When shopping for leather furniture, the first question we hear is “What leather is right for me and my lifestyle?”.  This is not a question that can always be answered easily. It is important to educate yourself on the different types of leather, how each type of leather is made, how the different types of leather perform, and how each type is cleaned and maintained. We believe in educating our customers so they can feel confident and avoid being misled by loosely used terminology used in the retail world today.


- General Information -

Leather is a natural raw material. No two hides of leather will ever be the same. As we all know, leather is made of hides that are harvested from the skin of animals. When dealing with furniture, hides from cows are usually used. Although, other animals can be used such as alligators, pigs and lambs, along with developments in bioengineering that have now introduced leather derived from things such as mushrooms and cacti. We are going to focus on cowhide leather. The life of each animal directly impacts the quality of each hide. Animals live outside and are susceptible to nature and things such as bug bites, barbed wire fences, fighting with other animals, and even rolling on the ground to scratch their backs. When leather is processed the hair is removed and it is very evident if the animal had an easy life or a rough life due to the number of scars, scrapes, and imperfections that are on the hide. All of these factors affect the quality grade of a hide.


- Types of Leather –


- Full-Grain Leather-

Full grain leather is at the top of the chain when it comes to grading leather. The best hides are used to make full-grain leather. The hair is removed and then it immediately goes into the tanning process. All of the oil-absorbing properties and original characteristics of the leather remain intact. This leather will distress and patina over time giving it that “old world” look and feel that you would find in an old baseball glove or bomber jacket. Full-grain leather will get far more “oohs” and “ahhs” many years after it has broken in. The longer you have it the more beautiful it becomes. Full-grain leather is stronger and more durable than any other cut of leather.

  • The leather has not been “corrected” (sanded or buffed)

  • The entire thickness of the hide is used.

  • Shade variations in color are present.

  • Patinas and distresses over time.

  • Maintains natural characteristics such as healed scars, fat wrinkles, and in some cases even brands.

  • Is more expensive than other types of leather.

  • Cleaned with a damp cloth and the aid of a leather protection cream is recommended.

  • Full-grain leather has what we call “recovery”

    • Even though full-grain leather may show light scratches and will patina over time, (which is a very sought after feature) a gentle massage will heat up the oils and dyes used in the leather’s finish and they will spread back out and recover most scratches back to its original state.



- Top-Grain Leather -

Top-grain leather is the “top cut” or outermost layer from a cowhide. The same cut of leather is used for top-grain leather that is used for full-grain leather. The difference when making top-grain leather is that after the removal of the hair, the hide undergoes additional steps in the tanning process to remove any of the natural markings or blemishes that may be on the hide itself. The hide is “corrected” through very fine mechanical sanding. Once the hide is “corrected” and has a uniform appearance throughout, the hide is then tanned and finished with a protective coating that seals the pores and protects against stains and scratches. Then it is embossed with large metal rollers that add a skin texture to the leather. In most cases a natural or pebble grain texture is used.

  • Uniform color throughout the hide.

  • Will not distress over time.

  • Has a protective top coat that seals the pores and protects against stains and scratches.

  • Less expensive than full-grain leather

  • Easy to maintain and clean. In most cases it only requires a damp cloth.

  • Less absorbent than full-grain hides.

  • Does not have “recovery”. If the protective finish is broken, it requires a leather technician to be repaired.



Here is a visual example of how hides are processed at the tanneries.



- Suede & Nubuck –

Nubuck leather is made out of the outer (top-grain) layer of cowhide. The top-grain layer is tougher and more resilient than the inner layers. The hide is then sanded and milled to obtain a uniform and consistent appearance just like top-grain leather. The sanding process leaves a slight nap of short pigmented fibers giving it a velvet-like finish. The hide is then dyed. Suede is processed in a very similar manner but the inner layers of the hide is used which causes it to be less durable than nubuck leathers. For this reason, nubuck leathers are typically more expensive. Both, suede and nubuck articles are more susceptible to satins and require more effort to clean. A suede brush or in some cases a coarse piece of stone like coral can be used in the cleaning process.




There are other types of leather that are also used in the furniture industry today such as Vinyl, and “PU” leathers AKA “Bonded” leathers or split hides.


- Vinyl –

Vinyl is also known as “Faux” leather. This is a synthetic plastic product that is made from petroleum products. Vinyl leather is also named that because of the many similarities it has to real leather. It can be soft, glossy, easy to clean, and has a high heat retention. It is often used alongside top-grain leather as a match to reduce the cost of a piece of furniture. Naturally, it will not hold up like true top-grain leather and over time can crack and peel.


- “PU” Leather –

“PU” or polyurethane leather is an artificial leather made up of mostly thermoplastic polymer and is in most cases avoided when purchasing leather furniture. It will not last as long as true top-grain leather and is prone to crack. Even though it uses less resources to make, plastics do not decompose and are not eco-friendly. Some types of “PU’ leather can be referred to as “bicast” leather, “split hide” or “bonded” leather. This type uses the fibrous leftovers of the cowhide after top-grain or full-grain articles have been produced. These leftovers are glued together, embossed, and sprayed with a polyurethane outer coating.