What Is A Genuine Leather Sofa?


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Many consumers encounter the term 'genuine leather' when shopping for new furniture and think they have a seal of approval from the furniture industry.

However, that couldn't be any further from the truth. 

The term 'genuine leather' might be one of the furniture industry's most confusing and misunderstood. 

Simply put, genuine leather is a type of leather made from the hide of an animal.

The problem is that many furniture companies use the word 'genuine' loosely, and 99% of the time, genuine leather is far inferior to any top-grain or full-grain leather sofas. 

While the FTC has laid out some critical requirements regarding leather and the labeling of furniture pieces, there are no legal requirements for what someone can pass off as 'genuine leather,' just that it is made of real leather. 

As discussed in this video below, the term 'genuine leather' is thrown around in the same way that a napkin could be called a 'kleenex' or that any MP3 player might have been called an iPod.

This is why, when shopping for a new leather sofa, leather types are typically noted as 'full-grain' or 'top-grain' if you're checking out a reputable brand. 

Thus, if you see a sofa advertised as 'genuine leather', the odds are that the leather is well inferior to any true 'top-grain' or 'full-grain' leather.

Aside from the confusing usage of the word 'genuine' in the leather industry, there is another more common, accepted usage of the word in the furniture industry. 

Below is an image that we reference quite a bit on this blog. As we've discussed, Full-Grain leather is made from the outermost portion of the cow's hide and is untouched, making it the most durable and richest leather.

Top grain leather has been sanded and buffed to remove any of the hide's imperfections; thus, it does lessen the durability of the leather.


In the leather business, tanneries will remove the outermost portion of the hide, leaving what is known as the 'splits'.

As you can see above, this is where the 'grain' of the hide moves to the 'corium'', where the collagen fibers are thinner than the 'top' grain.

These splits from the hide (which are the bottom part of the hide) are not durable, are thinner, and typically can't be used on their own for any leather furniture.

The splits are often ground up and combined with plastic materials to make the leather stronger and easier to work with.

The terminology in the business could be more straightforward, but the most commonly used term is 'Bonded Leather,' which represents the splits combined with plastic-like materials.

Bonded Leather Round Ottoman with Button Tufted

Bonded Leather Round Ottoman with Button Tufted

Often, these so-called 'genuine leather' sofas are made from the splits, and you would have to do some serious digging to try and figure out whether or not this is actual 'genuine' leather or genuine leather made from splits.

Keep in mind that usually, a so-called 'genuine leather' made from splits is technically made out of made from a single, solid piece of animal hide.

Once the splits are ground and combined with polypropylene plastic, it becomes bonded leather. This is the lowest quality type of leather and should be avoided at all costs.

What Is The Difference Between Bonded Leather, Bicast Leather, and Genuine Leather Sofas?

Genuine leather is made from the actual hide of an animal, while bonded leather and bi-cast leather are made from a combination of leather and other materials.

Bonded leather is made by shredding leather scraps and bonding them with an adhesive, while bi-cast leather has a split leather base coated with a layer of polyurethane or vinyl.

Confused yet? 

I would love to see the furniture industry adopt some more stringent standards.

I like the term 'real leather' instead of 'genuine leather.' 

The dual usage of the word 'genuine' makes it hard for consumers to determine what they buy. 

In addition, any furniture maker selling a 'genuine leather' sofa made from splits and plastics should have their license to sell furniture anywhere revoked.

Recommendations For Sofa Buyers - Is A Genuine Leather Sofa Okay To Buy?

So, you may have visited your local furniture store and found a sofa you like, and the tag says 'genuine leather'. Is it okay to buy it?

The key here is to determine if the retailer is using the term 'genuine' to mean that the sofa is made of 'real leather'. 

Or is the word 'genuine' a cover-up for the fact that the leather is made up of the splits from a cowhide?

90% of the time, if it says 'genuine leather', the furniture maker covers something up. Otherwise, they would say it is 'top-grain' or 'full-grain' leather. 

At Wayfair, they use the term genuine leather to represent 'real leather' furniture, but I've seen some sofas on their website that look too good to be true.

Case in point: this Kenisha 94.5" Genuine Top Grain Leather Square Arm Sofa, which retails for only $2199.


A Wayfair 'Genuine Leather' sofa

Sharp sofa and I wrote to Wayfair to see their definition of 'Genuine means.

And indeed, the sales rep told me that Genuine for Wayfair means that it is made out of real leather. And in this case, the sofa is also labeled 'Genuine Top Grain'. 

Now, other sofas at Wayfair just say Genuine Leather; thus, I supposed those products might be inferior to something that is also labeled as 'Top Grain'. 

Genuine Or 'Genuine' - That Is The Million Dollar Question

Do your homework. If you see 'Genuine Leather', it doesn't necessarily mean you need to run, but you probably need to ask many questions.

Ask the retailer if the product is made with JUST leather and if any fillers, plastics, or vinyl are added (to make it bonded leather). Ask how they use the word 'genuine.' 

It's usually a coverup story, but sometimes it isn't, so use your best judgment, get the answers, and you should be able to make an educated decision to find the best sofa for your home.

About the author Tom

When I started shopping for a leather couch two years ago, I was confused and overwhelmed by the information available to me. I decided to launch Best Leather Couches in order to create the best resource for shoppers looking for a new leather couch. I hope you enjoy the site. Feel free to drop me a line anytime at tom@best@leathercouches.com

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