A Beginner’s Guide to Leather Grades and Quality

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The allure of natural leather is undeniable—a symphony of elegance, luxury, and prestige that engages the senses of touch, smell, and sight. But beyond its timeless appeal, real leather, is the strongest flexible material known to man, encompassing various types and grades, each with its characteristics and uses.

Have you ever been perplexed by the true meaning of the different types of leather? Does it refer to quality leather, grade, texture, or perhaps the animal it originates from? Is it real leather? Is it of high quality? Or is it merely a clever marketing ploy? Are we being misled by leather jargon?

Let’s shed light on the world of leather varieties, and navigate through the nuances of the leather grading system, and distinguish the true leather gems from the imposters. We’ll also provide savvy tips on how to identify and care for different types of leather.

By acquiring a wealth of knowledge about the different types, you’ll become a true leather connoisseur. So, are you ready to immerse yourself in the fascinating world of leather? Let’s explore and discover its secrets together.

Understanding the Leather-Making Process

real leather completes a lifecycle

Leather, a timeless and versatile material, is crafted through a meticulous process that transforms raw hides into a durable, long-lasting product. The journey begins by procuring the hides sustainably from the meat and dairy industry, which are then subjected to a series of treatments to ensure their longevity and aesthetic appeal.

The first step in the leather-making process involves the preparatory stage of shaving and cleaning the hide to create a smooth surface for further treatment. A critical next phase is the tanning stage, which prevents the hide from decomposing and gives the finished leather its characteristic durability. There are several tanning methods, but two of the most common are vegetable tanning and chrome tanning. Vegetable tanned leather utilizes natural tannins derived from tree bark and leaves to produce very firm, robust leather well-suited for heavy-duty products made like belts, saddles, and shoes. Chrome tanning employs chromium salts and wax to generate a softer, more flexible leather that is preferable for garments, handbags, and upholstery.

After the tanning process, the leather undergoes dyeing to achieve a uniform color throughout, using fats and oils to reconstitute the hide. The dyes fully penetrate the hide to ensure consistent results and long-lasting color. Finally, finishing techniques add protective coatings and other enhancements to improve the eco-friendly vegetable tanned leather’s resistance to wear and add desired shine or texture based on the end product.

The resulting leather is categorized into different types and grades based on criteria like its quality, appearance, and which part of the original hide was used. The highest quality full grain leather utilizes the entire hide, retaining the natural surface markings. Top grain leather has the surface sanded and refinished for more uniform results. Genuine leather derives from the lower layers of the hide after the top layers are removed.

Why Leather Hides Are Split Into Several Layers

In order to distinguish the difference among the various grades of leather, it helps to know something about the splitting process.

A typical cowhide needs to be split into two or three layers in order to be able to use it. Its average thickness is approximately ¼” (4 mm). It’s too thick to upholster leather furniture or make a jacket with.

To make the hides thinner, leather makers split them horizontally with a splitting machine bearing a band knife into layers: the top layer, or grain split, and the bottom layer, or flesh split, which is often split again into two layers, yielding a total of three layers.

The grain split, the most valuable part of the hide, is cut to a pre-determined thickness based on the ultimate use and aesthetic of the leather.

Upholstery must be between 1.00 mm and 1.4 mm; for clothing, between .5 mm and .6 mm; and for leather belts and shoe soles, over 2 mm.

Now that you are armed with this knowledge, let us look into detail each type of leather grading.

Breaking Down the Leather Grading System

The Layers of Leather and The Different Types Of Leather Grades

Just as there are different grades of fine wine and diamonds, there are different grades of leather influenced by where the leather comes from, aesthetic flaws rather than craftsmanship. The value of leather is established on its grade and quality, which explains why some leathers are more expensive than others.

Leather, in general, can be classified into three distinct groups with subsets of grading to each defined by applying specific finishing techniques and utilizing particular sections of the cowhide.

Here’s the breakdown of leather grades in order of quality from finest to lower quality:

  • Top Grain Leather
  • Full Grain Leather
  • Split Grain Leather, commonly known as “Genuine Leather.”
  • Bonded Leather

To fully comprehend leather grades, it is important to understand that leather goes through a number of processes to be converted into a material that can be used for making items such as clothing and leather furniture.

