City Cowboy Top Grain Leather Sofa in Cigar Brown

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The allure of a leather recliner or a sectional sofa in a living room is undeniable. 

These pieces don't just offer seating; they offer an experience, a luxurious comfort that's unmatched. 

But what determines the quality of leather on that beloved Chesterfield sofa or accent chair you've been eyeing at Pottery Barn

turner-sofa

Pottery Barn Turner Leather Sofa

Most consumers think top grain means the outermost part of a leather hide or even confuse the word 'top' with the best quality. 

However, this is only partially accurate.

Top grain leather is a second-grade type of leather that has undergone mechanical sanding and buffing to remove the outermost part of the hide.

Removing the outermost layer removes the natural markings and scars visible in full-grain leather to yield a more even texture.

The rest of this article will answer several questions that many people ask regarding top-grain leather furniture. 

I'll compare the quality of a top grain leather sofa to other types of leather, including durability, pricing, and other features.

Is Top Grain Leather High Quality?       

Top grain leather is often considered high quality, but it's essential to understand the different types of leather to determine where it stands in the hierarchy of leather quality.

axel-leather-armchair

Axel Leather Armchair from West Elm

It is one of the most sought-after leather types found in leather chairs and in high-quality living room furniture. 

But how does top grain leather differ from, say, full grain, genuine leather, bonded leather, split leather, or aniline leather?

Here's a quick rundown of common types of leather:

Full Grain Leather: This is the highest quality leather. It uses the full thickness of the hide and includes all natural marks and imperfections. As a result, full grain leather is more durable and can develop a beautiful patina over time. It's typically used to make a high-end leather sofa.

grain-leather

A closer look at the hide and the grains. Note that the full grain retains all of the strength and the fibers of the cowhide, whereas the Top Grain leather loses some of its durability since the outer layer is buffed and sanded down to remove any imperfections.

Top Grain Leather: This is the second highest quality. The top layer of the leather is split from the bottom layers. Any imperfections are sanded off, and the surface may be embossed with an artificial grain. It's more uniform in appearance compared to full grain. While it's still durable, it doesn't develop the same patina as full grain over time.

Genuine Leather: Despite the name suggesting quality, "genuine leather" is in the third tier in terms of quality. It's often what remains after the top layers are split off for higher grades. It may be painted or dyed to look better, but it's not as durable as full grain or top grain.

Bonded Leather: This is the lowest quality of the leathers mentioned. It's made by taking leather scraps, grounding them up, and then bonding them together with adhesives. It's less durable and doesn't feel or age like real leather.

What Is Aniline Leather?

The term 'aniline' refers to the dye added to a leather to help retain the leather's natural markings. Note there are both 'aniline' and 'semi-aniline' leathers. 

Aniline and semi-aniline leathers are both high-quality, but they differ in processing and appearance. 

Bastian Aniline Leather Sofa by iNSPIRE Q Modern

Bastian Aniline Leather Sofa by iNSPIRE Q Modern

When top grain leather is dyed using aniline dyes without adding a protective topcoat or substantial pigment, it results in what is known as 'aniline leather'.

Conversely, semi-aniline leather is dyed similarly but receives a thin protective topcoat, slightly altering its appearance but adding protection against spills and wear.

Florence 89" Leather Sofa, Brown Top Grain Semi Aniline

Florence 89" Leather Sofa, Brown Top Grain Semi Aniline

While aniline leather showcases the hide's unaltered beauty, semi-aniline strikes a balance between natural aesthetics and durability.

The choice between them often hinges on preferences for authenticity versus resilience.

Is Top Grain Better Than Genuine Leather?

Yes, top-grain leather is better than genuine leather in terms of quality.

Many consumers hear the term 'genuine leather' and equate this as meaning that the furniture or bag they buy is made of 'authentic' leather, but this isn't always the case.

Florencia Mid-Century Cushion Back Genuine Leather Sectional in Tan

Florencia Mid-Century Cushion Back Genuine Leather Sectional in Tan

The problem in the furniture or apparel/accessory industry is that the term 'genuine' leather basically means that a product contains at least some type of leather.

The manufacturer can then combine leather scraps with different materials (usually plastics) to get a finish that looks like real leather but is actually quite inferior.

