Within the past year, numerous customers have shared pictures of their headboards, recliner styled chairs and sofas with the “leather” upholstery literally peeling away from the fabric underneath. They state that the damage started within a few short years of the purchase. Unfortunately, this is one upholstery failure we see the most. In order to avoid leather upholstery failure, it’s best to seek quality leather, such as full grain and top grain leather. We will show you what that looks like, which types of leather to invest in, and which one to avoid.
Best Investment: Full Grain Leather
Full grain leather is essentially the original animal hide, which has the hair removed and is soaked in a natural dye, typically vegetable. To recognize this type of leather, the grain must be fully intact. All markings, wrinkles, and scars of the animal are preserved on the hide and can be clearly seen that it is untouched by splitting, sanding or buffing.
This top-of-the-line quality leather is the most durable and breathable. The tight grain pattern also makes it slightly resistant to moisture. Since this type of leather is in its purest form, an investment will be made in order for it to last for decades and prevent failure after a few short years of the purchase.
Second Choice: Top Grain Leather
Though top grain leather is not as durable as full grain due to it being split of full grain, it is preferable to lesser qualities of leather. Splitting is when the leather is cut into two layers, giving twice as much product per hide. Top grain leather is made from the second layer of the hide from the top. Imperfections are removed by sanding or buffing creating a uniform, flawless appearance and a softer feeling. For these reasons, top grain leather is thinner and more affordable compared to full grain leather. However, durability and lifespan reduces. With that said, this would be the second best choice if you are looking for a smoother, softer leather that will last considerably longer than a few years.
Worst Purchase: Bonded Leather
There are many terms to describe this type of “leather”: recycled, reclaimed, blended, or reconstituted leather. In the end, these terms fall into a type called bonded leather. It is made from bits and pieces of real leather, or leftovers, which are glued to the backing with a weaker adhesive. Many experts do not consider it real leather because the end product, in most cases, contains about 17% leather.
Bonded leather is the cheapest and also the lowest grade leather on the market. Because there is less actual leather in the final product, the durability suffers dramatically, which explains why we have repair requests only after a few years of having the piece. In addition, bonded leather undergoes a magnitude of embossing, coating, chemicals, and spray paints to make it look like top grain or full grain leather.
However, not all imitation leather is undesirable. Naugahyde and Boltaflex are the two major companies you can trust being a quality provider of supported vinyl. I have yet to hear about their fabrics failing. Naugahyde has been around since before the 1950s and, in my opinion, is the premier supported vinyl company. Boltaflex is close after them.
The Bottom Line: Look Closely at the Tag
If it doesn’t say full grain or top grain, then do not expect it to last nearly as long as your grandparents’ leather furniture did. Prices can also be an indicator. Having a low cost suggests that the piece of furniture more than likely is made of bonded leather, which can be expected to fail soon after the purchase is made. At the end of the day, buying new leather furniture is your choice, but we hope this guide will help you decide if quality leather is worth the investment or not.