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How Is Leather Furniture Graded & Determined to Be Superior Quality?

Updated April 17, 2017

Leather furniture is luxurious and supple and the strongest natural material known to man. While leather is a popular choice in furniture, many people aren't aware of its various grades which indicate its quality and durability. There are four grades of leather used in furniture: full grain, top grain, split grain and bonded grain. Knowing the quality of these grades is crucial when purchasing leather furniture.

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Full Grain

When the hide is stripped from an animal, there are two layers found: the top layer which produces the higher grade of leather and the bottom layer, which produces the poorer quality. Full grain is one of the top two leather grades which are taken from the top layers of the hide. This leather has been described as elegant and sumptuous. It's not conditioned---as is the top grain grade---to remove the markings. Such markings in high-quality leather are believed to enhance the material's texture and beauty. Full grain is the most expensive leather. It is not appropriate for a household with children and/or pets, where hard or-impossible to-remove drink and food spills, as well as scratches, are more likely to occur.

Top Grain

Top grain leather also comes from the top layer of the hide. But unlike full grain leather, it is sanded or otherwise processed to remove the natural markings and imperfections of leather. It's very strong and durable. In terms of quality, it's the second highest after full grain. Top grain leather is expensive, and it has a soft, luxuriant feel. Like full grain leather, it's wise to avoid purchasing it when children and pets are around and spills and scratches are likely.

Split Grain

Split grain, made from the bottom layer of the hide, is not as strong or durable as top grain. It also lacks the textural look of the better grades. But it's more affordable than the higher quality leathers and is the best leather to use with small children and pets. Sometimes it's embossed with markings to duplicate the look of the higher quality leathers. It can also be used on the less visible parts of leather furniture, like the sides and back.

Bonded Leather

Bonded leather is the lowest quality grade of leather. It's made from scraps of leather bonded together to make it look like a single piece of leather. It doesn't have the strength or durability of the single piece leathers. And some furniture experts recommend that it not be bought at all.


Some products are described as all "genuine leather." However, that may not be true. Close examination might reveal that the sides and backs, the less visible sections, are vinyl or leather that doesn't quite match. Over time, the leather can mellow and the vinyl become brittle. Be careful to keep leather furniture out of direct sunlight. The rays can cause discolouration and/or fading.

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About the Author

Nina Kramer

Nina Kramer, a novelist who published her first novel in 2002, is currently working on a series of novels set in modern China. Previously, she managed the American Society of Civil Engineers' journals department. A passionate gardener and home decorator, she has a B.A. in English literature from George Washington University.

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