All these are layered cuts of the same raw animal hide, each having unique physical properties and value.

During the last stages of natural leather production, the final grade depends on how the hides are treated for the appearance of uniformity and free from defects, similar to how diamonds are graded in quality.

However, natural leather is most valuable when it is as close as possible to its untouched state with minimal mechanical processing such as buffing and embossing, reducing its value.

What is Full Grain Leather?

Genuine leather texture background Dark brown, orange textures for decoration blank Vintage skin natural suede with design line pattern or red abstract can use wallpaper or backdrop luxury event

Full grain leather is known for its highest standard of quality leather grade available, boasting intact grain and fibers that contribute to their strength and durability. Only 10 – 15% of leather on the market is full grain. It has not been sanded or buffed to remove any natural marks or imperfections, making it the most long-wearing leather. Full-grain leather and top-grain leather are renowned for their durability and longevity due to their exposure to the elements, allowing them to remain breathable and absorb moisture and oils from handling. The benefit of full-grain leather developing a beautiful patina over time is that it indicates its superior quality.

Like all top-grain leather, full-grain leather is cut in the traditional method from the top layer of the skin surface of the hide. It consists of the hide’s top layer from which nothing except the hair has been removed. If you look at full-grain leather through a magnifying glass, you will see a three-dimensional landscape with peaks, valleys, and little pinholes, the follicles from which the hair has been removed.

Full-grain leather is ideal for products that require a natural look, such as boots, wallets, and bags. It is also commonly used in furniture, car upholstery, and other leather items that require superior wear resistance. The different types of full-grain leather and top grain include vegetable-tanned, chrome-tanned leather, and rawhide-tanned leather, each of which possesses unique characteristics. Vegetable-tanned leather is renowned for its exceptional strength, while chrome tanning is known for its superior color retention. Rawhide-tanned full-grain leathers are renowned for their softness and suppleness.

 What is Top Grain Leather?

Top Grain Leather x

When it comes to top-grain leather, be wary of the term “top grain” because its natural appearance is often misleading. Sometimes it is used to describe processed leather that has been buffed or corrected, a euphemism for the fact that it is not full grain. But “top grain” doesn’t tell you whether the leather is full grain or not. And it’s confusing because the grain itself is the “top” of the leather, so using the term “top grain” is, at best, redundant.

 

 

 

 

 What is  Corrected Grain Leather?

Corrected Grain Leather x

Corrected grain leather is a type of leather derived from the top cut of the hide when it is split. The tannery may apply corrections to the finished split leather in order to achieve the desired aesthetic or functional outcome. The process for creating Corrected Grain Leather involves sanding, buffing, and varnishing the leather to remove any blemishes, followed by embossing with a pattern to provide a consistent appearance.
The more that is done to leather, the less it is worth because each process the leather undergoes takes it one more step away from its natural beauty.

Up to 85% or more of the hides available on the world market have unsightly defects and blemishes, so their surface needs to be “corrected.” Also called “buffed” leather, corrected leather has had its top surface removed by a mechanical abrasion process. The result is an artificially flat finish free from visible blemishes but lacking the dynamic three-dimensional surface of full-grain leather. Even the follicles from which the hair has been removed have been buffed off.

The hide is then embossed with an artificial “leather” pattern to replace the natural texture that has been removed. This process can make the hide appear artificial as well as stiffen the hide.

The defining features of Corrected Grain Leather include a uniform surface, thick leather, and a grain texture that is smooth to the touch. Common applications of Corrected Grain Leather include jackets, handbags, messenger bags, accessories, footwear, and furniture.

What is Split Grain Leather?

Split Leather x

Split-grain leather is a type of leather that is derived from the lower layers of the hide. It is not as resilient or of the same quality as full-grain and top-grain leather.

The term “split leather” or “leather split” is a term used to describe the center or bottom split of a hide that has been split into two or three thicknesses. While the top, or surface layer, is referred to as the skin grain, the side of the skin facing the animal’s meat is the flesh side.

Under the rules of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a split must be so marked and cannot be called “genuine leather” or “genuine cowhide.”

