Know Your Leather

Genuine Leather. Faux-Leather. Leather-Match. So, What's the Difference?

Odds are, if you’re in the market for new furniture, you’ve come across a few of those terms. They may sound interchangeable at first, but there are very important differences you should note before making a purchase.

Genuine Leather

Leather is created by tanning the rawhide of an animal (mostly cattle) and can have a variety of looks depending on the tanning technique. Three main techniques are used in leather upholstery:

Aniline Leather: High quality, top-grain leather with no protective treatment. It has a natural look and shows the animal’s distinct markings and scars. Aniline leather is susceptible to absorbing oils and stains

Semi-Aniline Leather: Just like Aniline leather, but has a protective treatment or clear finish which helps it resists staining better than pure aniline leather

Pigmented Leather: Has had pigment added as well as a protective coat, giving it a shiny appearance. Offers most stain resistance. Most common type of leather found in furniture. 

You can expect the cost of genuine-leather to be relatively high compared to other upholstery options. It is also the most durable and luxurious choice for upholstered items.

Faux-Leather

Made from a fabric base, faux-leather is not made of an animal hide. It may be commonly made from fabric coated with wax or polyurethane to give the appearance of pigmented leather.  We define any upholstery with a leather-look but is not a genuine leather surface to be ‘faux-leather’ which includes vinyl and polyurethane (PU). Bonded leather, which is made of leather fibers coated in polyurethane, is one such upholstery type we classify as faux-leather. The price of faux-leather varies, but is typically priced lowest of the three. Because it is a man-made material, the durability is less than that of genuine leather. This is a great choice for low traffic upholstered items.

Leather-Match

Leather-match is essentially what can be considered a middle ground alternative when you want the look and durability of leather but want to keep the cost down. An item that features leather-match upholstery has all surfaces that touch the body upholstered in genuine leather while the balance of the surfaces are upholstered in matching faux-leather. To illustrate, a leather-match couch’s seat and back cushions would be upholstered in genuine leather (as well as the armrests in some cases), while the outer back and sides would be covered in faux-leather. As you can probably guess, the longevity expected from these items is longer than those upholstered solely in faux-leather. Prices for leather-match upholstery typically fall somewhere between all-leather and faux-leather products.

Key Points:

  • Because it comes from the skin of an animal, genuine leather has its own characteristics, varying from one hide to the next. No two pieces are exactly the same
  • When inspected closely, the pores of genuine leather will not appear to be in a consistent pattern. In contrast, faux-leather has repeated pattern which has been made in production
  • The texture of genuine leather and faux-leather may be similar at times, but you can expect faux-leather to be more flexible and have a bit more stretch to it.
  • Life expectancy will vary by product and use, but you can safely expect genuine-leather to last an average of 3x longer than faux-leather
  • The cost of genuine leather is significantly higher than faux-leather

Caring for Genuine Leather

While it is very durable, genuine leather must be properly cared for to avoid staining and cracking. Extend the life of your leather product by cleaning it regularly. Use a clean, dry cloth as part of a basic cleaning routine as well as vacuuming between the crevices where build-up can occur. Using leather conditioner once every 6-12 months will keep leather soft and help prevent cracks from developing. Be sure to read the instructions before applying any product to your leather items. Avoid any products not intended for leather as they may harm the protective coat or the leather itself. Do not use harsh chemicals or household cleaners. Alcohol based and silicone based formulas such as those found in popular automotive cleaners should not be used on genuine leather. To keep your leather furniture looking beautiful, never place in direct sunlight as prolonged exposure to the sun may cause the leather to fade or crack. This is intended as a general guide. Always follow care instructions provided by the manufacturer. 

Caring for faux-leather

To extend the life of your faux-leather upholstered items, be sure to clean regularly with a dry microfiber cloth. To remove stains, wipe the surface with a non-abrasive cloth, using a mix of mild liquid detergent and soap. Ensure you have wiped away all the soap suds and water with a dry cloth. Avoid harsh chemicals, alcohol based products, or household cleaners as they may break down the coating of the fabric. This is intended as a general guide, always follow care instructions provided by the manufacturer.