So, you've come across the term "full-grain leather" in your sofa shopping adventures. Unfortunately, the furniture industry uses different jargon when advertising its products. Thus, the shopping experience can be confusing and frustrating for non-industry experts. By the end of this article, you should have a better understanding of full-grain leather.
Full-grain leather is made from the outermost part of an animal's hide. It is the most desirable part of the hide due to its durability and tendency to develop a beautiful, rich patina over time. Full-grain leather is not corrected, leaving imperfections (scratches, bug bites) visible to the naked eye. Thus, it has the full, complete grain of the hide intact. The most significant difference between full-grain and top-grain leather is that the latter is sanded and buffed to smooth the surface from imperfections.
I will attempt to answer all the most important questions about full-grain leather. Including the quality, authenticity, durability, usefulness, and even its disadvantages.
Is Full-Grain Leather Real Leather?
Full-grain leather is the most desirable leather in the furniture industry and without a doubt, real leather. It comes from the topmost or outermost part of the cowhide or any other animal's hide, with its undisturbed fibers.
Unlike top-grain leather, full-grain leather is not corrected and contains all the cow's imperfections.
Is Full-Grain Leather A Good Choice?
Most furniture experts consider full-grain leather the best option for leather sofas, although it can often be a much more expensive choice.
Products made from full-grain leather, including sofas, shoes, belts, or wallets, can last for decades when properly maintained. In addition, full-grain leather will develop a rich patina over time, much more so than any corrected leather.
I will also note that tanneries usually take the beat-up hides to correct and sell to furniture makers as 'top-grain' leather. Thus, the 'full-grain' hides tend to be produced from the cleanest hides, usually with minimal surface defects. This is where the higher costs come into play, as less than 5% of hides worldwide are good enough to become full-grain leather.
It should be mentioned, however, that some lower-tier furniture brands will try to pass off something as 'full-grain' leather when it has been corrected to hide flaws in the hide. This is a great post that discusses this:
Today, the big-name, top-tier tanneries still do this to ensure that their full grain offerings are made from the "cleanest" hides (free of these scars and defects). This is not the case with all tanneries; lately I've seen cheaper full grain on the market with more defects and, many times, a heavier finish to hide those defects. Just as unethical companies took the term "genuine leather" and started making low quality products that were "technically" genuine leather, the same is happening today with full grain.
I really like this video from Derek at Werther Leather Goods on YouTube. He provides an excellent overview of Full-Grain leather and why it is a great option. The key points: full grain leather has the densest fibers, is the most durable and ages well, developing a rich patina over time.
Is Full Grain Leather 100% Leather?
Yes, full-grain leather is 100% leather. Full-grain leather is the highest quality leather, made from the top layer of animal hide, which is the most durable. With full-grain leather, you can feel some of the rough surfaces and see the scars or imperfections of the hide. It is this uniqueness of the leather that makes it a one-of-a-kind, considered the first-grade in leather quality.
How Long Does Full-Grain Leather Last?
Full-grain leather can last for over 20 years on average. My research on the lifespan of full-grain leather shows that it can even last for a lifetime with proper care and maintenance.
Furniture expert Jeff Frank reports on Quora on the quality of full-grain leather and how long it can last;
"High-quality leather made from hides can last 50+ years with proper care."
Other owners of full-grain leather have reported great satisfaction with their leather sofas. Not only in durability, but for the beauty in the aging of the leather over time.
Is Full-Grain Leather Waterproof?
Full-grain leather is not waterproof, but like any leather, it is water resistant. Pores of the leather will allow water to seep through, especially if the sofa is submerged in water.
Remember, full-grain leather is a natural or original leather that has not been treated and hence is porous. Some stains will soak in with the potential to ruin the leather.
Thus, if you do have a penchant for spilling on your sofa or have little kids that like to dump juice all over the place, it might make more sense to find a protected, top-grain leather sofa.
Which Is Better Full-Grain or Genuine Leather?
Full-grain leather is far better than genuine leather. Full-grain leather is first-in-class, high in quality, and more durable than any other leather.
On the other hand, genuine leather is a very low-quality leather made from the hide's lower layers. In some cases, many genuine leather sofas are also made with leather scraps and plastic materials. Avoid genuine leather like the plague.
Does Full-Grain Leather Crack?
Any leather can crack over time; even full-grain leather can crack. Leather cracks for a few specific reasons, either from excessive sunlight, heat, or a lack of regular maintenance. In normal conditions and without maintenance, you will start to see it cracking with continuous use.
