How do I know what type of leather is used on my furniture? What are the grades of leather and Finishes of leather?
Leather is one of today's most popular upholstery fabrics. Leather is soft, supple and extremely durable...it may actually outlast other upholstery many times over. Leather breathes and keeps cool in summer and warm during winter months. Leather upholstery is made from hides that are subjected to a series of chemical processes which is called tanning. This process softens, beautifies and protects these hides. Before purchasing leather upholstery, it is important to understand the features and benefits of different grades of leather.
If you are not sure of the type or finish of your leather, look beneath the seat cushion to find a label with Leather Classification and Leather Care Tips'.
Brown Label = 'A', 'P', or 'SA' - Aniline, Protected/Pigmented, or Semi-Aniline Leathers Blue Label = 'N' - Nubuck Leathers
Leather care and cleaning
There are primarily 2 grades or cuts of leather:
Top-grain leather is the top layer of the hide. The top portion of the hide is approximately 3/64-inches thick and is the most premium grade of leather. Top-grain leather may be processed into full grain leather, which is not buffed or sanded, and maintains all of the natural markings that were on the hide or corrected grain leather which is buffed and sanded to correct surface markings. The surface of corrected grain leather is smoother and more uniform.
Split leather comes from the lower layer of the hide. It is then processed into suede, split or coated split leather. Coated split leather is stiffer and less durable than top grain and is often used to cover the portions of a sofa or chair that will not be seen and does not need to be as flexible as the top.
There are 4 finishes or treatments of leather:
Full Aniline Dyed Leather
Most tanned leather is colored with a penetrating aniline dye that is absorbed by the pores and permeates the surface of the hide, giving it color without covering over natural markings. Pure aniline dyed leather has a clear, protective aniline coating, but it does not have an applied pigmented surface coating or finish. This is the best quality and most expensive leather. It is used for hides with few natural markings and no need for correction. Only a small portion of hides are good enough for this treatment, which explains the higher prices, but these are the leathers that tend to develop a rich patina with age.
Semi-Aniline Dyed Leather
Semi-aniline leather is a leather hide with only a small amount of surface coating. It has the same amount of aniline dye as the pure aniline dyed leather. However, it is not recommended for excessive use, because the pigment could wear off.
Nubuck leather, like top-grain leather, comes from the top portion of the hide and has a slight nap. It looks like suede, yet is more durable. Nubuck leather is frequently treated with chemicals to resist stains and water.
Pigment Dyed Leather
Pigment dyed refers to leather whose surface has been coated with finishing materials containing pigments or other opaque materials. The process is much like a painting process and the dye stays close to the surface. With years of use, pigment dyed leathers may require you to touch up scratches that have penetrated deep enough into the leather to reach the natural hide, which would be lighter in color.