How to Grade Leather Sofas

Updated March 23, 2017

A leather sofa is a good investment because it can outlast a fabric sofa by as much as four times, even holding up to wear and tear from kids and pets. Some of the terms for describing leather sofas are used interchangeably or incorrectly, so it's best to check with each company for complete descriptions of how its furniture is manufactured. There are, however, some general terms you'll likely encounter no matter where you look for a leather sofa.

Determine whether the sofa is covered in full-grain leather, which retains the natural markings of the animal hide. The best hides have gone through fewer manufacturing treatments to remove imperfections and are soft to the touch. Less-expensive leather upholstery that mimics full-grain hides will feel thin and stiff, like plastic. It often is heavily dyed to hide imperfections.

Pass up cheaper split leather to get the best durability. Split leather is derived from the lower layers of a hide and is embossed to imitate full-grain leather. Split leather's structure is weaker, and it can be prone to stretching.

Consider how the leather upholstery is finished. Protected aniline leather is commonly available. It is coated with protective dyes that help resist stains and make it easier to clean. However, much of the leather's natural markings may be covered by those coatings.

Check the furniture label. Sometimes these labels reveal that an entire sofa is not upholstered in the same material. You may find that a lesser-quality leather or even vinyl was used to cover the back or sides of the sofa to reduce the cost. This can affect the sofa's appearance, because the colour of the front, back and sides likely won't match perfectly. Leather also lasts longer, and vinyl tends to crack over time.

Find out how the sofa frame was constructed. Hardwood frames are more durable. Those with interlocking joints are stronger than frames that are only glued and nailed. A hardwood frame that has been kiln-dried by the manufacturer is less likely to warp later.

Look for leather sofa seat cushions with innersprings. Some cushions are constructed only of foam covered by leather. Cushions with springs are less prone to sagging and retain their shape better.


Leather upholstery often outlasts cushions. Look for leather cushions with zippers so the inner cushion can easily be replaced.

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About the Author

Frances Burks has more than 15 years experience in writing positions, including work as a news analyst for executive briefings and as an Associated Press journalist. Burks has banking and business development experience, and she has written numerous articles on consumer issues and home improvement. Burks holds a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Michigan.