Dwayne over at MyFurnitureForum says that a sofa not cleaned with start to see cracking within six to seven years:
If you fail to clean it, the dirt and oils will attack the tannins and the leather will crack, then split. Leather that is never cleaned can crack in as little as six to seven years. With cleaning and conditioning it will last a lifetime.
But, if you condition or maintain your leather sofa properly, it will not crack.
It is recommended to moisturize leather to stay smooth and prevent cracking.
I recommend checking with your sofa manufacturer to see what products they recommend. Some usually sell their own conditions.
There are also good after-market leather conditioners that you can use. One popular option is Leather Honey (you can find this on Amazon), which is one of the best options for conditioning your leather to help prevent cracking.
What Animal Does Full-Grain Leather Come From?
Cowhide is generally the most common and widely used animal hide for full-grain leather because it is readily available, durable, and has a relatively consistent texture and thickness. However, other types of animal hides can also be used to make high-quality full-grain leather, depending on the specific properties of the hide and the desired end product.
How To Identify Full-grain Leather
You can identify full-grain leather from its characteristics. Some of the characteristics to look for include the following:
- The surface will contain natural imperfections from the hide, such as scars, wrinkles, and other marks on the cow's skin.
- The texture of the surface will feel uneven, with an irregular grain which is evident since the hide has not been corrected.
- It is stiffer and thicker than other leathers, given that the surface has not been sanded down, leaving it quite durable.
- Smell the leather; if there is any chemical smell, there is zero chance of it being full-grain leather.
- Full-grain leather is more expensive than other leathers; thus, a high price tag might indicate that it is indeed full grain
One leather enthusiast on Reddit gives one of the best breakdowns on the subject.
If you can see layers and/or strands of fiber, it's probably full grain. If it looks shiny and smooth - as if they layered something on top to hide the cut - it's probably bonded or "genuine" leather (layers of leather of varying quality glued and or sewn together".
How Do You Moisturize Full-Grain Leather?
We recommend conditioning your leather every 4 to 6 months. Most other leather experts agree. This is a necessary plan to help prevent your leather sofa from cracking while adding to its lifespan.
Moisturizing is the key to maintenance for any leather sofa and helps enhance its looks or appearance with time.
Before you start, you will need to remove any dirt that might have built up on your leather with a damp cloth containing some warm water and leather soap. I also like to take a handheld vacuum to the sofa to remove all the ducst.
You will need a high-quality leather conditioner, and there are many options available on Amazon.
Apply the conditioner to the sofa in a circular motion with a soft, clean cloth, ensuring that all areas of the sofa are covered.
Then allow it to dry for at least 30 minutes, wiping off all the excess residue away with a dry cloth. At this point, you can buff the leather with a dry cloth.
Why Is Full-Grain Leather More Expensive?
Full-grain leather is made from the top layer of the hide, which is a limited resource. Less than 10% of the hides worldwide are good enough to become full-grain leathers. This means that there's a limited supply of full-grain leather available, which drives up its price.
There is no other match of quality that surpasses that of full-grain leather. The products made from this leather quality are expensive as well. But they can also last a good number of times than those made from top-grain, genuine, or bonded leather.
What Are The Disadvantages of Full-grain Leather?
While full-grain leather is generally considered to be the highest quality leather available, there are a few disadvantages to consider:
Most tanneries are looking for the highest quality hides, with very few imperfections and these are not easy to find. Also, due to the thickness of the leather, it is not as easy to work with as many other types of leather.
Thus, the manufacturers need to pass on these costs to consumers. It is the quality and the work involved in making leather furniture using this leather, which makes it one of the most expensive products to buy.
Imperfections & Marks
If you want a smoother texture on your sofa, full-grain leather may not be a suitable option. Some of these sofas can show imperfections, unlike top-grade leather that has been sanded and buffed. Thus, it may not be a good choice if you want a uniform, smooth look on your sofa.
Stains More Easily
While top-grain leather is the most durable of all leathers and can develop a beautiful rich patina over time, the leather can be more prone to staining. This is due to the fact that these leathers have not been protected in anything like most top-grain leathers. A lot of this yet can be prevented with regular cleaning and maintenance.
Full-grain leather is the premier leather, the cream of the crop in the furniture industry. With all its imperfections, marks, and scars, full-grain leather is the truest leather out there.
It will develop a rich patina over time, and tends to look better with age. It is, however, the most expensive leather in the industry, making it an unaffordable proposition for many.
If you can afford a full-grain leather sofa, I recommend trying to fit it into your budget.
If you still have some questions that you still feel unanswered, then don't hesitate to reach us directly through our email address at tom@firstname.lastname@example.org