Types Of Leather For Furniture: Know Your Leather Before You Buy It!

Leather furniture is a beautiful addition to any home. But people are always confused between types of leather for furniture. This guide will make the job easier.

There are reasons why we always dream of owning leather furniture. Leather is classic and timeless in addition to being durable and comfortable. While these might be excellent reasons to opt for a leather finish for the furniture, making a choice isn’t always that easy.

Leather upholstery is one of the most popular choices while designing or redecorating one’s home. That thе lеаthеr sоfа mаrkеt is growing globally at a superb pace of 11.4% is testimony to its popularity.

Types Of Leather For Furniture

But do you know that leather comes in many textures and qualities? Yeah, it is more confusing when you visit a leather store and look around without researching the basics, at least.

The types of leather for furniture that you should use vary based on many factors. To make it easy for you, I’m going to give you a detailed yet concise picture of what leather is all about and what choices you need to make that are perfect for your furniture.

I will cover:

  • What is leather, and how it is made
  • How is leather categorized?
  • What are the different types of leather for furniture one can choose
  • How to maintain Leather Furniture 

I will also try to answer some of the most frequently asked doubts and questions to help in an easier understanding of the right choice of leather upholsteries.

You might also like to read: How To Care For Hancock And Moore Leather

What is Leather?

Originally leather was a natural product better known as dried and processed animal skin. Also known as ‘Hide,’ leather is one of the most durable and toughened fabric choices with a wide range of use.

Animal skin from cows, pigs, deer, crocodiles, and even tigers and lions was sun-dried and cured by tanning and used to make the upholsteries of furniture.

Types Of Leather For Furniture

However, the quality of the leather is also a vital aspect that one needs to consider. There is an age-old misconception that expensive leather goods are always of very high quality. This is also why many customers are fooled by retail outlets in the name of premium leather goods.

Processing of leather

There is a common saying that there is no gain without pain. If you want to know your leather, you need to know the ugly side too. To learn about the evolution of leather from being simple animal skin, one needs to understand the making first.

The entire process of changing raw animal hide to fine leather undergoes a laborious procedure that consists of 9 steps.

Salt preservation —> Chemical processing for hair removal —> Flesh remnant removal —> Pre tanning —> Tanning —> Drying and dehumidification —> Roll Pressing —-> categorization —> Packaging.

  • Animal skin is heavily salted to help in preserving its texture and preventing it from rotting. Once Salted well, it is soaked to remove the excess debris and loose flesh and dirt.
  • Mechanical rollers are used to remove all the delicate hair follicles and residual dead dermal skins.
  • Liming is the next step that helps remove all the excess flesh and subcutaneous fats adhering to the underside. 
  • The hides are soaked in a chemical solution of Sodium Sulphide for days to help hydrolyzate the skin and help it in swelling up.
  • The chemical processing causes swelling of the skin with an apparent prominence between its dermal layers. 
  • The epidermal skin coat is separated from the underlying dermal coat, and both are separately sent out for another tanning and chemical bath session. Vegetable tanning and Glutaraldehyde tanning are used in this step.
  • The process of separating the layers of the hide is known as Splitting. The grainy upper portion is what is primarily used in making upholstery leather. The inner section is used for making suede and other leather products that require a more delicate finish.
  • Once separated and tanned, it is sent out for drying completely before categorization and packaging.

Types Of Leather For Furniture

There are many dishonest practices in leather manufacturing that you must be aware of: 

  • Leather makers use pigments and other methods to create grainy surface textures artificially. 
  • Using an under-split layer, which is faked as an upholstery leather, will only result in disaster. 
  • Suede leather and upholstery leather both have different usability and capacity to tolerate stress and strain. 

You might also like to read: Can You Use Shoe Polish On Leather Furniture

Categorizing leather goods based on the thickness

It is important to note that the thickness of the leather is the primary determining factor in categorizing its use. The consistency is determined in ounces. 

Leather with lower thickness is preferred for furniture, clothing, and molding, while thicker leather is used to make belts, leashes, saddlebags, etc. 

Types Of Leather For Furniture

Split leather and Rawhide have different uniformity, which causes many variations in determining the thickness. That is why the classification is much more detailed.

1 ounce to 3 ounces of thicknessEmbossing, furniture, Linen, Jackets
4 ounces of 1.60 mm thicknessClutches, Wallets, and Billfold Backs
6 ounces of 2.40 mm thicknessNotebook covers and cases
7 ounces of 2.80 mm thicknessHandbags, Journal casings, Camera covers
8 ounces of 3.20 mm thicknessKnife Sheath, smaller belts, and holsters
9 ounces of 3.60 mm thicknessSaddlebags, belts, and large Holsters

This is the reason why it is important to scrutinize the leather well before purchasing it. Durability and thickness aside, the texture and appearance play a pivotal role too. 

