When entering the world of high-end furniture, it is possible to dive far down the rabbit hole. The sheer number of categories, designs, colors, sizes and styles creates a huge plethora of options — and with the importance that furniture plays in our everyday lives, it is no surprise such a variety exists to satisfy the breadth of our tastes.
But regardless of this variety, one thing holds true — leather is the ultimate luxury product.
It is resistant to odors, animal hairs and liquids. It is 4 times more durable than fabric and will last significantly longer if cared for properly. It does not trap allergens and is breathable. And of course, leather looks immeasurably better.
Are you considering buying a leather sofa? We want to help answer some of your most pressing questions about leather. We’ll cover leather furniture care, different types of leather finishes, what types of leather are genuine, and other details such as the average lifespan of a leather sofa and more. To get started, we will learn a bit about the different types of leather materials.
What Are the Different Types of Leather?
Certain kinds of leather are advantageous for certain purposes. Choosing which leather you want is important for the aesthetic, comfort and longevity of your furniture, so let’s take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of each type.
This is the cream of the crop in the leather world. Coming from the outermost layer of the cow’s hide, it is the most durable leather on the market. It also arguably has the most character, as it is not sanded, buffed or protected from imperfections — part of its appeal is that it shows its scratches and markings. Additionally, as it is used, it absorbs oils and develops a highly desirable patina that adds to its charm.
Pros of full-grain leather include:
- Extremely high quality and durable
- Water and moisture-resistant
- Ages well — the more it is used, the better it looks
- Does not stretch significantly
- When used in furniture like sofas, it responds well to body temperature and does not feel too hot or cold
Cons of full-grain leather include:
- Most expensive type of leather
- Not very flexible and harder to work with
- Stains easily
This type is also made from the outer layer of the cow’s hide, but the outer surface is sanded and ultimately removed. After the surface has been removed, the leather is then imprinted with an artificial grain to make it look uniform and give it better stain resistance. This is a good choice for any leather application that needs uniformity, although it is not as strong as full-grain because the outer layer — and consequently, the most durable fibers — have been removed.
Pros of top-grain leather:
- Soft and pliable
- Uniform look
- Lower cost
Cons of top-grain leather:
- Less durable than full-grain leather
- Less breathable than full-grain leather due to staining
- Prone to stretching
Split Grain Leather
This type suffers from a bit of a misnomer. Recall that, in the production of top-grain leather, the fibrous outer shell of skin is removed and discarded. With split grain leather, this byproduct material is then repurposed to make a new type altogether. This type of leather possesses no natural grain. Its tissue structure is also not very strong, so it is not recommended to be used to upholster the inside of a seating area.
Pros of split grain leather:
Cons of split grain leather:
- Not durable
- Does not feel like real leather, as the chemicals used to treat it give it a hard look and feel
- Although it can look presentable at first, it can wear out faster than a higher-grade leather
This is made from the leftover scraps not used in other processes. These scraps are sent to a factory, ground into a pulp, then laced with polyurethane to bind them together into an imitation of real leather. It is typically used to make low-cost furniture and, in the right applications, can be a useful product. However, it is not recommended for any use where strength is required.
Pros of bonded leather:
- Looks smooth and soft
- Can look and even smell like a higher-grade product
- When used in furniture, it can feel too hot or cold when it makes contact with the skin
Cons of bonded leather:
- Not durable, as the seams fall apart
- High chemical content
The most “genuine” types of leather are full-grain and top-grain, and bonded and split leather are lower-cost alternatives. When choosing a piece of furniture, always be sure to find out which type of leather your piece actually is.
Types of Leather Dye
How a leather is dyed helps determine how it will age, how it will fit in with your decor, and how it will feel to the touch. Just as with the different types of leather, dyes come from a variety of methods and components. Choosing the right one is easier when you know what each entails.
At the top of the charts is full aniline leather. With this dyeing method, the leather is immersed in a container of dye. This allows the dye to seep through the leather, which results in a pleasing, robust color. This method allows the leather to retain its characteristic, natural markings and grains while still taking on the new color — and because no protective topcoat is needed, the leather comes out feeling plush and flexible. Only 5% of the world’s hide supply is of high enough quality for full aniline upholstery.
Pros of aniline dyeing:
- High-quality, complete dye that soaks all the way through the leather
- Leather develops a highly desirable patina over time, making it great for the long term
- Retains characteristics of original hide’s markings
- Very smooth to the touch
Cons of aniline dyeing:
- The most expensive type of leather
- Not resistant to stains, as there is no protective outer coat
- Needs a high-quality leather to begin with
Next comes semi-aniline leather, which can be thought of as an aniline job and lightly coated with pigment and a protective finish to provide color consistency. The leather is still soaked through inside a drum using the same dyes as in the aniline method. After it is removed, a very thin coating of sealant is applied to shield it from staining and fading in the sun.