 

 What is Genuine Leather?

Genuine Leather x

Genuine leather is a material composed of multiple layers of split leather fused together with a thin polyurethane or vinyl layer for added strength and uniformity. It is widely used in various products, ranging from genuine leather furniture to handbags and accessories to clothing. Genuine leather is known for lacking breathability and inability to develop a patina. It has a plastic-like feel and artificial smell and can become de-laminated and deteriorate over time.

Don’t be deceived by the term “genuine leather.” It is made from the center or bottom layer of a hide. It is considered “genuine” only because it is derived from an animal. It is treated to improve its durability and appearance but is a lower grade of leather than full grain leather or corrected leather.

 

What is Bonded Leather?

bonded leather x

Bonded leather is the lowest quality, or grade, of leather composed of leather dust and vinyl blend. Commonly used to manufacture furniture, car interiors, and other leather accessories, it generally consists of only 10% – 25% real leather. Still, it’s often impossible to know the exact makeup of any particular type of bonded leather. It can vary widely in production, performance, and quality.

Bonded leather is manufactured through a process that involves many facets. It requires a combination of leather scraps, leather dust, vinyl, glue, and plastic. The exact percentage of leather in the composition of bonded leather can typically range from 10% to 90%, which can have a considerable impact on the practical and aesthetic qualities of the final product.

The texture of Bonded leather is more like plastic than genuine leather due to the extensive processing involved inferior quality to natural real leather. It is not as durable as other leather grades.

 

Leather Types Explained

Multi colored leather shop

In addition to various grades or qualities of leather, there are also different types of leather. In this section, we explore some of the most common types of leather you might find when you are out shopping for furniture or a pair of new shoes.

Nubuck

Sometimes called “sueded” or “brushed” leather, nubuck is made from the full-grain surface of the hide. Like suede, it is aniline dyed in the drum but does not receive a topcoat, putting it in the family of naked leathers. After being dyed, it is buffed (or brushed) with fine sandpaper to produce an elegant nap. It is more expensive than suede because it comes from the skin surface of the hide, its most valuable part.

Suede Leather

Suede is a type of leather split. It is made by then running the center split of a hide on an emery wheel to separate the fibers, giving it a nappy finish. Suede is not as durable as full-grain leather but is valued for its luxurious feel.

Suede leather is regularly utilized in apparel, purses, and gloves. However, it is known to be less durable than other types of leather due to its construction from the underside of the hide and lack of coating, which makes it more susceptible to water absorption.

Bicast  Leather

Bicast (also bi-cast and bycast) leather is also a type of leather split. It’s made by taking the horizontal middle split of the hide, covering it with a layer of polyurethane, and then embossing it to make it look like “real” leather or exotic skin such as an alligator, ostrich, or snake.

Originally produced for the shoe industry, bicast leather has been used extensively in the furniture industry because it brings down the cost of the finished piece.

Hair-on Hide

Hair-on hide, sometimes referred to as pony hide, is a leather hide from which the hair has not been removed. You often see it sold as a whole hide to be used as a rug. It is irregularly shaped, following the contours of the animal. The whole animal hide or version shows the natural markings of the cow from which it came, whether spotted, mottled, or solid in color. Natural hair-on hides are becoming increasingly popular as upholstery leather. They can also be bleached and dyed to virtually any color.

The hair-on-hide version with an exotic pattern such as zebra, leopard, or jaguar is frequently used in the shoe and handbag industry. It is typically produced on half-hides that have been bleached and then silk-screened.

Synthetic Leather

Also called faux leather, artificial leather, vegan leather, pleather, leatherette, or PU leather, synthetic leather is 100% man-made. There are two main types of faux leather: polyurethane (PU leather), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC leather or vinyl). Both are 100% synthetic and both are derived from fossil fuels.

PU Leather

PU leather is made by coating a cotton or polyester base with a thermoplastic polymer and then treating it to mimic real leather. PU leather is considered “greener” than PVC because it doesn’t contain dioxins but beware of greenwashing!

PVC Leather

PVC leather is produced by fusing vinyl with a textile base. It derives from crude oil. PVC is known to release polluting compounds called dioxins. In addition, the manufacturing process includes adding plasticizers to make it supple.