Once split and categorized, based on the surface granulation, blemishes, scarring, and texture, the leather is then graded and priced.

Types of Leather for Furniture

Leather furniture can be categorized under multiple ranges of sub-sections. These includes

Based on the Natural Dyeing technique used.

Aniline Leather

Natural leather is also known as Aniline Leather. Soluble natural dye is used in the tanning process of Aniline leather. Blemishes and scarring are easily visible on their surface due to the use of transparent dyeing. It is very supple to touch and is often regarded as the highest quality of natural leather manufactured.

Types Of Leather For Furniture
Aniline Leather

Even though it is firm and durable, it is prone to watermark and scratching easily, which is why it is very rarely used in furniture. Additionally, Aniline leather requires high maintenance and is very expensive. 

Semi-Aniline Leather

It is porous and naturally grained leather that is tanned with a multicolored dyeing technique.

Pigmented Leather. It is much more resilient than Aniline due to the resin pigment coating. Consistent retaining of the color over a long tenure and remarkable resistance to sunlight and regular use make it a better option than Aniline.

Types Of Leather For Furniture
Semi Aniline

Pigmented Leather

The heavy dyeing technique is used to hide imperfections and hair follicles of Pigmented Leather. This is the most stable version of Aniline rubber as it is entirely resistant to water and scratching. Low on maintenance and easy to use, it is a common choice for making many leather products like furniture and upholsteries.

Based on the Grain texturing

Full Grain Leather

Regarded as the epitome of high-end leather, it is the most expensive choice for furniture. Transparent dye is used on natural Aniline to retain the authentic texture and grainy appearance of the leather. 

Leather tag with Full Grain Leather text embossed in gold

This is a high maintenance choice for upholstery and requires dedicated care and protection from water, sunlight, scratching, and wear.

Top Grain Leather

It has a slightly softer and smoother finish than Full Grain Leather. However, it is very durable and primarily used on the seating surface of any furniture. The smoother finish is comfortable and soothing to the touch and also more resilient to scratching and wearing.

Split Grain Leather

Split Grain Leather is the least opted choice for furniture as it has a very rough texture and is not appealing as the other two. Most importantly, it stains and scratches easily, making maintenance a challenging task.

Bonded Leather

Wondering what Bonded Leather is?

In simple language, it is fake leather. Make no mistake of considering Bonded Leather as “Leather.” It combines leather dust, scrapings, and plastic that are mixed with vinyl and glue and processed chemically. The final product is an inexpensive and cheap alternative to the leather used to make low-quality furnishings and goods.

Types Of Leather For Furniture
A Bonded leather tag

Nubuck Leather

Make no mistake of confusing Nubuck leather with Suede leather. While Nubuck Leather is a variation of the Full Grain Leather, Suede is derived from Split Leather. Nubuck leather has a similar velvety smooth finish, but it is very durable and plush in feel.

Regarded as the most preferred choice for furniture, Nubuck Leather gives an exquisite and sophisticated outlook. Unless you have a well-trained and obedient pet, Nubuck is not for you because it has feeble resistance to scratching and its maintenance and repair cost is quite expensive.

Royalin Leather

Primarily used to make High-end custom furniture, Royalin Leather has a distinctive pebbled surface texture and bores numerous minor imperfections like scratches, scars, and scrapping marks.

This leather has a solid affinity for oil and grease and is stained easily because of which a special varnish coating is used to protect it. Elegant European furniture is often a favorite choice for using Royalin leather.

Based on the additives used with natural leather

Faux Leather

Faux leather is one of the best choices for furniture, especially if you have pets. They are durable and built to last a very long time amidst all the rough handling and wear. Utterly resistant to sunlight and staining, it is low on maintenance and light on the pocket.

Bi-Cast Leather

Substrates of composite leather or split hide leather are mixed with Polyurethane to create a Pseudo leather that has a similar texture and look to Top Grain Leather.

This is a cheaper choice of synthetic leather that can replicate high-end genuine leather furniture. However, on closer look and feel, the difference between natural leather and synthetic leather is visible. 

Types Of Leather For Furniture

Though it is an economical and fashionable choice, it is not the most reliable one. It has questionable durability.

Alternatives to natural leather

The two most common alternatives to natural leather are 

Polyurethane Leather

You must have heard of PU leather many times while researching Leather furniture. Many even confuse it with Bi-cast leather. So, what is PU Leather?

Similar to Bi-cast Leather, this is one of the prevalent synthetic alternatives to natural leather. Made with Polyurethane and ground leather, it has a softer and more flexible structure than Bi-cast Leather. 

Better breathability and stabilized temperature maintenance make it a much more comfortable choice for a cheaper alternative to natural leather upholstery.

