how to tell the quality of leather

How to Tell the Quality of a Leather Sofa?

In Furniture by Jamie

Purchasing a quality leather sofa is harder than you may think. There are many different grades of leather out there, and not all manufacturers are entirely honest. You may be wondering how to tell the quality of a leather sofa because it is a pretty important thing to know whether you are buying or selling.

The quality of leather can be identified by the feel, smell, and stitching. There are also different grades of leather, as well as natural grains found in the material which can help you tell the quality of your leather sofa.

But what are some of the best and worst quality leathers available for sofas? And can you tell the difference between these options when shopping? Let’s go over leather in a bit more detail now!

Is My Leather Sofa Real Leather?

If you already own a leather sofa, you may be concerned that it isn’t real leather after all. How can you tell, if you think the retailer has not been entirely honest with you?

A real leather sofa will feel soft and supple to the touch. The main distinguishing characteristic of a real leather sofa is the smell- real leather will have a comforting and warm scent to it, while fake leather will smell more of chemicals and unappealing scents.

Real leather also must be stitched together, given that a single hide can’t physically be bigger than 6 feet in length. If your couch is one continuous piece of “leather”, there’s no way it can be considered real leather.

Like wood products, leather contains a natural grain to it. You can investigate your leather sofa for this grain- it should appear irregular and inconsistent. If your leather doesn’t contain any grains or faint patterns, it could be fake.

If you suspect that your leather sofa isn’t actually real leather, it may be worth reaching out to the sofa’s manufacturer. It is better to know the identifiers of real leather before going shopping for a leather sofa!

What Are The Different Types of Leather for Furniture?

There are many different types of leather when it comes to furniture manufacturing. These types can determine the durability and natural look of your leather furniture. The type of leather can refer to both the layer of hide used, as well as the leather finish applied to the hide.

Let’s go over a few of the most common types-both hide and finish- together.

Aniline

Aniline is a type of leather finish, and it dyes your leather sofa a certain pigment. However, this finish allows the natural leather grain and texture to still shine through, making it a popular choice for many leather furniture applications.

Semi-Aniline

Semi-aniline is similar to aniline in that the leather is dyed with a soluble dye and pigment. However, this pigment is even less potent than the pigments used in aniline, meaning more of the natural texture, color, and grain shines through.

Pigmented

Pigmented leather is still real leather, but it won’t look like it. This type of leather finish creates a deeply colored and dyed leather- it is perfect for a statement piece of furniture. If you are looking for a leather sofa that isn’t brown, getting a pigmented leather sofa is the way to go.

Full Grain

Full grain leather refers to the section of hide used in the production of the furniture. The full grain portion is the topmost piece of the hide, once the hair has been removed. This section is often the most appealing to look at, as it has many grains, patterns, and textures.

Full grain leather isn’t sanded down, pigmented, or polished in any way. It is supple and durable, and finding full grain furniture without much damage means you have found a high quality product. 

Top Grain

Top grain leather is similar to full grain in that it is comprised of the topmost portion of the hide. However, top grain leather means that the fur has been removed from the leather, and it has been polished, buffed, or sanded down.

Why would manufacturers do this, you ask? This is an important step in the leather making process, especially if the hide has many imperfections or dings. Sanding down the hide makes for a more uniform appearance, and appeals to many buyers, especially in a furniture setting.

types of leather for furniture

What is the Best Quality Leather for Furniture?

If you are shopping around for a new leather sofa, you may be wondering what some of the best quality leather options there are for furniture specifically. Let’s go over some of the best choices to consider before you go shopping.

  • Full-grain leather is an excellent choice for leather furniture, as it is a naturally beautiful hide. It has also not been buffed or sanded, making it strong and reliable. The graining and natural imperfections often appeal to a modern household.
  • Top grain leather is another excellent pick for those of you seeking a more natural-looking leather sofa, but this option eliminates many large dings and distress from the hide. If you want a refined look, but still natural, look for top grain leather.
  • Aniline leather is treated with a thin coat that naturally protects the hide, so it is a great fit for many homes. The pigment can often give it a less natural look, but the treatment is used often and is a very popular choice for sofas.
  • Semi-aniline sofas are another good choice, as their pigmentation is much less than some options on this list. These leathers are still coated with a protective layer, meaning it will resist staining and wear.
  • Pigmented leather is great for furniture applications, as it contains a protective layer for daily use. It also means that your couch will be a unique and fun color, should you choose that. You don’t have to settle for a tan leather couch these days!

What’s the Worst Quality Leather?

There are some leathers that are not worth purchasing, especially in a furniture application. You should be shopping for a sturdy, stain-resistant, and attractive leather for your sofa. Here are some of the worst quality leathers to avoid while shopping.

  • Bonded leather takes leather scraps and bits, creating an ultimately manufactured leather product. While it is still technically leather, these products are less durable and attractive than traditional leather hides.
  • Faux leather is obviously not leather- it is often made of vinyl and other plastic materials. This type of sofa may cost significantly less than leather sofas, but the quality will suffer because of this.
  • Split grain leather is from a different portion of the hide, and is a less dense style of leather. Because of this, it isn’t as reliable or heavy duty as top or full grain leather. However, it can still be useful when used as an accent.

Having faux or cheap quality leather may be a reason why it scratches or rips easily, check out our Why Does My Leather Sofa Scratch So Easily? article to find out more information about leather protection and much more.

How to Tell What Type of Leather it is?

While shopping, it may be difficult to tell what type of leather you are looking at. It can be especially tricky to tell what type of leather your sofa is if you haven’t purchased it already- however, if you already own a leather couch, try out these simple tests to see what type of leather you have.

  • Touch your leather and observe how it feels. If it feels very smooth and like skin, it is most likely aniline leather. If it feels slightly less smooth, it is most likely semi-aniline. If the material feels like it has been painted or covered in product, it is pigmented.
  • Smelling the leather can give you an idea as to the quality of it. The more pleasant, warm, and earthy it smells, the more likely it is real leather. And, if it doesn’t smell like chemicals, it is most likely an undyed leather product, like aniline.
  • Look for graining in your leather, as the grain is a key feature in aniline, semi-aniline, and full grain leather. Top grain and pigmented leather may also have graining and patterns, but they will have fewer than the other untreated options.
  • Perform a water test on your leather sofa, but only if you own it. Drop a single droplet of water onto your leather sofa. If it soaks in immediately, it is aniline. If it slowly seeps in, your couch is semi-aniline. And pigmented leather furniture will resist the water completely!

Final Thoughts

Choosing a quality leather sofa takes a bit of finesse, but should be easy with these helpful tips. Practice identifying genuine leather products before you make your final leather sofa purchase, and don’t be afraid to smell and feel everything! If you are interested in other leather furniture questions, feel free to type leather into our search bar above and look through our variety of leather articles on our website.

About the Author

Jamie

Jamie is the Founder of My Home Dwelling. He is a homeowner and enjoys sharing his homeowner tips with others. He has real estate experience working as a new home construction Realtor. Jamie has worked on numerous residential construction sites helping with interior and exterior renovations. He loves refinishing furniture, DIY home projects, and sharing his knowledge online.