Top-Grain vs. Split-Grain Leather and Leather Furniture Care

AT-4 Leather Chesterfield SetteeIn my recent customer spotlight about interior designer Charity and the new antiqued leather settee she bought from us,  I mentioned that leather sofas, chairs, stools and benches are among our top sellers.

One of the leather furniture makers that we work with is a small family business, and they gave me some great info about the different types of leather and the care of leather.Top Grain cream leather sofa

My first lesson was about the difference between top-grain and split-grain leather. Full-grain leather is the natural whole hide, but that whole hide is usually split into layers for making furniture upholstery. (Think of it like peeling two slices of bread apart!)
Both cuts of leather are true 100% leather and each one is wonderful for different purposes, looks, type of furniture and price points.

Red Leather Cloister counter stoolThe top-grain is the cut from the hair side of the leather. It is the most common type of leather used in high-end leather products as it is smooth and pliable.
The traditional top-grain leather look is shiny and smooth and soft to the touch, with natural color and texture variations.  Many of our sofas and chairs are top-grain leather.

The split-grain is from the flesh side. It is a tougher and thicker cut of leather and it is usually at a slightly lower price point. After the split is made, this layer of leather has a fuzzy suede look on both sides and it is light in color. Then it is finished to give it the look and feel of top-grain leather. Usually this includes applying color and a clear protective top coat.

Leather Furniture Care

Leather is porous and it’s made up of around 12-14% water which keeps it so luxuriously supple. But even though it is such a sturdy and timeless upholstery material, you do need to avoid things that will dry the leather out. For example, it’s best to keep it away from a heater or from direct sun right beneath a window.

Top Grain Leather sofa hand-made in USATo clean leather furniture, only use a water based leather cleaner. Before my leather lesson from the furniture makers, I didn’t know how bad the leather conditioners are that you can buy in supermarkets and chain stores. I never thought about it for leather, but it is just like all of those furniture sprays that are also bad for your furniture and create a waxy build-up.

New Madison Leather Club ChairMy leather expert said never to use regular household products to clean and care for leather. This includes products containing oils, waxes or silicones, as they dry out the leather big time! Most “conditioners” contain waxes or oils while furniture polish contains silicones. These all ruin the leather finish. Car cleaners with oils or waxes can leave residue that acts like a magnet to dirt, creating a build-up and finally cracking of the leather. Chemicals in many leather wipes also destroy the finish and dry out the hide so it peels.

Baby wipes are terrible for leather too as is dishwashing liquid as it has a high salt content and will ruin your finish. What about Saddle Soap? That should be OK, right? Wrong! The finish on beautiful leather furniture is not the same as saddle leather, so keep the saddle soap in the stable!

Top Grain Leather Sofa Antique LookAfter cleaning with a water based leather cleaner and nothing else, treat the leather furniture with a good water based leather protector. This creates a protective barrier, preventing dirt and stains from soaking into the leather.

Regularly wiping the leather with a damp cloth helps to clean dirt and body oils from the furniture in addition to helping rehydrate the leather – it’s nature’s own moisturizer! Take care of your top-grain or split-grain leather furniture and it will be look handsome and feel great for years!

AimeeAvatarAimee owns EuroLuxHome.com with her husband and best friend, Greg. Aimee sources amazing antique furniture, vintage lighting, & high-quality reproduction furniture to help her customers decorate their homes in a unique way. She loves her 8 (you read that right) fuzzy children and is renovating a 1920s bungalow in South Carolina. Find us on Facebook or connect with EuroLux on Google+. Or you can sign up here to receive this blog in your inbox.

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