All About Leather
When a customer is considering purchasing a piece of leather furniture, they are considering one of the oldest, most durable materials known to man. Since prehistoric times animals have been utilized for food and clothing. Leather is the hide/skin of an animal which has been put through a process called tanning.
The tanning process preserves the skin, otherwise the skin would decompose having no value. The leather on most furniture comes from hides of cattle. Today leather is made using the latest technology and science to be able to keep up with the demands of the consumer. Leather is a by-product of the meat industry with the supply of hides and skins being dependent on the demand for meat. Because the demand is sometimes greater than the supply, the price of leather can fluctuate.
Leather is an enduring material. Since it is a natural substance, leather breathes which means that it can absorb 15 percent of its own weight in humidity and releases it again. This process is called transpiration. Leather also has excellent temperature adaptation. It regulates temperature to what is nearest. Air moves through leather freely, while vinyl and synthetic backed fabrics can trap air.
Consumers can expect many years of enjoyment from their leather sofa, accessory or auto interior, due to its comfort and durability. Leather molds to a form, but will not stretch out of shape. It conforms to the body shape and becomes more comfortable with each use. Only leather ages so gracefully, becoming more supple and beautiful through its years of use.
Leather has very tight and strong fibers this is derived from the three dimensional weave structure of leather. This feature prevents the penetration or bonding of dust mites, animal hair and cigarette smoke. Leather is not only hyper-allergenic but also flame resistant which because of its strength and elasticity gives it a high ripping resistance with over 200 pounds of pull needed to rip the leather. This gives leather a great advantage over fabrics and is why people around the world choose leather as their material of choice for shoes, handbags, clothing and furniture.
There are many types of leather, many benefits to buying leather and it’s important that customers understand those benefits and know exactly what type of leather they are purchasing as well as how to care for it. Buying leather should be a positive and exciting experience. Those who buy leather usually don’t go back to fabric upholstery instead; they become loyal customers and enjoy the history and the feel of this beautiful material.
Modern Day Leather Manufacturing
Curing – Once the hide has been removed from the steer, it is cured by immersing it in a salt solution to protect it from deterioration and to preserve it while it is being transported to the tannery. At this stage, the hide is from ½ to ¾ inches thick.
Soaking – The first operation is to remove the salt from raw hides. Then the hides are soaked in water to rehydrate the hide to regain their normal water contents and its original flaccid condition.
De-Hairing/Liming – Hair is removed from the hide by chemical dissolution of the hair and epidermis with an alkaline medium of sulphide and lime. The hides are dehaired in a matter of several minutes to a few hours. Liming not only removes hair, fats and soluble proteins, but also swells the fiber structure. Following the hair removal, the hides are inspected and graded.
Tanning – A process that converts a skin or hide into leather, a product which can used for many different applications. There are wide varieties of tanning methods, the most commonly used in Chrome Tanning. Approximately 99% of all upholstery leather is chromium-tanned. Chrome tanning involves drumming the hides in a bath of chrome liquor. The ultimate goal is to preserve the skin or hide by cleaning it of all dirt and bacteria and then drying it.
In order to make leather usable for different applications, the leather is then put through series of specialized processes to ensure the desired result. It takes place in large drums where hides are tumbled for up to half a day with carefully mixed tanning solutions to soften the hide. Natural oils and lubricants are used to condition hide and replace natural oils displaced during tanning. This process is called fat liquoring. These oils wear off and evaporate over time and should be replenished to maintain the new feel of leather.
Drying – The drying process is a critical phase of tanning which must be carefully monitored. The hides must dry slowly in controlled humidity to insure that they remain soft and supple. During the drying process, the hide is stretched to remove wrinkles and to create an even surface.
Finishing – Leather adapts to a wide variety of finishes. In quality leather, extreme importance is placed on retaining the natural look and feel of the hide while ensuring precise color resolution. Grain variations may be emphasized or the leather may be treated to uniform fine grain. Some leathers may be glazed or given a matte finish for a distinctive look and increased durability. Once the appearance has been determined, each hide is massaged with a unique machine which renders the leather soft and pliable. Pigments are often applied to leather to even off color or add color and resistance to the leather.