How Leather Quality and Texture Are Evaluated

Factors that Determine the Quality of Leather Grain

The quality of leather grain is determined by various factors, such as the type of hide used, the tanning process, and the finishing techniques applied. Breed, age, nutrition, feeding, and general care of the animal can significantly influence the texture, thickness, and strength of the leather grain, thereby impacting its quality.

The positioning of the hide on the animal can significantly impact the quality of the leather grain, impacting the leather’s texture, thickness, and strength. The tanning process can also considerably affect the leather grain’s quality, impacting the leather’s texture, thickness, and strength. For example, vegetable-tanned leathers tend to produce a strong and durable leather grain, while chrome-tanned leathers produce a softer and more pliable grain.

The finishing techniques used on the leather can also determine the quality of the leather grain, including using dyes, pigments, and other chemicals to make the leather look more appealing.

An Overview of Leather Tanning for Beginners

Methods for tanning leather

Leather hides are an organic material that will decompose in their natural state. They are preserved by the tanning process, during which animal hides are transformed into soft, pliable leather through a series of chemical treatments.

Many of the steps in tanning and finishing the hides are accomplished by immersing them in a liquid chemical bath that is contained within a rotating drum. In the first of these processes, the hides are washed and soaked to remove excess salt and foreign substances and restore the fibers to their natural condition to absorb tanning agents readily.

Chrome tanning is achieved by saturating the hides with tannins, molecules that bond with proteins and draw out the liquid. The two most commonly used tanning solutions are vegetable tannins and mineral tannins. Chromium sulfate solution (“chrome”) is the most popular mineral tannin – it is typically used for upholstery and garment leather.

Vegetable Tanning

Vegetable-tanned leather uses a vegetable tannin is extracted from local trees’ leaves, bark, and wood. The hides are suspended in vats containing the tanning solutions, where they are left to soak. The resulting leather is firm and thick. Most shoe soles, luggage, handbags, and belts are made from vegetable-tanned leather.

Chromium Tanning

Chromium tanning was developed in the 19th century to speed up the tanning process, make the hides more flexible and supple, and prepare them for dying. This type of tannage is carried out using chromium sulfate, a mineral salt penetrating the hides rapidly. The hides are tumbled in huge rotating drums partly filled with a chrome salt solution for up to 24 hours.

Chromium-tanned leather is resistant to the effects of harmful air pollutants. In addition to being efficient and cost-effective, chromium tanning results in thinner leather with high stability, strength, softness, and flexibility, as well as excellent dyeability and color fastness. It can be dyed into an unlimited array of colors, which makes it particularly desirable for upholstery and fashion. 90% to 95% of the finished leather in the world is chromium tanned.

Comparison of tanning methods and their effects on leather quality and durability

Many people believe that vegetable tanning, the most natural and oldest form of tanning leather, is a more sustainable practice than chromium tanning, particularly because tree extracts and other natural materials are used in the process. While both vegetable-tanned and chromium-tanned leather is extremely durable and will biodegrade in a landfill, vegetable-tanned leather is the more biodegradable of the two because it is made and processed from natural resources.

Vegetable-tanned leather ages gracefully, developing a deeper, richer color and softer feel over time. It has a particular “leather-like” look, feel, and smell that puts it in a category all by itself. However, vegetable-tanned leather is unsuitable for making clothing or furniture because it is too thick and does not absorb color as readily as chromium-tanned leather.

Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Tanning

JasperArt upscaled

As the leather market grows, manufacturers worldwide are adopting new technologies to improve leather-making efficiency and create innovative products. However, the rise in demand for sustainable and ethical products by consumers has also led to the leather industry’s search for and adoption of technology designed to protect the environment and make leather production more sustainable.

Here are a few examples of the many techniques being employed worldwide to make leather-making more sustainable:

Dry Tannage

The leather industry is one of the most water-intensive industries in the world. Large amounts of water are used to diffuse chemical products and extract undesirable materials from the hides, which stresses local water resources. The leather industry’s water consumption is estimated at 400 billion liters annually. As a result, a recent focus has been on reducing the amount of water used during the tanning process worldwide.