Notably, most of the leathers used in 'genuine leather' products come from real leather. It is obtained from the bottom layer of the hide and is often lower in quality than top-grain and full-grain leather. 

Products that are made from genuine leather have much lower durability and longevity.

To understand it better, some of the differences between top-grain leather and genuine leather include the following: 

  • Genuine leather is obtained from the bottom layer of the hide (cowhide), while top-grain leather is the outer layer of a hide that is sanded to achieve a smooth or even texture. 
  • A top-grain leather sofa will last longer than one made of genuine leather 
  • Genuine leather is cheaper to buy than top-grain leather furniture. 
  • Genuine leather is sometimes made using leather scraps combined with a plastic finish. Top grain is purely cut from the top layer though it can also be finished with a leather coat for a more pleasant feel or texture. 

Does Top Grain Leather Crack?

Top-grain leather furniture can crack. Under normal conditions of sun, rain, cold, and heat, any leather can crack. However, if you are doing routine maintenance or occasionally conditioning your leather, you might not experience cracking problems. 

cracking-leather

The first time I owned top-grain leather shoes, I did not maintain them. Over time, I started noticing cracks, and that is when I realized that even top-grade leather could crack if not conditioned or maintained.  

How Long Will Top Grain Leather Last?

A top-grain leather sofa is durable and can last over 20 years, depending on usage and maintenance.

Much longer than a fabric sofa, and at least ten years longer than a sofa made of faux leather.  

This is based on our discussions with furniture insiders and reviews from the consumers of top-grain leather furniture. 

When appropriately maintained, top-grain leather sofas can last for decades.

However, for sofas made with top-grain leather, the couch's durability can depend on whether you have children or pets. 

fix-leather-scratches

Pets and their claws can do a lot of damage to your leather couch, reducing the sofa's lifespan.

Therefore, the number of years your top-grain leather will last depends on maintenance, usage, and damage caused by pets and children. 

Does Top Grain Leather Scratch Easily? 

Top grain leather is high-quality, produced from the top layer of an animal's hide. 

The outer portion of the hide is sanded and perhaps coated to achieve an even or uniform appearance.

Thus, while it is very durable (it is the hide of a cattle afterall!), it can still get scratched. 

If you have pets, for instance, their claws can easily cause scratches on your leather, and even children playing on the couch may cause some scratches. 

Is Top Grain Leather Pure Leather?

Yes, top-grain leather is pure leather. It is the second in quality after full-grain leather. It may only have a protective coat to make it more appealing, to reduce the damage that stains or spills would easily cause, and to make it easy to maintain. 

Most leather manufacturers will also label their products as an example - "made from 100% top grain" or "made with full grain leather". That usually means the leather is not bonded or mixed with other materials. 

Hydeline Aria Top Grain Leather Sofa Couch with Feather Memory Foam and Springs

Hydeline Aria Top Grain Leather Sofa Couch with Feather Memory Foam and Springs

If you see a product claiming to be made from genuine leather, the chances are high that the product is made from artificial materials other than pure leather.

As mentioned earlier, genuine leather refers to a poor grade of leather than only contains some part of leather. 

Is Top Grain Leather Waterproof?

Unless altered in some way, top-grain leather is not waterproof. It is, by nature, permeable and porous, allowing water to pass through it. One important thing to note is that no single leather, whether full grain or top grain is waterproof if it has yet to be treated with a protectant. 

leather-water

Top-grain leather is, however, water-resistant. That means it can withstand water splashes or rainwater penetration without getting damaged. It, however, may get damaged when submerged in water since it is not waterproof. 

Waterproof leather can be submerged in water but has to be treated to prevent water from getting into and damaging it. 

Is Top Grain Leather Expensive?

Top-grain leather is relatively expensive compared to lower-grade leather, such as genuine or bonded leather. It is, however, cheaper than full-grain leathers. 

Abbyson Hamilton Top Grain Leather Dark Camel Sofa

Abbyson Hamilton Top Grain Leather Dark Camel Sofa

Full Top Grain leathers represent on average around 4% of the world's leather supplies, thus it is no surprise that these are the most expensive types of leathers. 

Being cheaper in option and suitable in quality makes Top Grain leather a good material for use in making affordable leather products, especially leather sofas and couches.

What Animal Hides Are Used For Top Grain Leather?