The Natural Characteristics of Leather
Natural Variation & Shading
Premium aniline-dyed leather displays subtle variations of color across the surface of the hide. When the hide is cut and sewn together, care is taken to attempt to match adjacent pieces, but subtle color differences may occur. These are not signs of poor quality; in fact, they highlight the unique and natural quality of premium leather, left unmasked by opaque dyes and varnishes. Natural Texture
Premium leather hides used for upholstering furniture exhibit slightly non-uniform surface qualities, depending on the area of the hide from which they were cut. Pigmented-dyed leathers are buffed and embossed to obscure these natural texture characteristics. Variations in texture are not flaws and will not affect leather durability. These variations are unique and should be embraced for they tell the history and the story from where hide originated from.
Scratches – Smooth to the touch, these rub marks may accept dye with slight variation to the surrounding area.
Wrinkles – Natural folds highlight unique grain patterns. scar on leather
Healed Scars – Barbed-wire scratches and deeper rubs create organic surface texture and one-of-a-kind authentic leather character. These marks do not affect the durability of the hide.
Top Grain and Split Grain Leather
Top Grain - The outermost layer of the hide that is left after splitting of the hide into layers. It is the strongest, softest and most breathable part of the hide. It is also the part of the hide that will show the life of the animal through natural markings.
Split Grain - The innermost layers of the hide left after splitting. They are weaker, stiffer and less breathable than top grain leather. These are usually put on the sides and the back part of leather furniture. Advantages of Leather Upholstery
Leather is the oldest, most durable material known to man. It’s extremely strong because of its 3-dimensional fiber weave structure; it takes more than 200 pounds of pressure to puncture leather-covered furniture and is resistant to tearing as well.
Most experts give leather an average life four times than that of textile products. By its nature, leather is not flammable. Leather is the only material that meets the high standards required by the FAA for airline seating, without the addition of further flame-resistant products.
Leather does not cause allergies. All dust particles can be eliminated from leather, so it is perfect for people who are allergic to dust. Leather is a natural substance, leather breathes. Good quality leather contains from 10 to 15 percent of its weight in water. It absorbs and evacuates moisture that never stays on its surface. Leather is a lot like our skin; it maintains the temperature of the room and is porous. Air moves through leather freely while vinyl and synthetic back fabrics can trap air.
Leather molds to a form, but will not stretch out of shape. Like a favorite pair of jeans, it conforms to the body shape and becomes more comfortable with each use. Only leather ages so gracefully, becoming more supple and beautiful throughout its years of use.
Leather is the easiest type of furniture to care for. It needs only occasional dusting/vacuuming or for a more thorough cleaning, use our LeatherMaster® Soft Cleaner. You should clean every 3-4 months.
How to Recognize Various Types of Leather
Aniline: Cleaning Code “A”
Aniline is the finest leather available, always made from premium quality, full top grain hides (the surface of a full-grain hide has not been mechanically altered). Aniline is any leather which receives its entire color solely from aniline dyes and whose grain retains its original state. Natural markings and characteristics are exhibited. No topical treatments or pigments are used in determining the color of the leathers. Ways you can identify Aniline Leather:
Lightly scratch the surface to see if it leaves a lighter color mark. If it scratches to a light color, it is Aniline. This is not the only test because some Nubuck Leathers will also do this. Wet your finger and lightly rub it into the leather to see if it darkens. It should only darken lightly, but dry invisible.
