather repair specialists who have the capabilities to repair damages are readily available in most areas.
- Dusting leather
Dust your furniture weekly using the upholstery attachment on your vacuum cleaner or a damp clean cloth depending on the type of leather.
- Cleaning Leather
Gentle wiping is all that the vast majority of spills require. NEVER use abrasive cleaners, saddle soap, oils, detergents, furniture polish or ammonia on leather. Remember that prolonged, vigorous rubbing or using a coarse colored cloth can also damage the surface.
- Spot Cleaning
Always blot any spilled liquids immediately with a clean absorbent cloth or sponge. Most liquids will be initially repelled by leather, but, if left over an extended period, they may be absorbed. Try removing sticky spills with clear lukewarm water - gently wiping with a soft dampened sponge. Clean the entire area where the spill occurred: for example, the entire seat cushion or the entire arm. Dry with a clean towel and allow to air dry. Do not use hair dryers or other artificial heat sources. Always reapply protector after cleaning.