Leather & Leather Care

Leather

Leather is the hide/skin of an animal which has been put through a process called Tanning. The leather on most furniture comes from the hides of cattle. It takes five to seven hides to upholster a midsize sofa; however, a cow or steer is not killed for the express purpose of using its hide. It is a by-product of the meat industry with the supply of hides and skins being dependent on the demand for meat and the availability of animals for slaughter. Because the demand is sometimes greater than the supply, the price of leather can fluctuate. Savvy buyers search out the best quality hides at the best prevailing rates in the world.

Curing

Once the hide has been removed from the steer, it is cured by immersing it in a salt solution to protect it from deterioration and to preserve it while it is being transported to the tannery. At this stage, the hide is from 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick.

Soaking

Once the hides reach the tannery, they are soaked and tumbled with crystal clear water in a large drum to remove the salt. Then a chemical solution is added, which removes the hair but still leaves the surface of the hide in its natural state. Following the hair removal, the hides are inspected and graded.

Inspection and grading are critical because upholstery leather requires enormous pieces of relatively unblemished hide. Therefore, upholstery leather is generally the most expensive leather per square foot.

Tanning

Tanning is a process that converts a skin or hide into leather, a product which can be used for many different applications. Without tanning and preserving the skin, leather would decompose, having no value. There are a wide variety of tanning methods. The ultimate goal of each is to preserve the skin or hide by cleaning it of all dirt and bacteria and then drying it. To make leather usable for different applications, it is then put through a series of specialized processes to ensure the desired result.

Tanning softens the hide and transforms it into the leather. It takes place in large drums, where hides are tumbled for up to half a day with carefully mixed tanning solutions. Utilizing the most advanced equipment available, after tumbling, the hide is hydraulically wrung to reduce the moisture content. Then the hide is shaved to a uniform thickness. Natural oils and lubricants are used to condition the hide and replace the natural oils displaced during tanning. This process is called fatliquoring. These oils will wear off and evaporate over time and should be replenished to maintain the new feel of leather.

After they have passed inspection, the hides are then split. This involves a process whereby the top layer, which is the most durable and beautiful, is separated from the rest of the hide. The top grain is only 3/64 inches thick – no thicker than the edge of a coin.

The top grain is considered the premium of leather grades. The layers of leather underneath the top grain are referred to as “split hides.” These are generally thicker and stiffer than the top grain and are often used as less expensive upholstery leathers.

The coloring process then begins. This is an extremely complex procedure because the carefully blended dyes must permeate the hide without marking the surface features.

Drying

The drying process is a critical phase of tanning, which must be carefully monitored. The hides must dry slowly in controlled humidity to ensure that they remain soft and supple. During the drying process, the hide is stretched to removed wrinkles and to create an even surface. Proper stretching of the hide during the drying process assured that the leather will retain its original shape during use.

Finishing

Leather adapts to a wide variety of finishes. In quality leather, extreme importance is placed on retaining the natural look and feel of the hide while ensuring precise color resolution. Grain variations may be emphasized, or the leather may be treated to a uniform fine grain. Some leathers may be glazed or given a matte finish for a distinctive look and increased durability.

Once the appearance has been chosen, each hide is massaged with a unique machine that renders the leather soft and pliable.

Although leather has a higher “up-front” cost, it delivers superior value because of its many features.

Comfort

Since it is a natural substance, leather breathes. It is warm in winter and cool in summer. Good quality leather contains from 10 to 15 percent of its weight in water. It absorbs and evacuates moisture that never stays on its surface.

Leather is a lot like our skin – it maintains the temperature of the room and is porous. The scientific term is transpiration, and this is an attribute of leather’s 3-dimensional fiber structure. The many fibers in each square inch of leather conduct and dissipate heat and moisture. Air moves through the leather freely, while vinyl and synthetic backed fabrics can trap air. Leather adapts within several seconds to body temperature and therefore becomes instantly comfortable. For that reason, leather is always associated with comfort, whether in footwear, gloves, garments, or upholstery.