A rich patina develops with time enhancing the appearance of the leather. Healed scars, wrinkles, stretch marks, brands and scratches are unique characteristics and will be visible. More likely to fade or stain. Color variation and shading difference from hide to hide and even within the hide. This is not a sign of poor quality; in fact, they highlight the unique and natural quality of premium leather. Cleans best when used with a LeatherMaster® Care Kit
Protected Leathers: Cleaning Code “P”
Also called finished, full finished, semi-aniline, pigmented, corrected, everyday or painted. These leathers have combined the best aspects of a natural product (leather) and tannery technology to create a product that is more uniform in appearance and color due to pigments that are applied to the surface. Protected leathers are the most common leathers and for most consumers, the most practical. Unlike aniline leathers, you can cover and color the damaged area with pigments. The pigments actually create a film on top of the leather covering up the actual surface.
Identify Protected Leather by Lightly scratching the surface to see if it leaves a lighter color scratch mark. If it does not scratch to a lighter color (this means the color remains the same), then this is a Protected Leather.
The surface should have some sort of sheen to it. It is like looking at wood that has a lacquer finished compared to a wipe-on oil treatment. If you wet the area of a Pigmented Leather, the water should stay on top of the finish and should not darken the leather.
Coloration will be consistent throughout the hide. Healed scars and scratches should be used in less visible areas (the outer back and arms). Due to pigment topcoat, serviceability, durability and clean ability are very good. Protected leathers wear consistently with time. Protected leather is cleaned best using our LeatherMaster® Care Kit.
Semi-Aniline Leathers: Cleaning Code “P”
Semi-Aniline dyed leathers have been both dyed through and have a thin finishing layer and/or pigment finish on the surface. Semi-Aniline leather is Full Grain displaying the leathers full range of natural markings. They offer a combination of the softness and feel of full aniline leather with the protective benefits of a surface finish.
By dyeing the leather through before the final thin top coating is applied, a very even coloration is achieved with only a thin layer of finish. Thus the leather remains softer because it is not necessary to apply a thick top coating. Semi-Anilines have a higher resistance to UV, Water and Soil over Pure Aniline.
Healed scars and scratches are slightly visible within hides. The hides wear well in time and use. Serviceable leather and easy to clean. Semi-Aniline is cleaned best using our LeatherMaster® Care Kit.
Nubuck Leathers: Cleaning Code “N”
These are Aniline leathers that the surface has been brushed or sanded, and have created a texture similar to velvet on leather. Brushing or Sanding breaks the surface and opens up the leather making it incredibly soft. The brushing also makes the leather even more absorbent than aniline leathers.
This leather has the softest surface. Suede is the “flesh” side of a piece of leather and Nubuck is an affect that is done to the grain side. These leathers are also known as Chaps, Distressed, Reverse Suede and Bomber.
The surface should have a texture to velvet. When moving your hand across the surface and if it leaves shading traces similar to the effect when you vacuum a carpet in one direction and then in another, it is Nubuck. Wet your finger and rub lightly on the surface. The surface will darken and also will dry to a slightly darker shade. For waxed surfaces, run an area of the leather with a sponge several times. This will remove the wax and let you see if the leather meets test 1 or 2 above.
Coloration will vary throughout the hide. Healed scars and scratches are unique characteristics and should be cut into the pattern. A luxurious hand along with a slight nap is to be expected. Nubuck is cleaned best using LeatherMaster® Specialty Care such as; the Nubuck Care products.
Bonded Leathers or Reconstituted Leather
Bonded leather or Reconstituted leather is a material made of varying degrees of genuine leather combined with other substances to give the appearance of leather at a reduced cost. Bonded leather can found in furniture, bookbinding and various fashion accessories. Examples of products that are most commonly constructed with different varieties of “bonded leather” are: Bibles, diaries, art books, desk accessories, hymnals, bags, chairs and sofas.
There are different types of bonded leather, but the type being used on upholstered furniture today is a polyurethane or vinyl product backed with fabric and then a layer of latex or other material mixed with small percentage of leather fibers in the product’s backing material. The actual leather content of bonded leather upholstery is typically about 17%. None of it is contained in the surface of the bonded leather. The polyurethane surface is stamped to give it a leather-like texture.