New tanning agents have the ability to preserve the leather’s natural collagen without the use of added water. It can save up to 20 liters of water per hide, enough to keep more than 9,000 people supplied with water for a year. Using less water also results in lower energy costs and creates a tanning process requiring fewer chemicals.

Chrome Recycling

Approximately 90% – 95% of leather is tanned with chromium, a metal tanning agent that stabilizes the collagen in hides to prevent putrefaction. Only 60 – 70% of the chrome used in the tanning process is absorbed by the hides; the rest is discharged.

There is currently a major push among tanneries to decrease the quantity of chromium discharged through the recovery and recycling of chromium from the wastewater produced in tanning.

Leather Dyeing and Finishing Techniques

Dyeing Process Methods

As we’ve seen, the most important factor in determining the value of leather is what part of the hide it is made from. Next comes whether the hide is full grain or has been “corrected” to remove blemishes. And finally, there’s the dyeing method, which is explained below.

In ancient times, leather hides were colored by applying vegetable dyes onto their surface. The problem with coloring leather hides superficially is that the color can crack or peel or, if scratched, will reveal a different color underneath.

Aniline dyes invented in the 1850s, which are water-based, have the ability to enter into, and bond with, the fiber structure of the leather, allowing it to be dyed all the way through.

The aniline dyeing process is accomplished in rotating drums (a process called “drum dyeing”), into which aniline is added. The hides are tumbled for up to 24 hours as they absorb the dyes. When they are removed from the drum, they are 100% dyed through and as close as possible to the final color. In modern tanning, virtually all leather, regardless of its quality or use, is aniline dyed in the drum to dye the leather entirely.

Government’s Role in Making Tanning Safer for People and the Environment

Local, state, and federal governments around the world regulate and restrict the use of chemicals to protect both people and the environment, offering a great degree of protection to the environment.  Here are a few examples:

  • The leather tanning industry adheres to a comprehensive system of federal regulations regarding clean water and air, waste disposal, and contaminated land clean-up.
  • The leather industry as a whole has adopted a strategy of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Tanners use renewable energy sources and non-toxic dyes, and tanning chemicals.
  • On a global scale, water used for leather production has declined by 37% in the past 25 years.
  • In the U.S., research is underway to find new methods for curing hides without the use of salt, thereby reducing the environmental impact of leather processing.

Leather Finishing Techniques

Leather Finishing Techniques

Finishing determines the final look and feel of the made leather goods and protects and enhances the surface appeal of the leather. It also minimizes the appearance of blemishes without sacrificing the leather’s hand. The way in which the leather is finished depends on its intended use. Finishing techniques are employed to craft a range of leather goods, including shoes, bags, belts, and leather furniture too. Additionally, they can be used to achieve various finishes such as matte, glossy, or distressed. For example, burnishing is a technique that is used to create a vintage appearance with a smooth finish. It is done by rubbing a soft cloth against the grain texture of the leather to bring out the natural oils and create a sheen.

Dyeing involves applying the desired color to tanned leather by adding coloring agents. During the first phase of the finishing process, the hides are placed in rotating drums, into which dyes are added through central tubes. Aniline dye has the ability to enter the leather and bond with its fiber structure. The hides can take up to 24 hours to completely absorb the aniline dye.

After being removed from the drum and dried, any hides with surface defects, such as healed scars, are mechanically buffed with abrasive paper to “correct” the grain. Full-grain leather, or leather that does not require cosmetic buffing is polished with a velvet wheel. Finally, the hides are passed on a conveyor belt through a spray line where they receive a topcoat spray with a different degree of coating, which perfects the color and adds topical protection.

During the finishing process, which starts after the hides are aniline-dyed, the hides receive their final characteristics, including color, texture, sheen, and amount of protection, which are determined by the state of the hide itself and the ultimate use of the pigmented leather used.

The process consists of operations performed on the surface of the leather to confer the desired appearance and characteristics and to prepare the leather to be made into the final production.

When the hides are removed from the dyeing drum, they are not yet “finished.” Some types of leather do not receive a topcoat. These are referred to as “unfinished,” “naked,” or “pure aniline” leathers. Examples are suede and nubuck, which have a nappy texture.

