Are you not sure whether the piece of “leather furniture” you’re looking at is actually leather? Well, with so many different variations of “leather” out there on the market, it really is hard to tell!
This video is a great visual understanding of the different kinds of leather that come from a hide. Keep reading on to learn how the different qualities of leather are used in furniture and what to look out for when buying leather furniture.
The Ugly Truth About Bonded Leather
The vast majority of the “affordable” leather furniture on the market today is likely made from a form of synthetic leather called “bonded leather”. Now, bonded leather can still be classified as “Genuine Leather”, but be aware that it’s only typically 17% leather. Bonded leather is a partially synthetic , (mostly synthetic, really) leather that is made by spreading a polyurethane or vinyl blend over ground-up leather scraps like he mentions in the video above.
A great trick is to sit and see if you stick! Sticking means it’s not real leather because real leather is breathable and doesn’t stick. Generally speaking if your sofa cost under $1000 its a safe bet that it not a true leather sofa.
As sneaky as bonded leather is, it is technically more environmentally-friendly than a true leather tanning process. On the flip side, when there is waste produced it’s plastic and not an organic compound, so when it ends up in a landfill it stays there for far longer than a true leather product would. True leather takes roughly 20 to 40 years to biodegrade, while a vinyl or plastic product will take 500 years or more to do the same.
Reconstituted leather and bycast leather are in the same vein as bonded leather, being composed primarily of a plastic substance as either a binder or a cover so don’t let the different terminologies confuse you as they really are the same leather grade- scraps of leather blended with polyurethane or vinyl.
There are a few benefits to having bonded leather. Because bonded leather is primarily a plastic covering with leather scraps it does make it much more family friendly and easy to care for. So you get the look without the big price tag and an easy clean up, but your longevity of your furniture piece is compromised big time.
What Exactly is Split Leather?
Split leather is a version of 100% real leather, but does not include the top-grain of the hide. Split leather is simply the lower layers of an animal hide underneath the top grain, and therefore does not carry many of the natural characteristics of fine leather . This offers a cleaner non- marked look without compromising the great leather feel. Split leather is the next best leather option to top grain leather making it a great Leather option for those that want a high quality leather that will last and not break the bank.
To make split leather more genuine, manufacturers run it through a few processes making it more uniform- giving that cleaner non-marked look. However, if the variation in color and natural markings are what really rev you up, then top grain leather is what you’re probably going to want to go with.
What About Leather Matching?
Leather matching is somewhat of a grey area in the leather world. Many understand it as simply matching color stain if you’re trying to get two pieces alike or even reviving the color of two sofa cushions. While leather matching does mean that as an adjective; leather matching is more of a term in the leather furniture manufacturing world. It’s an effort by manufacturers to get the best of both worlds- true top grain leather stitched with affordable split hide or another version of leather to give you quality where it counts and be able to cut the price down considerably.
Ok let’s clarify- So with matched leather you are actually getting a piece of furniture with real top-grain leather on all of the visible areas and most touched areas like the backrest, arms and seat cushions. But, all of the more hidden areas such as the side panels are replaced with either split leather or a version of bonded leather. This means that those areas will wear differently, and after several years of use it can start to become obvious as to what section is top grain and where the affordable leather version is. The most obvious will be fading if the furniture is placed in a well-lit area. Although it is recommended that leather furniture of any sort be kept out of direct sunlight.
Leather matching is a very economical way to get a real leather piece of furniture. But as mentioned above it is going to wear differently throughout the years and may look a little mismatched over time so keep this in mind when doing your leather furniture shopping. expect to pay around $1000-$2000 on a split or matched leather sofa.
With a good understanding of bonded leather, matched leather and true top grain leather; how can you tell the difference between synthetic leather and true leather products? Here are some tricks.
- When sitting on a piece of “leather” furniture, pay attention to whether the surface acclimates to your body temperature or not. Since synthetic leather is largely plastic, it will remain the same temperature no matter how long you sit there and warm it up.
- Pay attention to any inconsistencies in the surface. An animal hide is as unique as a human fingerprint and will show natural variations in color and consistency. This includes the natural “pebbled” surface that will vary depending on where on the animal the hide was taken from.
- When it comes to finding out about leather matching, let your eyes be the spies. You can easily look at the back of a leather/vinyl piece of furniture and compare it to the back of an all leather piece of furniture. If it is vinyl on the back, it will be one large section. If it is leather split or all leather, it will be panels of leather.
Overall, your best option is to choose a true real leather furniture option. With proper care, a piece of real leather furniture can last for many years and could even be passed on to your children when they leave the nest!