Leather 101: How To Differentiate and Care for Leather Furniture

It’s time for you to purchase new living room furniture. What are some of the first questions you ask yourself? Some shoppers have the “I know it when I see it” mentality, while others struggle with uncertainty. We see many detail oriented shoppers who want to weigh in every aspect—space, size, style, and comfort. One of the more challenging comfort decisions boils down to choosing upholstery or leather. Either choice is a great option, but for today’s post we have focused on leather!

Leather is durable and each piece has its own story. That’s the beauty of it—no two hides are alike. We want to share some information along with leather care tips to help you become a more educated shopper. When looking to purchase leather furniture, it’s easy to assume it’s all the same…but, (surprise!) several types of leather exist. Here is a breakdown of the differences in leather:

Natural Leather

Top-Grain Natural Leather


Top-grain leather is the cream of the crop. It comes from the outermost (or top) layer of the hide and earned the right of being the only leather recommended for high-quality sofa leather. The reason is more than skin deep. The best top-grain hides reflect environmental factors showing limited scratches, insect bites, or other outside damage. These hides are used in their natural form and have minimal processing. As a result, the hides have a softer hand and convey a more natural character.


Protected or corrected leather has been significantly processed. Corrected means the application of more finishing products, the stamping of an artificial texture and other processes to top-grain hides. This leather is not as soft with the amount of processing it undergoes, but has a more uniform look and finish. In turn, protected leather is very durable. It is a good choice for heavily used furniture in a multi-person household.

Max Divani Decorative StitchMax Divani Leather Sofa


Split leather is just how it sounds. On thicker areas of the hide, it is “split” to create a piece of leather. Remember hearing the old saying “I’ll tan your hide!” or “I’ll split your hide!” That saying was clearly derived from the process of tanning leather which involves reducing the hide to the thickness required for upholstered products. This piece is 100% leather; however, a split piece has no surface and is not as strong as top-grain leather. Split leather is processed and given a stamped and painted surface to resemble a top grain hide. Using a split hide on the backs and sides of sofas is legitimate and helps to create a more cost effective product.


They may look alike, but leather-match products are actually two different materials. This term is used to describe a product where everything you touch is real leather. The less noticeable places like the sides and back are constructed of an artificial material, typically vinyl. It is matched to look like the leather, and is often used on motion furniture. It can still be used on stationary furniture as well. This gives you the sight and touch of real leather, but can significantly reduce the price.


The four categories we previously covered involve real leather. With advanced textile technology we’ve obtained over the years, several other categories of imitation leathers have been created. You may hear terms such as bonded, performance, blended leather, vinyl, etc. The list goes on and on. Manufacturers and producers of finished upholstered products also develop their own proprietary terms to describe their product. Keep in mind, none of these names apply to real leather. The product itself is legitimate, but it’s a good idea to ask what a product is actually made of.


Leather furniture is a great product to have in your home—but you must learn to take care of it and help extend the life of your furniture. Jensen’s emphasizes the importance of regularly cleaning and conditioning your leather furniture. We give out a leather care kit to each of our customers after a leather purchase. There are many cleaning and conditioning products for leather, but we offer and recommend Guardsman Clean & Renew and Protect & Preserve. Detailed instructions are listed on the back of each bottle. Side note: ALWAYS pre-test in a hidden area (the bottom, back of the sofa)  before using over-all to see if there is any change in leather color or appearance. If no change occurs, then continue caring for your leather furniture!

fullsizeoutput_b66Leather Care Kit

If no professional cleaner is on hand, you are able to clean protected leathers and leather-match with a mild soap and water solution. Always use a soap with a neutral pH. Once cleansed, rinse with a clean, damp cloth to remove any soap residue. If you are unsure about your soap, test it on your skin. Do not use a soap product that is harsh on your skin, as it will also be harsh on the leather. Again, ALWAYS pre-test in a hidden area to make sure no change in the leather occurs.

Natural top-grain leathers take a different approach. Clean with a slightly damp cloth. Do not use any type of soap on natural leather! Wipe gently with a dry cloth. 

Here’s a couple final pointers for cleaning leather furniture. Clean leather frequently. It’s easy for dirt, sweat, hair products and every-day oils from our skin to build up on leather furniture…not an appetizing thought! Also, take it easy. Gentle, more frequent cleaning is easier on the leather than a more aggressive, less often approach.

****These are general cleaning guidelines only. Please refer to the care guide that is provided by the manufacturer for detailed information about your specific product.

Thank you for your read! We hope you leave this post as a more knowledgeable leather furniture buyer. Please FOLLOW us via email and stay in the know when our next post is released!

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