Most leather needs to be “finished.” First, the hides receive a topcoat to perfect the color and receive protective agents by being sprayed in a mechanical spray line.

The topcoat consists of either pure aniline-dyed leather, which will give the hides a transparent coloration, pigment (oil-based dye), or a combination of the two, which is known as “semi-aniline” dyed leather.

Natural Finish: Leather that does not receive a topcoat after it is aniline dyed in the drum is often referred to as “naked” leather. The color source of color is from the aniline dyes which enter the hide. Nubuck, suede, and distressed leather are examples of leather with a natural finish.

Aniline Finish: The hides are sprayed with aniline leather dyes which are absorbed into the skin, resulting in a natural look and elegant hand. Only the best and most high-quality leather hides can be top-coated with aniline.

Semi-Aniline Finish: Most of the hides on the market today (up to 90%) have visible defects and blemishes on the skin’s surface. In that case, pigment, an opaque, oil-based dye, is mixed with aniline to disguise the visible defects. The combination of some pigments is the best of all worlds: semi-aniline leather retains much of its natural beauty while protecting it for daily use.

Pigmented Finish: Pigmented leather is leather whose surface has a finish containing pigment particles that render the finish completely opaque. Pigment actually coats the leather surface rather than enters it, creating a uniform coloration. The primary reason for its use is that it covers or disguises defects. But it also offers excellent protection.

Patent Finish: Patent leather is real leather with a high gloss finish and smooth hand. Because it is highly water-resistant and often used for shoes and handbags.

Leather Surface Plating

The final processing step involves plating the hides under high heat and pressure to smooth the surface of the coating materials that have just been applied. Often the hides are then embossed with a leather-like pattern to return texture to their surface. They can also be embossed with patterns that range from ostrich and alligator to florals and paisleys.

Authentic and Faux Leather Identification

authenticity of leather

 

Real leather is made from animal hides or skins. Fake leather, also known as PU leather, vegan leather, and artificial leather, is made from synthetics and does not contain any animal parts.

How Can I Tell the Difference Between Real and Faux Leather?

It can sometimes be extremely difficult to distinguish between real and fake leather. Here are a few tests you can do yourself to determine whether your leather is authentic or man-made.

Inspect the Tag
Check the tag/product information. It may say “genuine” or “real” leather. Keep an eye out for fake leather names such as faux leather, vegan leather, PU leather, pleather, and “man-made.”

Inspect the Pattern
Because real leather is a natural material, each hide is unique, with a texture that varies throughout the hide. Its surface has an irregular pattern with a lot of variation. Fake leather is stamped to give it the appearance and texture of real leather. As a result, it has an artificial-looking repeat pattern.

Touch the Leather’s Surface
Real leather feels slightly bumpy and uneven and is warm to the touch, while fake leather feels cold. When you apply pressure with your finger, real leather stretches and wrinkles, whereas fake leather retains its rigidity and shape.

Pinch the Leather
Real leather is thicker than its fake counterpart. It should not crease when you pinch it. But a visible fold line will appear when you fold or pinch synthetic leather.

Inspect the Backside
The backside of real leather is rough and feels like suede. Synthetic leather is backed with a synthetic smooth material that may be shiny and is different from the surface color.

Inspect the Cross Section
The edges of real leather are rough and uneven, whereas the edges of man-made leather have no visible strands or fibers, appearing clean-cut. Real leather should be dyed all the way through, so you should see a lighter version of the topcoat’s color throughout the cross-section. On the other hand, fake leather’s interior will appear layered, with a different color in the middle and on the bottom.

Lighter Test
Real leather will not burn when it’s held to a flame for 5 to 10 seconds, although it may darken or char slightly. Artificial leather will quickly catch fire and smell like burning plastic. Make sure you take all necessary precautions if you decide to perform this test!

Smell Test
Real leather has a pleasing, earthy odor, while fake leather often smells like plastic and chemicals because it is made from PVC.

Loupe Test
Use a magnifying glass to inspect the surface of the leather. Full-grain leather has peaks and valleys as well as hair follicles. Fake leather appears flat and uniform.