Durability

Leather is an enduring material. Adequately prepared, leather resists the typical causes of decay and deterioration – bacteria, temperature change, and humidity. Drying and sun rot are the two big enemies of leather. These are easily controlled, and by adding proper protection, leather should last forever.

Tear Resistance

This is derived from the 3-dimensional fiber weave structure of leather. Leather is one of the most durable upholstery materials known to man.

Flame Resistant

Leather is naturally flame resistant; it will not readily burn or melt. Most leather even meets the high standards the FAA sets for airline seating.

Conformability

Leather molds to a form, but will not stretch out of shape. Like a favorite pair of jeans, it conforms to the body shape and becomes more comfortable with each use. Only leather ages so gracefully, becoming more supple and beautiful throughout its years of use.

 

Leather Types

 

Pigmented

  • least likely to fade or stain.
  • sanded surface and a faux embossed pattern create a highly uniform and consistent texture.
  • coated with a clear sealant to enhance stain resistance.
  • opaque dyes produce rich and uniform coloration that minimize natural marks and scars.
  • excellent durability with minimal maintenance.

 

Aniline

  • the finest leather available, always made from premium quality, full-top grain hides (the surface of a full-grain hide has not been mechanically altered).
  • the softest, most luxurious and natural looking leather.
  • more likely to fade and stain; will feature noticeable range marks, barbed wire scars, wrinkles, scratches, and brands.
  • unretouched, resulting in subtle color and shading differences from hide to hide – and even within a hide.
  • generally more expensive than other types of leather.

 

Nubuck

  • high quality, full top-grain leather buffed or sanded to a velvety, suede-like nap.
  • more likely to fade and stain; will feature noticeable range marks, barbed wire scars, wrinkles, scratches, and brands.
  • soft and beautiful; more durable than a genuine suede that is produced from lower quality split-grain leather.
  • unretouched, resulting in subtle color and shading differences from hide to hide – and even within a hide.
  • general more expensive than other types of leather.

 

Characteristics

 

Natural Variation & Shading

Premium aniline-dyed leather displays subtle variations of color across the surface of the hide. When the hide is cut and sewn together, care is taken to attempt to match adjacent pieces, but subtle color difference may occur. These are not signs of poor quality; in fact, they highlight the unique and natural quality of premium leather, left unmasked by opaque dyes and varnishes.

Natural Texture

Premium leather hides used for upholstering furniture exhibit slightly non-uniform surface qualities, depending on the area of the hide from which they were cut. Pigmented-dyed leathers are buffed and embossed to obscure these natural texture characteristics. Variations in texture are not flaws, and will not affect leather durability.

Common Surface Variations

I. Scratches – Smooth to the touch, these rub marks may accept dye with slight variation to the surrounding area.

II. Wrinkles – Natural folds highlight unique grain patterns.

III. Healed Scars –  Bared-wire scratches and more profound rubs create organic surface texture and one-of-a-kind authentic leather character. These marks do not affect the durability of the hide.

 

Proper Care

 

General Care

  • Position all leather seating at least two feet from heating sources. Prolonged exposure to heat dries out leather.
  • Leather fades when exposed to sunlight, so keep leather seating away from direct light sources such as windows, skylights, and open doors.
  • Practice preventative maintenance. Treat surfaces with the recommended Leather Mast Cleaner or Leather Master Protector to improve the leather’s resistance to soiling. Give special attention to high-use areas such as seats, arms, and backs. Thoroughly clean and re-protect your leather furniture every six months. Always pre-test in a hidden area first to test the results.
  • Use a hairdryer to speed dry only when recommended. Let leather air dry after cleaning whenever possible.
  • Vacuum or dust weekly.

 

Spots and Spills

While leather initially repels most spills, they will be naturally absorbed if not appropriately treated. Blot any liquids immediately with a clean, white absorbent cloth or sponge, then let air dry. If a spill is absorbed, it will dissipate over time as the leather naturally diffuses the stain.