Leather Types and Furniture Care

Leather Types and Furniture Care

Leather Types and Furniture Care

You are either looking to make a quality leather furniture purchase or have just made one and now need to know how to care for it so it will give you years of lasting use and joy.   First and foremost you need to know what kind of leather you are purchasing or have purchased to know how to properly clean it.  In this article we will explore leather types and furniture care options for that new exciting leather furniture purchase .

Understanding Types of Leather

Leather choicesLeather is an expensive furniture material that comes in premium grain qualities, types and colors. It is beautiful and can last for years with proper care and cleaning.  Before purchasing a piece of leather furniture understand what kind of leather it is and if it is worth the asking price.  There are many dealers selling sub-standard leathers and faux leather furniture at expensive prices because they are banking on non-informed people shelling out lots of money for the perceived real thing.

Let’s look at the types of leather available for furniture and help you decide what leather type you should for when consider this furniture covering type.

  • Full Grain – is essentially the full hide of the animal is was taken from minus the hair.  It retains the natural texture and look of its origin and will show the grain of the material. It wears well and gets softer over time.  Some of the hides are soaked in natural analine dye to give them their color.  This is the best quality of leather and hence carries the largest price tag.
  • Top Grain Leather – top grain leather gets more polishing than full grain leather but s similar in grain and purity. It goes through a buffing process, which makes it softer with the same durability and longevity as full grain leather. Top grain leather is shiny, has natural color variations and a pebbling look and feel. This would be a great choice if you want the softer look and feel.
  • Split Grain Leather – this gets it name from when the outer layer of leather is removed and you are left with a split part of the hide.  This is still 100% leather, but lacks the characteristics of full grain and its softness. Split grain leather is harder, more fragile and will damage more readily if not properly handled. It lacks the characteristics of top grain leather and must undergo various processing to simulate the look and feel of the top grain leather.
  • Bonded Leather – bonded leather is made from the scraps of other leather projects, rolled up using an adhesive material and produced as a 10-17% leather product that gives you the look and smell of real leather. Bonded leather furniture makes a good covering choice as it is durable and can satisfy those with leather allergies. Bonded leather is cheaper leather (if you can call that at only 10-17% real leather) if you are looking for the feel and smell of leather without the high price tag.  Note that bonded leather is mostly plastic in nature and will not acclimate to your body temp or age gracefully.
  • Nubuck Leather –  Nubuck leather is made from the rawhide of cattle, which is sanded on the grain side to give it a soft suede-like appearance.  Nubuck is a more fragile covering and requires a waterproofing treatment to keep the material looking good and uniform.  Nubuck has the feel of suede or velvet.
  • Bi-cast Leather – Bi-cast leather is a layer of split grain leather that was too flawed for normal use that is sealed to a layer of polyurethane that makes it look like top grain leather. It is much less expensive than top grain, but will crack and peel without a layer of treatment.  Since your body is not actually sitting on leather the material will not wear the same way as top grain leather. The plus side of bi-cast leather is that spills wipe up easily and the material can withstand food and liquid stains better as the material is mostly plastic in design.  Bi-cast leather could be an economical purchase for those wanting a colored leather look with the protection of polyurethane.
  • Faux Leather – faux leather doesn’t actually use any animal hide.  It is a man-made synthetic material that uses primarily plastic and rubber.  Faux leather can’t quite match the feel, softness and look of top grain leather but it can come close to emulating a leather product.  For animal lovers and those allergic to leather this would be a great alternative covering material.  Faux leather is durable, comes in a variety of colors, is attractive and is the cheapest of the leather family furniture.

You can read more about comparisons of the leather products at  Leather Sofa.

Leather Coloring and Dyes

Aniline, Semi-Aniline and Pigmentation are the result of adding color or dye to full and top grain leather hides.

Full Aniline

Leather dying

Full Aniline treatment produces the highest quality premium full leather product. Aniline refers to the dying process used to produce a variety of colors without losing saturation or clarity of the full grain leather, leaving the grain pattern and surface characteristics in tact.  Leather hides are soaked in vats until the desired transparent color is fully saturated.

  • If using a recommended aniline leather-cleaning product always follow the instructions and test on a hidden area first.
  • A recommended aniline leather protection cream can be applied to offer more protection against staining and scratching but it may alter the color of the leather. When using recommended creams, always pay follow the instructions and test on a hidden area first.


Semi-Aniline dye treatment is a natural treatment that adds secondary pigments or finish to the full-grain leather hide to give it extra protection against wear, stains and exposure to light.  Some shade variations can occur but the process adds extra durability and will give the leather a glossy or matte finish.