Leather Care and Maintenance

Leather Care and Maintenance

High-quality leather is one of nature’s most enduring and prized materials. It’s natural, elegant, versatile, and becomes more beautiful over time. If properly cared for, it will last a lifetime. So how do you care for leather?

Keep Leather Out of Direct Sunlight, Particularly When Storing  

When it comes to leather care, sunlight is leather’s worst enemy because UV rays and heat will cause damage. Direct sunlight will dry leather out, cause cracking, and accelerate the fading of its color. Once the damage is done, you cannot do much to reverse it.

Let Your Leather Breathe and Store it When Not Being Used  

Proper storage is an important practice for leather care. All leather products should be stored away from heat, humidity, dust, and direct sunlight. Leather needs some ventilation to prevent mildew and rot. Do not store it in a plastic bag – use a bag or box made from breathable fabric. If your item came in its own cloth bag when you purchased it, that is what you should use for storage. If your leather is left in storage for a long time, air it out every few weeks.

Clean Your Leather Regularly

The best way to maintain your leather product and its natural appearance is to clean it regularly and remove dirt with a dry and damp cloth. Dust with a dry cloth or towel every few days, and wipe it down with a damp cloth weekly. Do not use soap, and make sure not to over-saturate the cloth.

You can use a mild, non-detergent soap such as Ivory or Castile soap every few months or for specific instances when there is dirt or grime on your leather. Create a lather using a damp cloth and rub it directly onto the leather with soft pressure in a circular motion. You should then use a clean damp cloth to wipe away any excess soap and dirt. Always let the leather dry on its own – do not put it on a radiator, leave it in the sun or use a blow dryer.

A few times a year, you can remove the buildup of dirt by cleaning your item with a small amount of cleaner that is made specifically for the type of leather it is made from. When purchasing a cleaning product, ensure it is appropriate for your item. For example, saddle soap and mink oil are not the right choice for chromium-tanned leather and can cause damage to your leather. Don’t try common household cleaners or “home remedies” since they can dry out or discolor your leather.

When you find a product that appears right, you must exercise some caution: before applying it, test a small area first, just like you would with a new skin or hair product, preferably in an inconspicuous area.  Cleaners should be applied gently circularly and then wiped off with a damp rag.

Conditioning

The best way to keep your leather soft is conditioning. Your leather should be conditioned every 3 to 6 months. It’s a good cure for dried leather and a great preventative technique to keep it healthy and supple. There are many excellent products on the market specific to your particular item. Most of these are massaged into leather with a dry cloth, with the excess then gently wiped off. Then gently buff off any excess. Conditioners are supplied as lotion, creams, or oils and will be soaked up by the leather.

Brushing

Since they both feature an open nap, Suede and nubuck leather (brushed leather) are in their own category. You should not use cleaning or conditioning products on either suede or nubuck and should also avoid water since all of these can cause staining. Instead, use a small wire brush to wipe away dirt, especially one made specifically for use on leather.

A Few More Leather Care Tips…

Here’s what you should NOT do with your leather:

  • Do not leave printed material such as newspapers or magazines on your leather
  • Do not expose your leather to denim jeans that have never been washed
  • If your leather gets wet, let it dry naturally. Do not use artificial heat, such as a blow dryer, to accelerate drying
  • Do not use tape or adhesives on the leather
  • Do not try regular household cleaners or home remedies on your leather
  • Keep hair sprays, perfumes, and household fragrances away from your leather

Final Thoughts…

Leather, in its myriad manifestations and exquisite finishes, truly embodies the marvel of nature intertwined with the brilliance of human ingenuity throughout time and its history. Each phase, from the pristine, untouched hides to the meticulously refined end product, narrates a saga of metamorphosis and tenacity. As we journeyed together, we delved into the labyrinthine world of leather artisanship, initiating with the preliminary stages of splitting and grading, traversing through the intricate processes of tanning, coloring, and final embellishments. Each stage illuminates the painstaking care and exactitude required in crafting this eternal material. Ultimately, leather transcends its identity as a mere material. It symbolizes resilience, opulence, and ageless sophistication. By deepening our comprehension and admiration of leather, we can truly revel in its distinctive allure and perpetual magnetism.

 

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