Leather is made from the tanned hides of large animals and can be processed from cows, deer, goats, kangaroos, crocodiles or many other creatures. The leather used for sofas is almost always made from cow hide. There are different grades and finishes of leather which are suitable for use in different products, and some are more expensive than others.
Bonded leather is a reconstituted material that contains a percentage of genuine leather combined with other materials to give the appearance of leather. The surface layer is generally made of polyurethane or vinyl with a fabric backing. A layer of latex mixed with leather fragments and shavings makes the bottom layer, so that the product normally contains 10 to 17 per cent genuine leather.
Bonded leather pros and cons
A bonded leather sofa is significantly cheaper than a top grain leather sofa. Because the leather has not been through the chemical tanning process, there are low levels of formaldehyde and other products that people who are allergic to leather will react to. It is a reasonably durable product and a bonded leather sofa should last for around five years before it starts to deteriorate. Because the surface you sit on is polyurethane it will not acclimate to your body temperature like true leather, and can feel sweaty in hot weather.
Top grain leather
Cow hide is thick enough to be split into layers, and top grain comes from the outermost layer. It is the best leather to use for high quality sofas. Top grain leather has the natural marks, scars and blemishes of the cow. If the cow was branded, the mark is removed by sanding, but this reduces the strength of the leather, so top grain comes in different grades. Hides closest to the natural form require less processing and are regarded as the best.
Top grain leather pros and cons
Top grain sofas are the most expensive leather sofas. The leather has a soft and supple feel and is very durable. Sofas will last at least 15 years, and with good care they can last for a lifetime. Top grain leather is 12 to 14 per cent water and will acclimate to your body heat and not feel sweaty on hot days as it is a product that “breathes.” More care needs to be taken with spot cleaning a top grain sofa than a bonded leather one, as chemicals not designed for leather can fade the colour.