When shopping for leather furniture, most retailers will present you with different "grades" of leather to choose from.

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.

In the United States, 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.

So, 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:

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. 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 is misleading consumers in its printed materials. In this client’s case, the leather was a low quality split-hide, which is an inferior leather, and clearly not top-grain.

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. For more information, see our archive post about the potential problems of combining leather and vinyl in leather furniture upholstery applications.

Is the upholstery leather protected or unprotected? Protected leather implies that the leather has a topical, pigmented coating on the outer surface. This upholstery leather is excellent for high-use environments, such as an active household with children, pets, and so on, where the leather will 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 nor 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 us that their “treated” unfinished leather suffered staining within a month or two, or sooner.

In the end, as a consumer, you are on your own. Browse our web-site and 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.

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