  • If using a recommended aniline leather-cleaning product always follow the instructions and test on a hidden area first.
  • A recommended aniline leather protection cream can be applied to offer more protection against staining and scratching but it may alter the color of the leather. When using recommended creams, always pay follow the instructions and test on a hidden area first.

Full-aniline dying is reserved for full grain leather while semi-aniline treatments are usually reserved for about 95% of the top grain leathers.  (Only 5% of top grain leathers are considered perfect enough to use the aniline dying method.) By covering blemishes and imperfections the leather can achieve a uniform appearance making it ideal covering for a rich leather look and feel. While imperfections will always be present in any aniline application they are considered minor enough to not detract from the attractive appearance of the leather covering.

It might seem that full-aniline would be the hands-down choice when choosing upholstery for leather furniture, assuming that the extra cost (understandably due to the higher-quality of the leather used for aniline leather) isn’t an obstacle. But there are many reasons why semi-aniline might be a better choice for the average home.


Pigmented leather is used to add color to only the surface of the leather and is not dyed all the way through the leather.  It is most durable due to its polymer surface coating which contains pigments. It is used in the majority of furniture coverings and nearly all car upholstery as it hides imperfections and adds durability.

For additional information on the pros and cons of aniline versus semi-aniline read the FOW Blog.

For additional information on leather color and dye types see All About Leather.

Cleaning Leather Furniture

Most people think of leather like their skin.  Both need to be moisturized from time to time to maintain a supple look and smooth feel. Here are some cleaning and maintenance tips to protect your investment.

Leather chairConsiderations

  • Remember leather is a natural product and will require a little extra care to maintain its beauty and function for years to come.
  • Avoid placing your leather furniture in direct sunlight as it can fade part of your color giving the furniture an uneven look.
  • Also avoid placing your new leather furniture in places of extreme temperature changes, such as on a porch that can get hot in summer and cold in winter.  Also avoid directly placing the leather furniture against radiators and air conditioners as large changes in temperature can make furniture dry and brittle.
  • Never consider using soap or soapy water to clean or maintain your leather furniture!
  • Consider not allowing your pets on the expensive leather furniture to avoid lots of scratches and scuff marks.

Normal cleaning and maintenance

  • According to the American Leather Company (1) leather should be conditioned every 6-12 months.
  • Always test any new cleaning product in a hidden area in case there is and discoloration or damage to your furniture.
  • Do NOT use solvents, furniture oils and polishes, varnishes, soaps, abrasive cleaners or ammonia dilutions to clean your leather furniture!  This could cause more problems, such as staining or thinning of your product.
  • Use a certified leather furniture cleaner or cream to condition your new leather furniture (available on our site).
  • Many people have reported simple baby wipes clean painted leather furniture and clothing.
  • Many people have found EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) gently rubbed into the furniture, especially a worn area, can revitalize the color and patina.

Scuffs, scrapes and stains

  • Immediately clean up any spills with a dry towel or sponge by blotting or lighting wiping up the excess liquid.  Allow to air dry.
  • Do not use soapy water to clean any scuffs, scrapes or stains as it could do more damage than the spill. Soap will dry out the leather making it dry and brittle.
  • Use a clean dry cloth to wipe up any oily, buttery or greasy stains and then leave alone as the spot should dissipate into the leather,  If the stain persists, you will need to call a specialist for assistance.
  • Use a chamois cloth to gently buff out scratches.  For furniture that has a waxy coating in their leather gentle rubbing, sometimes with a little heat, can buff the scratch away. For deeper scratches use a certified cleaner, conditioner or protection solution to buff out the marks.
  • Many stains do not occur by spills but by the oils and sweat produced by people using the furniture, If not regularly cleaned or treated large stains can appear over time making it necessary to call a professional for assistance.
  • For large cuts and stains you should consult a professional.


Before and After Photos of Leather Conditioning and Restoration

Leather Pros Inc Stained Chair Leather Pros Inc Repaired Chair
 Leather Pros Inc Damaged Sofa  Leather Pros Inc reconditioned Sofa (2)



Video Assistance on Fabric and Leather Furniture Care

This video will help explain the different kinds and characteristics of leathers you will want to consider in a purchase and future cleaning and maintenance.

This video is Martha Stewart showing how to clean suede and leather furniture and clothing articles:



Leather Types and Furniture Care Conclusion

Don’t shy away from choosing a leather piece of furniture that makes you happy sitting on the piece or accessorizing your decor. Identify your leather type of fabric and the specifics of caring for your leather furniture piece.  Proper cleaning, whether done in home or by a professional, will keep your furniture selection(s) looking great and feeling comfortable for years to come.

Wishing you cleaning and maintenance success for your leather furniture choices!





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