rolls of leather for upholstery or clothing

How To Select The Best Leather Upholstery For Your Lifestyle

Selecting the best leather upholstery for your lifestyle and the way you actually live, requires a bit of education to salt into the actual facts of life in your home. Do you have rambunctious little ones and pets or only occasional sedate, well mannered guests? How much maintenance do you have time for? Here is everything you need to know to make the best choices when you are ready to shop for fine leather furnishings.

Man lounging on leather upholstered sofa
Leather upholstered furniture to live on

what you need to know about upholstery leather

Other than initial visual and tactile appeal, the questions you would ask when considering which upholstery fabric would be best for your intended use ALSO apply to your leather choices.

  • What leather texture best suits the style of your decor? You might consider leather that has a smooth and shiny finish. Some leathers are finished to show natural marks in the hide. They also to show more wear with age. Other leathers have a soft, pliable, matte appearance that feels and works especially well in luxurious settings.
  • How will the furniture be used? An accent chair that is seldom used doesn’t need a leather cover designed to resist stains and scratches as much as a chair that’s used daily. It can just sit there and look pretty.
  • Where will the furniture be placed? Leather fades faster than fabric unless the finish is designed to withstand both scratches and UV rays….more about this magic leather later.
  • How much maintenance is required for long lasting function and beauty? Leather is skin. All skin benefits from attention and care. To prolong the life of your leather furniture, regular cleaning and conditioning is essential to maintain leather suppleness and to prevent drying out and cracking.

Upholstery leather has its downsides

Depending on the type of leather and finish:

  • Will show scratches and is susceptible to pet claws
  • Can show liquid spills and can oil” stain: beware of pizza on sofa for example

This is where it is crucial to understand what the differences and trade-offs each type of leather, finish and process will produce.

cows on open range
Home on the range

Why are some kinds of Upholstery leather more expense than others?

As a covering, leather is obviously more expensive than fabric….but if well maintained, can last several years. The differences in price will be determined in part by the tanning and finishing processes used for that type of hide.

  • Long distance transportation. This equals increased travel and handling fees.
  • The size of the hide. The larger the hide, then fewer seams required for constructing the upholstery cover.

What are the various types of upholstery leathers?

Cow hide is thick. It’s split with a cutting blade to make it thin and supple enough to use as upholstery.

  • Top grain leather is the strongest and most durable. It will be used as full grain or corrected grain.
  • Split leather (bottom half) is typically used to make faux leathers and some suedes.
sofa upholstered in leather
Aniline dyed upholstery leather is the softest and most beautiful

Full grain leather is more expensive than corrected grain leather

The biggest hides with the fewest natural markings and scars are highly prized. They need the least amount of “appearance processing”. As a result, they are the most natural looking with their inherent flaws left un-retouched.

What are full grain, Aniline dyed leather types and finishes?

While these hides are the softest and most beautiful, the finishing determines how much, if any, protection from stains or scratches there will be.

Aniline leather is a term for top grain leather.

It has been dyed through the entire thickness of the skin. Aniline dye is transparent. The natural scars and marking will be visible within the coloration from the dye and will retain the feel of a real hide.

Unfinished Aniline leather is the most sumptuous and expensive leather option.

Beauty comes with a cost. It has little to no protective coating. This makes it more susceptible to staining from body oils, color fading, and surface scratches. In a “low use” area, it’s perfect for adding a touch of posh glamour. It is not generally suitable for an active household.

Wax Pull Up Leather has a surface that is sealed with waxes to give it a shiny or distressed finish.

When the leather is stretched for application to a furniture frame, the waxes cause the color of the leather to migrate and become lighter in those pulled surface areas. The wax treatment offers some resistance against light wear as well as giving it a softer, more pliable texture. These leathers can prematurely fade from direct sunlight and easily absorb body oils and water damage.

Oil pull-up leather is finished with natural oils to give a unique weathered patina.

Oil pull-up leather is made using a variety of different techniques, but the most common method involves applying oil either on the flesh or grain side and then passing it through a roller. This causes the oil to be “pulled up” into the top layer, creating the marbled effect. It remains soft and supple. Keep it out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources. Never use harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners.

Nubuck leather is sanded, brushed, or buffed on the grain side to give it a velvety surface.

A protective coating may be added to the surface. Nubuck is similar to suede, but is a more natural grain and also more expensive due to its durability and rich, soft feel. Nubuck stains easily and is susceptible to water damage.


Leather by its very nature is durable. The key take away with aniline dyed leathers is that while they are the most beautiful and have the most luxurious feel, they have little to no protective surface treatments and will show the “signs of life” that come with living with your furniture. In other words, the leather AND it’s accumulating flaws, will be around for years.

variety of upholstery leathers and colors
Protected leathers as shown above have more uniform coloring in a wide range of choices

Corrected grain leathers are top grain leathers with different processes and finishes

Semi-aniline leather is a type of leather that has also been dyed with aniline

After dyeing, a light surface pigmentation is applied along with some buffing and sanding on the top layer to smooth out natural markings and imperfections. It offers some protection from fading and lends a more uniform and refined look and feel. It’s also good for resisting marks/scratches and durability in high traffic areas generally, and particularly for the furniture that is “lived on” daily like your sofa. It’s not as resistant to staining as the protected leather category described below, so if you’d more interested in enhanced worry free protection the next category may be best for you

Pigmented and/or protected leather is also a semi-aniline leather as described above

In addition it has been treated with a coating and finish that ensures color consistency and makes it resistant to staining and moisture. This finish can be either glossy or matte and comes in a variety of colors. While it will extend the looks and life of the leather and requires less maintenance, it isn’t invincible. The coating can eventually wear away, exposing the underlying leather to damage. For this reason, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when cleaning and caring for pigmented leather.