Cowhide is the most used top-grain leather. There are, of course, other sources of top-grain leather. Leather is also sourced from sheep, horses, goats, pigs, and even from exotic animals like ostriches, alligators, and kangaroos. 

cow-leather

If you are looking for the strongest leather in the world, you can look for Kangaroo leather, also known as K-leather. Science has proven it is 10 times stronger than cowhide and 50 times stronger than leather from sheep of the same weight. 

Kangaroo leather is also a lightweight yet strong option hence has been widely used in making high-performance and high-stress products such as sports accessories like soccer boots, among other sports products. 

What Does 100% Top Grain Leather Mean?

It means pure top-grain leather created from sanding and buffing the cowhide or any other animal's hide to remove imperfections and yield pure leather with even texture, and nothing else added to it. 

Of course, applying a leather coat or finish to make leather smooth and attractive does not reduce its quality since it doesn't even hide the natural grain. Therefore, I still consider it 100% top-grain leather.

How Is Top Grain Leather Graded?

Top grain leather is second-grade in quality of leather. It is a durable leather, less expensive than full-grain leather, and used for similar purposes. Its durability is good but does not exceed that of full-grain leather. When maintained properly, it can last for decades. 

Which Is More Durable: Top Grain or Full Grain Leather?

Full grain leather is more durable than top grain leather. The former has more fibers, making it stronger and more durable due to the tightness of the grains.

Top-grain leathers are sanded and buffed to remove all imperfections from the hide, making it thinner and less durable than full-grain leather.

Note that Full Grain leathers have no added pigments or protectants and thus can be more susceptible to staining. Thus, a top grain leather sofa (often referred to as 'protected leather') is a great choice for those with kids and anyone prone to spilling liquids!

Is Top Grain Leather Better Than Bonded Leather?

Indeed, top-grain leather is better than bonded leather. Bonded leather is made from leftover scraps at the tanneries, which are ground up and glued back together to form a material that looks like leather.

bonded-leather-quora

Bonded leathers are often made with between 10% to 20% real leather and the rest with other materials or plastic. 

On the other hand, top-grain leather is a 100% leather material; hence, there is a massive difference in quality. There is no comparison in terms of durability and performance: top-grain leather will last many times longer than bonded leather. 

Is Top Grain Leather Good for Sofas?

Top grain leather is one of the most popular grades of leather used in making most leather sofas and couches. The leather is durable and carries the quality of full-grade leather hence is likely to last for decades when proper maintenance is observed. 

Abbyson Holloway Mid-century Top-grain Leather Sofa

Abbyson Holloway Mid-century Top-grain Leather Sofa

What makes it even more suitable for use in making sofas is that you get the quality of full grain leather, one with uniform and even texture, at an affordable price. Being thinner and smoother also provides an excellent soft feeling for a comfortable sofa; however, the thinner nature makes it slightly less durable than a full-grain leather sofa.

How Long Should A Top Grain Leather Sofa Last?

According to leather and upholstery experts and reviews from people who have used top-grain sofas for decades, it is evident that they can last even for two to three decades when proper care and maintenance are observed.

Leather is very durable and lasts 15 to 20 years compared with about five years with fabric. The quality of the leather sofa you purchase is the most important factor in determining longevity. Higher quality top grain leathers can often times last in excess of twenty-five years. - Nicholes Ammons, Leather Upholstery at Austin Furniture Repair

Therefore, if you want to extend the lifespan of your top-grain leather sofa, you need to engage in regular upkeep and maintenance.

Final thoughts 

In conclusion, while there are many choices in the market, from fabric sofas to faux leather options, top grain leather remains a premium choice. 

Offering both luxurious comfort and unparalleled durability, it’s a worthy centerpiece for any living room.

Mixoy Leather Sectional Sofa couch, Luxurious Upholstered Couches with Chaise,for Living Room, Apartment ,Office

Mixoy Leather Sectional Sofa couch, Luxurious Upholstered Couches with Chaise,for Living Room, Apartment ,Office

Whether you're shopping for a leather recliner, sectional sofa, or just seeking advice on leather care, always prioritize quality. 

And with services like "white glove delivery" offered by many retailers, getting that perfect piece into your home has never been easier.

In case I missed anything or if you want more clarity on something that you don't understand, feel free to shoot an email at tom@bestleathercouches.com

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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