However, care must be taken to avoid humidity and sunlight as it can cause chemical breakdown resulting in brittleness and cracking.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) leather

This is one of the most deceptive choices of furniture upholstery. Despite its keen resemblance to natural leather in color and texture, it lacks any natural element. 

One of the most common synthetic leather in use, PolyvinylChloride Leather, is entirely resistant to fire, scratches, and even chemical disinfectants. It is also known as Vegan Leather due to the complete absence of animal substrate.

Types Of Leather For Furniture

Taking Care of the Leather Furniture

Leather is meant to last for generations. Just investing in good quality leather furniture is not sufficient enough if it is not maintained well. Contrary to popular belief, it is not very difficult to keep leather in good condition for years. 

It is all about little time and effort, along with loads of love and tender loving care. Combine it with small tips and tricks, and voila! It will remain evergreen for ages.

  • Know your leather type well, and never miss reading the instruction guidelines. E.g., Faux leather needs a different caring method than top grain leather.
  • Twice a year, it is best to polish the leather with a good conditioner. This prevents drying and cracking of the surface coat.
  • Choose your leather furniture based on your lifestyle. For example, it is best to go for full-grain leather if you have kids and pets, as it is much more resilient to scratches and wear.
  • Never leave your leather furniture in a hot and humid enclosed space. Molds are easily attracted to leather and can cause severe and permanent damage. Always ensure to cover the leather furniture with a clean and dry cotton cover. Cotton prevents sticky coating on leather surfaces in addition to maintaining the breathability of the leather.
  • Never use chemical reagents to clean leather furniture. Surface polishing with Walnut Oil or any natural oil is sufficient enough care to maintain the shine and health.

Types Of Leather For Furniture

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best type of leather for furniture?

There are four specifically graded leather that is used in making furniture. They are

  • Full-grain leather
  • Top Grain Leather
  • Split Grain Leather
  • Bonded Leather.

Split Grain Leather is one of the recent additions to the list. However, it is not as common as the other four variants.

What kind of leather is used on furniture?

Full-grain Pigmented leather is the most preferred choice used in making furniture.

How do I know what type of leather My couch is?

The best way to identify the upholstery leather of the couch is to touch and feel it.

Aniline Leather: Transparent dye is used for tanning Aniline. It is visually distinguishable similar to a wood finish. Natural texture with imperfections is visible. Scratches, Uv exposures, and wear are visible. A small dark water stain appears when water droplets fall on it.

Semi-Aniline: A multicolored dyeing technique is used in the tanning process to get the texture of Semi-Aniline Leather. It does not show changes when water droplets fall on it.

Pull Up Leather: This has a semi-glossy sheen and requires little to no maintenance. It is resistant to scratches and watermarks. It is fashionable and develops a unique distressed look over time without actually deteriorating.

Nubuck Leather: It is sanded aniline leather to give it a matted velvety surface finish. When rubbed with fingers, it leaves a light writing-like mark.

Pigmented Leather – natural Resin gives it a distinctive hue that’s easy to recognize. Ideally, it is the most preferred choice for car seats and furniture. It is scratch-resistant and water-resistant, which makes it a very durable option.

Types Of Leather For Furniture

What is the best leather for sofas?

Full-grain leather is the perfect choice for Sofa sets. The Full Grain Leather sofa can last for 5 to 6 decades easily without much hassle. It is excellent to look at and comfortable and resilient to prolonged use.

How can I tell if the leather of a sofa is of good quality or not?

A good brand name will always proudly label its product. In addition to the brand name, one must check for the texture and finish of the sofa by touching and feeling it. 

Natural leather will have a slightly uneven finish with a grainy texture. The distinctive aroma of genuine leather is also another trademark identification of a good-quality leather sofa.

How do you identify genuine leather?

The three prime notable factors one must note while checking for genuine leather are

Texture – Genuine leather will always have minor scratches, wrinkles, and uneven surface patterns in addition to a grainy finish.

Smell: Due to the laborious tanning process, genuine leather has a distinctive aroma that you can never replicate in a fake leather product.

Elasticity: Real leather is elastic, but it regains its original form very quickly when released. The stretching also causes a change in color without distorting the original hue.

Types Of Leather For Furniture

It’s time to shop finally!

The industrial revolution of the 1700 and 1800 popularized the use of leather in mainstream furniture making. Since then, it has become a very crucial part of furniture designs and concepts. 

With the alarming increase in the unethical practices of procurement of animal hides, this industry is moving towards greener and cruelty-free choices. 

Leather made out of Cactus and even Soyabean is recommended as the future of the USD 394 bn Leather industry worldwide. With good comes bad, and hence the rise in the number of frauds and falsities. Fake leather is easy to sell out when the customer has no idea what they are purchasing. 

If you have reached the end, thankfully, you know a tad more about leather, and hence the chances of cheating you into buying cheap or fake leather furniture are almost nil. You probably will end up purchasing some of the finest leather furniture ever.