Leather Grades Explained



leather grades explained

Are You Looking To Buy Leather Furniture But Aren't Sure How To Tell The Quality Of A Leather Sofa? 

Buying leather furniture can be overwhelming and knowing which leathers are real, faux  painted, vinyl, genuine, full grain, top grain, dyed etc.  

Now that I have worked and specialised in leather retail with my fiance, I can help explain to you the good, the bad and the ugly about all the different kinds of leathers.

My goal is to make you feel knowledgeable and confident when it comes to buying leather furniture for your home or office space.

 This Post is all about Leather Grades and what you need to know before you go furniture shopping!

The truth is, not all leather is created equal. Leather furniture knowledge is power. Many so-called "leathers" are not what they appear to be. So let's look at the the amazing world of leather and leather grades so you can avoid getting burned next time you are in the market for some great leather goods. 

There's nothing in the world like leather. It's been used for thousands of years as a textile to create durable, protective, and fantastic looking goods. It is a time-honored material and turning it into usable objects has been honed into an art that is like none other.

However, if you are anything like us when we started this journey, we had no idea about leather grades, quality, tanning processes, or how to tell a good piece of leather from a cleverly painted piece of scrap hide.

The most common question asked from consumers is, what grade of leather is this?  This is a very misleading question for the consumer to ask who doesn't really understand that there isn't a universal grading scale, meaning no two manufactures use the same grading scale. Some manufacturers use  a-z some use 1-5, 1000-7000 and so on.  Why do they use a grading scale? The main reason is price. The more expensive the leather, the more expensive it is to make the furniture. It's the single most expensive part of making furniture.

1.Where Does It All Start?

Tanneries all over the world bid on what they feel they should pay for the quality, size, and cleanliness- referring to the imperfections that are found in the natural leather. Similar to looking at and buying diamonds, some of them,being the highest quality, which has the least amount of imperfections are the most rare. Then you have those that have more imperfections which are more abundant.  There are also hides that are considered " trash hides" which have to be corrected by buffing, cleaning, scrubbing, and dying with a uniform finish.

The grading scale is based off of what the manufacture pays per square foot for the hides.

For example, calculating  how much waste is involved in upholstering the furniture is  since not every hide can be cut all the way to the corners since they are not perfect shapes.  Excess waste  can range from 12-15% and that has to be accounted for in the cost in building the furniture. 

Now let's dive into talking about the different kinds of leather on the market. 

2.What is PU Leather? 

PU leather is the lowest quality "leather" on the market. We use the term leather loosely here. Modern technology lets you take a single hide and split it into 4 or more layers. These thin worthless layers are then coated with a polyurethane coating to add "body" back into the material. This material comes in all colors of the rainbow since it is almost entirely synthetic.

This laminated leather is used by many manufacturers because it is significantly cheaper. Beware of this material! It will not last much longer than it takes to unwrap the package. It cracks and disintegrates quickly and has none of the warmth of real leather. American Classics Leather would never use such a product.

3.What is Bonded Leather?

Bonded leather is just as bad as PU leather. It is reconstituted leather, not actual leather hide. You take all the leather scraps, grind them into a pulp, then flatten it out, glue it together with polyurethane coating, and then spray paint it the color you want and emboss a leather texture on top. Bonded leather is extremely cheap to make, therefore it is a favorite of many cost cutting "big box" brands. It also often has a chemical scent to it that is very unpleasant. Bonded leather is often used on furniture to make it look fancy, but within a few short weeks / months, it starts to crack and fall apart. Beware buying any bonded leather products you want to last.

4.Genuine Leather 

Genuine leather is a deceiving term where most consumers automatically think it's the best. Even though it is made up of real leather, it contains the lowest quality leathers bonded together with glue and then painted, so over time it will crack and peel.  

5.Top Grain Leather

What Is Top Grain Leather Made Of?

This grain is called "Top Grain" because it is from the top layer of leather (the best cut) and the tannery removes the imperfections. The leather is then aniline dyed and finished to seal the pores. These leathers have more color & grain consistency and is also where you will find different printed patterns.

6.Is Top Grain Good For Sofas?

In the leather grade chart used by American Classics Leather, Leather and More, and other manufactures, Top grain leathers are A & B grade leathers.

A lot of people ask, " What is Grade A leather?"  and " is one better than the other?  The answer is neither one is better than the other. It just comes down to personal preference on the way the leather looks and feels.

7.Is Top Grain leather Durable?

Top grain leather is a good leather, it is durable and long lasting, and will serve you well in many instances.

8.Full Grain Leather

 What Is Full Grain Leather?

In our grading system these are our C & D grade leathers.

higher end leathers, such as full grain, are higher in the grading scale. it's like buying a diamond, but in this instance, the imperfections are what qualifies for higher grading.

9.Full Grain Leather Meaning

This brings us to the highest grade of leather available, full grain leather. Full grain leather uses the entire hide with all the grain. It is used on the highest-end products that are designed to last decades or more. It is also the most expensive of leathers to use.

Full grain leather will have marks, brands, and imperfections. This leather is durable, though, it will age with time. These leathers develop the natural leather patina look and feel. They do not wear out, they wear in. These leathers are aniline leather, also known as aniline dyed leathers.

While it is more expensive to use and work with, it will pay rich dividends to the you because it will last a very long time, even the rest of your life with proper care.

10.Full Grain vs Top grain

Is one better than the other?  The answer is "no" because it's all about personal preference and lifestyle. Some consumers want their leather furniture to age, and patina over time for that " Old World" look and feel, with imperfections and scratch marks.

 I have heard countless times " I want a leather that is just like my old Bomber jacket! Or "I want something that resembles my old baseball glove"!  Full grain leather is for those who want the true look, smell, and feel of a true leather.

There is some maintenance involved when it comes to caring for this leather,  so it does require a little more attention compared to top grain. Although it has oil and waxes within the leather to help protect it,  leather conditioners and leather protection creams are recommended about twice a year.  

On the other hand, some consumers do not want their furniture to scratch up at all. They have pets or small kids or both and are worried about the furniture getting ruined. Top grain leather is for this consumer because it won't leave scratch marks, it will look the same over the years meaning the leather doesn't change.

Care and cleaning is easy with top grain leather, where all you need is a damp warm rag with mild soap and water to wipe off the surface. 

Related Post:

5 tips for choosing the perfect leather sofa

To Conclude:  There are many different kinds of leathers out there for the consumer to buy. Many manufactures can get away with claiming their furniture is upholstered in leather, but as a consumer it’s good to have the knowledge of what is long lasting and durable so you don’t end up wasting your time and money.  

Choosing between full grain and top grain leathers is based off of lifestyle and preference. Because it can get very overwhelming, designers and retail specialists will walk you through every step of the way to help you build and design furniture that is right for you. At home style sense, I have educated knowledge about leathers and  specialize in customizing leather furniture. I work closely with American Classics Leather and Leather and More. Both of which are two manufactures that offer stationary furniture and reclining living room furniture. They take a lot of pride in the fact that it's all built in the United States.

This post was all about leather grades explained.

I hope you feel more knowledgeable with a good understanding about leather furniture and leather grades for your next leather furniture shopping experience.

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