Corrected leather is a type of leather that has had the most treatment to improve its appearance

As a result, will be less expensive full grain leather. The hides are sanded down to erase any imperfections, then coated with pigments or dyes. This process tends to erase the original hide texture, so the next step is to recreate the texture with embossing or stamping directly onto leather. In the final stage a plastic like film is applied. It’s still a good choice for active households but isn’t as durable as full grain leather and is more susceptible to staining or fading than the leather types describe above. It can often be difficult to repair because the plastic like coating can flake or otherwise be damaged.

What should you know about maintaining leather upholstery?

Don’t forget, leather is skin. It can dry out and crack. It won’t tan like your skin obviously, but will fade with too much sun-light.

You might check out this guide on cleaning and maintaining leather upholstery. It’s from one of many sites where this information provided. But as a starting point, this blog post from FurnitureFair.net is good and detailed.

Hard to beat beautiful and durable leather upholstery

characteristics of crypton Upholstery leather

From the Crypton Website:

“This robust material brings together the elegance of traditional leather and advanced technology, creating exceptional upholstery leather that gracefully ages over time while retaining its practicality in high-usage areas. Great choice for homeowners as well as commericial establishment.”

Awesome! What does that actually mean?

As with Crypton fabrics, the best characteristics are “baked in” during manufacture. The stain resistance and cleanability factors is infused directly into the leather during the tanning process.

Here’s what’s so great about Crypton Leather:

  • High scratch resistance – Even in high-traffic public spaces. This is a great choice for those busy households with pets and children.
  • Reduces color fade and protects against harmful UV damage – The perfect solution for bright sunny rooms, sunrooms and conservatories.
  • Easy to maintain – Along with being stain and water resistant in general, it can even be cleaned with diluted bleach per given instructions.
  • Environmentally friendly – big plus!
  • Anti bacterial – leave no potential good news stone unturned!!
roll arm tufted leather chair with folded clothing
Leather upholstery you can really live on

how does crypton Leather compare to other types of upholstery covering leather

In the following section, you’ll learn how Crypton leather improves the characteristics of traditional leather dyes and finishing techniques.

#1 aniline dyes

  • Traditional– aniline leather, appreciated for its natural and luxurious finish. However, it is highly susceptible to staining and fading.
  • Crypton Leather, renowned for its stain resistance and UV ray protection, significantly outperforms aniline leather in these areas. Aniline leather may provide a more premium feel, but the practicality of Crypton Leather makes it a more advantageous selection for upholstery.

#2 semi-aniline dyes

  • Traditional semi-aniline dyed leather – more durable than aniline, lacks the same level of protection against sunlight and staining that Crypton Leather offers.
  • Crypton Leather – UV ray protection and easy clean properties are hard to match, making it a more versatile option for upholstery.

#3 pigmented leather

  • Traditional pigmented leather – Though this leather type is more resistant to wear and tear than aniline leather, its manufactured finish doesn’t have the same natural richness.
  • Cryton Leather strikes a perfect balance here. Its tough scratch resistance and natural beauty make it superior to pigmented leather in terms of both durability and aesthetic appeal.

You are now, officially well educated about all.the.things. you need to know to select the perfect leather upholstery for your home and lifestyle.

So yeah, getting all the information on what constitutes fine upholstery seems to take the heart of a sleuth AND the willingness to invest research time before final purchase.

However, it stands to reason that learning all the finer points of smart home decor shopping in advance will get you the best results, with the least amount of hassle.


Over To You

I’d love to know what you think...

Was there a tip that was especially helpful? Hopefully, you found a little inspiration and maybe even resolved a long standing quandary brilliantly!

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Selecting the best leather upholstery for your lifestyle and the way you actually live, requires a bit of education to salt into the actual facts of life in your home. Do you have rambunctious little ones and pets or only occasional sedate, well mannered guests? How much maintenance do you have time for? Here is everything you need to know to make the best choices when you are ready to shop for fine leather furnishings.

about the author

Cindy Bergersen is a professional design consultant turned full time writer about home design: what is it, how it works and how to make it work for anyone. Decades of experience as a design consultant to private clients, retail clients for well known, high end furniture retailers has proved to be invaluable training. She is both passionate and committed to sharing her experience and knowledge to help anyone, to help themselves to a beautiful, comfortable home, without feeling confusion or overwhelm about where to start and how to proceed. She lives in New York with Olivia, the cat. When not writing posts, she can be found cycling through city parks, watching a lot of film, or curled up on the sofa with a good book.

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