Pros of semi-aniline dyeing:
- High-quality, complete dyeing job — just like aniline leather
- Protected from spills, stains, fading and blemishing due to protective coating
- Because coating is thin, it still feels like full aniline leather
Cons of semi-aniline dyeing:
- Does not feel quite as soft as full aniline leather
Pigmented leather is the budget option for leather dyes, but it is still a fine choice for many different applications. With this method, the surface of the leather is treated with a mixture of dye and protective sealant — note that the dye does not soak through. The leather itself typically has imperfections that are sanded down in order to make it look uniform, and the resulting leather is both resilient and easy to maintain.
Pros of pigmented dyeing:
- Least-expensive method
- Very resistant to stains, scratches and spills, and such accidents can be repaired
- Great for items that get a lot of use and/or wear and tear
Cons of pigmented dyeing:
- Does not feel as soft as aniline and semi-aniline leathers
- Colors are not as vibrant
How Long Does Leather Furniture Last?
Remember that leather wears in, while fabric wears out. This saying reflects why people have, for centuries, upholstered their furniture in leather instead of fabric. Leather is a natural product whose durability comes from the fact that it is an animal hide with intrinsic strength and softness.
Quoting any one number for the average lifespan of a leather sofa is not terribly useful. There are simply too many factors playing into the equation to arrive at a single answer.
The short answer to this question is a piece of leather furniture’s lifetime is directly proportional to how consistently you care for it. Just as you would vacuum and clean your fabric sofa, your leather sofa may require some annual or semi-annual conditioning to stay protected against moisture, spills, scratching, and wear and tear.
The type of leather used in the furniture also plays into how long it will last, as not all leathers are created equal. A sofa made with bonded or split leather could start falling apart within months or years, while a sofa made with high-quality full-grain leather can last a lifetime — or several. It begins to become clear why investing a bit more money in the short term can pay off in the long term.
How to Maintain, Care for and Clean Leather Furniture
First, make sure to keep your leather furniture clean. Allowing oils, grime, dust and crumbs to linger too long can give your leather a dullness that may not be easily removed later on. Most leather furniture or sofa cleaning can be done naturally, by wiping it with a lightly damp cloth. It is a great idea to run a vacuum under and between the cushions every so often.
For the best protection against the elements, get a good leather conditioner and apply it at least once a year. Follow the instructions on the bottle. Doing so should not require a great amount of time or effort and will help the furniture age gracefully and continue to provide you with comfort and aesthetic value.
Leather is cow skin. Much like human skin, it does not respond well to prolonged exposure to sunlight. This is why you should think of the sun when mapping out the furniture layout in your home — assuming you live in the northern hemisphere, avoid placing leather pieces directly in front of eastern, western and southern windows or glass doors. Allowing the sun to hit your leather furniture consistently will cause it to fade and discolor over time.
There are some good tips for how to treat leather furniture if it is scratched, but it depends on which type of leather you are dealing with. Make sure to call the manufacturer and find out the best way to treat your particular type of leather.
Things to Consider When Buying Leather Furniture
If you are ready to buy leather furniture, then it’s time to consider a few factors that will help you make a wise and fruitful purchase. As with any non-trivial purchase, shopping with a plan and a good amount of forethought will pay off in the long run. Here are some questions to consider.
How Long Do You Plan to Own the Item?
As you might have guessed, the amount of time you plan to own a piece of furniture should correlate directly with the amount of money you spend on it. Buying a sofa for a college dorm room is quite different from fleshing out the living room of your primary home, and anything you plan to own for the foreseeable future needs to be up to the task of surviving the trials of everyday use.
What Type of Leather Is My Ideal Sofa?
That depends on one major question — are you in an adult-only household, or do you have or plan to have children or pets? This is an important factor to consider both in the cost of your furniture and the type of leather and dye used for it. Remember that full-grain leather, particularly with a full aniline dye, is the most susceptible to staining, scratching and absorbing unwanted moisture. You want the most durable leather sofa if you have kids or pets. Leather with pigmented or semi-aniline dyes will provide better protection against accidents.
How Much Are You Willing to Spend?
Setting a realistic budget for yourself and weighing it against the other questions here will help you find the right piece of furniture. If you have a fixed budget and definitely want full-grain leather, then this may help you narrow down the choices — perhaps it will result in sacrificing certain bells and whistles in place of overall quality of the material. Additionally, it may be useful to keep an open mind about things like size and seating capacity.
How Often Do You Foresee Yourself Moving?
This often-overlooked consideration will save you loads of backache if you are constantly on the move. Does your job have you moving around the country every couple of years, or are you in a reliably stable position? If you are likely to change locations several times, consider the hassle of moving extremely cumbersome and heavy pieces of furniture. On the other hand, if you are there to stay, splurging on a sectional or large sofa may make the most sense.
Check Out Davids Furniture’s Selection for High-Quality Leather Sofas
The best way to get started in your search for high-end, luxury leather furniture is to peruse Davids Furniture’s website. Not only do we have a large number of high-end products for bedrooms, dining rooms, living rooms and the office, but we also pride ourselves on offering a wealth of resources to anyone who is as passionate about leather as we are.
We make houses feel like homes with our furniture. Leather is timeless, and our furniture reflects our desire to share its virtues with as many customers as possible. Check out our other blog posts and our products, and feel free to contact us with any questions.