Should You Get Leather or Fabric Sofas?

Updated February 21, 2017

A sofa is one of the most expensive pieces of a home's decor; it needs to be beautiful but also functional. Choosing between a covering of leather or fabric can be a daunting task, but if you make a list of the activities that take place on and around the sofa, and choose the covering based on this list, your sofa should last for many years. Leather and fabric each have their own advantages and disadvantages; knowing these will help you make the right choice.

Advantages of Fabric

Fabric is usually less expensive than leather, if it's upholstered on a comparable style of sofa. Most sofa fabrics can be steam-cleaned, and cushion covers can be removed for deeper cleaning. Fabric is available in countless fibre combinations, and there are colours and prints of upholstery fabric to suit any sofa style and decor. Depending on the fibres, a fabric-covered sofa may feel cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and fabric does not stick to exposed skin.

Disadvantages of Fabric

Sofa fabric with a high natural fibre content is susceptible to sun bleaching, but if the fabric has a high man-made fibre content, it may pill. Cats are prone to using fabric sofas as scratching posts. Repair of the most frequently worn parts of the sofa --- the arms and the fronts of seat cushions, for example --- can be difficult and expensive. Removing stains on fabric may damage the fibres, and some fabrics are cleanable with solvents only.

Advantages of Leather

The main advantage of leather is its durability. A superior-quality leather sofa can be expected to last 15 years. Leather is difficult to rip or tear, cats tend to ignore it and it's easy to care for day to day. Leather does not hold dust or pollen, and so allergy sufferers tend to prefer leather furniture over cloth. Leather does not pill or fray; it conforms to body impressions, creating a comforting feeling, and it reshapes well. High-quality aniline-dyed leather is resistant to sun fading. Leather softens with use, its textures intensifying and colours deepening.

Disadvantages of Leather

Leather tends to mimic the room temperature, being warm to the touch in the summer and cool in the winter. Exposed skin will stick to a leather sofa. If leather is stained, removing the stains may damage the leather dye, and patching or redyeing may not be possible. Fabric accessories such as throws and cushions tend to slide out of position quickly. Because leather is a popular decorating element, the quality on lower-priced furniture can be poor; buy a leather couch only from a reputable dealer.

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About the Author

Linda Erlam started writing educational manuals in 1979. She also writes a biweekly newspaper column, "Design Dilemmas," in the "Lakeshore News" and has been published in "Design and Drapery Pro" magazine. Erlam is a graduate of the Sheffield School of Interior Design and is a practicing interior decorator and drapery workroom operator.