Saturday, March 14, 2009

How to tell if leather is quality or junk.

As a professional leather technician, this is a frequently asked question: “How can I tell that the leather furniture I am buying is made with quality leather?”

It’s not always easy. The leather may look and feel comfortable in the showroom, but how will it hold up in your home?

The sales-person may tell you that it’s a grade “A” leather or a grade “2000” leather. Or some other nomenclature that sounds impressive. What does it really mean?

In a word -- nothing.

The grading system used by each leather furniture manufacturer to classify the upholstery leather installed on their furniture is not based on any industry-established standard. It’s typically marketing hype. One manufacturer’s “B” grade, is another’s “100” grade, or “1000”, and so on.

Don’t be swayed by some official-sounding label applied to leather upholstery by the furniture sales-person, or the marketing material produced by the manufacturer. Instead, ask the following questions:

1. Is the upholstery leather un-corrected top-grain? - This is leather with the greatest durability. Read the literature offered by the manufacturer. Even then, be wary. Recently a client brought a cushion into our shop from a “hide-a-bed” sofa that the manufacturer’s documentation claimed to be top-grain leather. This manufacturer, who shall remain nameless (but whose initials are JC where the J is consistent with the actress whose last name is Aniston), is misleading consumers in its printed materials. In this client’s case, the leather was a low quality split-hide, which is clearly inferior leather, and clearly not top-grain. To read more about top-grain leather go to and click on the Leather Care button.

2. Is the furniture fully upholstered with leather? - Ask if any of the upholstered sections on the piece you are considering have been upholstered in vinyl. There are issues to be considered with leather upholstery when it is mated with a synthetic material like vinyl. The seam line where the leather and vinyl meet is a potential source of problems. The vinyl often fails along that seam line and there is nothing that can be done to correct the problem except re-upholstery. And, that’s an expensive option.

3. Is the upholstery leather protected or unprotected? - Protected leather implies that the leather has a topical, pigmented coating on the surface. This upholstery leather is excellent for high-use environments, such as an active household with children, pets, and so on, where the leather may be exposed to spills, and other household hazards. Unprotected leather implies upholstery leather that is unfinished. That is to say, it has no topical, pigmented coating. This is often called pure aniline-dyed leather. The color presented comes from the dye in the leather. Because there is no protection on the leather’s surface, it is aesthetically vulnerable. It will stain and fade. So, this type of upholstery leather looks gorgeous and feels wonderful, but will not hold up well to the rigors of an active family room, with kids, dogs, etc. The sales-person may make the claim that their unfinished, aniline-dyed leather has been “treated” to resist staining. This may be true, however, the treatment is never permanent or fully effective (anyone familiar with the temporary nature of a “scotch-guard” type treatment will have a good idea what this means). Client after client has complained to me that their “treated” unfinished leather suffered staining within a month or two, or sooner.

4. Is this material bi-cast? – If the answer is yes, prepare yourself for a short life expectancy. Bi-cast, sometimes referred to as PU Leather, is a composite material much like fiberboard or pressed wood isn’t really wood, but rather made from wood fibers. Like fiberboard, it lacks the tensile strength required for regular use. Furthermore, it delaminates (peels), and tears fairly easily. To read more about bi-cast, read the article under the consumer tips section of

In the end, as a consumer, you are on your own. Your best option is to arm yourself with as much information as you can before you buy. Then ask the key questions, and be wary of the sales-person who is evasive in his or her answers.

As a further resource, email, or call Advanced Leather Solutions @ 510.786.6059 (USA) to answer questions. You’ll get straight-forward, no nonsense answers.

Copyright 2009 Kevin Gillan


  1. I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.

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