Types of Leather Explained


When it comes to house furnishings, you may want to consider investing in a leather couch or furniture pieces like sofas and lounges. They look warm and inviting and serve as a classy addition to any home.

But first of all, what is leather?

A material made from the skin or hide of an animal such as cows or crocodiles, leather is made via a process called tanning. Depending on your lifestyle choices or budget, you can consider genuine, by-product or synthetic leather options for your furniture.

Genuine Leather

Genuine leather doesn’t come cheap but it’s usually sought after for its appealing durability, physical appearance and other sensory qualities (e.g. smell, texture).

fullgrain Full-grain leather is the most coveted type as it retains the original texture of the animal hide. Not altered beyond hair removal, its markings, or the grain, are seen as giving beauty and character to the furniture.

In top-grain leather, however, the grain is removed to make it look smooth or uniformed. While it is sanded or buffed to remove imperfection, corrected-grain is further applied with artificial grain on the surface – such leather is more resistant to scratches or stains but is stiffer as well.

While the first 3 types are made with the outer hide of leather, split leather is made with the inner layer. They are less expensive and are not as soft or long-lasting.

Leather By-Products

To cut costs and present leather products at attractive prices for the consumer, retailers may turn to inexpensive materials such as bi-cast or bonded leather. They are not 100% leather and in countries such as the United Kingdom or New Zealand, using the term ‘leather’ to describe such products is considered a misrepresentation.

That said, bicast or bonded leather are still great options for the budget-conscious – just make sure cunning salesmen don’t try to rip you off.

Bi-cast (Polyurethane or PU) leather is actually split-leather or composite leather laminated with a thick layer of polyurethane. Furniture manufacturers use bi-cast leather for its cheap pricing and “new” looking appearance (shiny texture similar to patent leather on shoes).

Bonded Leather is reconstituted leather and is composed of scraps joined together by adhesive and reconstructed with substances like latex and polyurethane for a leather appearance.

MassageChairSynthetic Leather

Synthetic leather, on the other hand, is lightweight man-made fabric that is dyed and treated to imitate the qualities of real leather. Not only does it look and feel like leather, it is often used as a substitute because it’s cheaper, more durable and also stain-resistant (easier to clean).

The most common type of synthetic leather is pleather or plastic leather. It can be made of different plastics, such as polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PU-based ones are the most common – they are more breathable, lighter and flexible compared to real leather. Its colour also won’t fade and its elasticity makes it a great choice for massage chairs or comfort.

How To Look After Your Leather Sofa

Maintenance of your sofa is one important factor for consideration when purchasing leather furniture. Real leather can be tricky to clean and at times, requires professional help (e.g. ink stains). You must also take care of the kind of cleaning agents you use on the leather to prevent chemical reactions.

Some general tips:

  • Do not mar your sofa with sharp objects such as jewellery
  • Avoid long exposure to sunlight or direct heat

Genuine leather:

Leather furniture needs to be dusted daily. Accumulated dust tends to get trapped in the porous leather material. After certain periods of use, this accumulated dust will rub against your leather, causing wear-and-tear, which exhibits itself in the form of flaking leather or faded colour.

Avoid soaps, detergent, sprays, oils and polishes. If the manufacturer doesn’t leave you with any care instructions, always begin with the gentlest of cleaning methods and test out your method on an inconspicuous spot in the sofa. Vigorous rubbing or using a coarse cloth can damage the sofa’s delicate surface.

CleanEveryday Cleaning and Care: Wipe your furniture with a clean soft white cloth. A white cloth ensures that colour or dye doesn’t end up on your leather. Use a damp cloth if you haven’t been cleaning it regularly. Make sure your cloth isn’t dripping wet.

Cleaning wet spots or stains: Dab immediately with an absorbent cloth or sponge. Blotting is key in preventing the spread of the liquid or stains. Never use alcohol products on your leather product as they can damage the colour.

Use protection or conditioning products. Depending on your type of leather, there are ranges of creams and conditioners that can help protect your leather against elements such as sun damage, water, oil and alcohol stains. Always seek a professional’s help when unsure.

Synthetic leather / Leather By-Products:

While genuine leather is durable, it still requires plenty of TLC (Tender, Loving Care).

Synthetic leather, or leather by-products, however, are more resistant to stains and the sun due to its PU coating and usually require little maintenance; a simple wiping down routine would suffice.

Simply dust your leather weekly to remove loose dust and dirt. When it comes to cleaning, soak a soft cloth in lukewarm or soapy water, wring dry and wipe. Remember to remove all soapy residue after you’re done and wipe again to dry. And that’s it!

One more reason consumers are turning to synthetic, PU and bonded leather is due to increasing awareness of animal cruelty. Man-made leather comes from petroleum sources and because of that, it will also not decompose as quickly.

They are truly feasible options for the household and if you previously had the perception that leather furniture is too expensive or difficult to maintain, you can now throw that thought away!