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How to (Easily) Tell if it's Real Leather Sofa - Rapport Furniture

How to (Easily) Tell if it's Real Leather Sofa


When decorating your home, you want everything to be perfect. For many, this means making sure you are getting a genuine leather sofa.

Like many homeowners, you might face some challenges telling apart between a real leather sofa and a lesser quality one.

How can you tell if it’s a real leather sofa? For starters, by touch—real leather typically feels uneven, with “fat wrinkles” under the surface. Rough edges, a rich smell, and hide markings are other indicators that a leather piece is genuine.

If you are looking to purchase your first leather sofa, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the characteristics of real leather. Keep reading this guide to find out what they are and how to spot them.

What You Should Look for When Buying a Genuine Leather Sofa

Without the technical know-how, it can be easy to purchase a “leather” sofa—only to find out it’s not genuine.

Fortunately, there are a few unmistakable signs that a leather article is the real deal. Let’s take a look at them in turn:

“Rough” Appearance

Because real leather is made from animal hides, it naturally has what can be described as a “rough” appearance.

It’s common to see natural hide markings in real leather, a strong indicator that a leather product is genuine. A “grainy” appearance is also common, particularly with full-grain leathers, which also happen to be the highest-quality products.

Additionally, you may notice “fat wrinkles” in the sofa, which represent fat deposits made when the animal was still alive.

Rough or uneven edges further indicate that a sofa is genuinely leather, as these result from the tying of two or more animal hides together. A product with completely smooth edges, then, tends to be fake, as most animal hides aren’t big enough to cover an entire sofa.

“Bumpy” Touch

The aforementioned fat wrinkles can also be touched.

If you feel an uneven or “bumpy” undersurface when running your hand across a leather sofa, this indicates that the product is genuine.

Faux leathers tend to be completely smooth, a sign that the product consists of synthetic fibers and not animal hide. This hide contains diversely shaped pores that allow the leather to breathe, which results in furniture that is soft yet not totally smooth.

Temperature further indicates whether a leather sofa is genuine or not. As a general rule, real leather is warmer to the touch than synthetic faux leather pieces.

“Rich” Aroma

People often describe real leather as smelling “rich” and “natural.” Faux leather, on the other hand, smells chemically processed and synthetic.

If the sofa you are looking at smells totally artificial, then it’s not real leather.

The Five Qualities of Leather Explained

In order to understand leather quality, it’s crucial to understand exactly where leather comes from and how it’s made.

As we’ll see, the quality of leather depends on both the parts of animal hide that are used and how “pure” the leather is when it reaches the final product.

Given this, let’s take a look at five types of leather based on grain quality:

1. Bonded

Combined and processed with multiple synthetics and artificial fibers, bonded leather is the cheapest form of “real” leather on the market.

However, while sofas made from bonded leather tend to be cheaper, their consistency and overall look suffer from the low amounts of leather in the material.

For reference, bonded leather typically contains between 10-20% real leather, an exceedingly low figure that impacts the quality of the final product. Specifically, sofas made from this material are quicker to run down and are more sensitive to sunlight, as well.

2. Bi-Cast

Though bi-cast leather offers more of a real leather look, sofas that are made from this material (which is actually a cut of hide below the prime top layer you find in high-class leather, don’t offer the same degree of comfort that you’ll find with more expensive (and more genuine) leather sofas.

Much of this comes from the polyurethane layer that is glued to the bi-cast leather (a process that also occurs with the aforementioned bonded variety).

3. Split Grain

Split grain leather sofas boast 100% leather composition, though they are processed in such a way that they lose the true leather look and feel that you get with top grain models.

This is because split grain leathers are made from the lower layers of anime hide, which don’t offer the same aesthetic qualities (such as pebbling and sheen) that come with top grain leather articles.

4. Top Grain

Made from the most desirable section of animal hide (the top layer), the aptly named “top grain” variety offers superior comfort, more pleasing and natural aesthetics, and longer-lasting use.

Top grain leather sofas are the real deal and feel like it, and the price generally reflects this.

5. Full Grain

No leather is more exclusive than full grain leather, which uses all parts of an animal’s hide to create a product that actually retains the unique imprints of the hide.

Full grain leather sofas are guaranteed to look, smell, and feel upscale and genuine, with the added benefit of longevity.

What Type of Leather Is Best?

With these leather qualities in mind, it’s not hard to figure out which type is best for your sofa.

Full grain leather sofas are the preferred article of furniture for those who wan simply the best, as its natural and one-of-a-kind appearance (each animal hide is as unique as a fingerprint) make it more valuable.

What’s more, surface fibers that are typically sanded away in top grain models are retained in full grain leather pieces, making this type of leather stronger and longer lasting.

Just as important, however, is the color variety that comes with full grain leather. Unlike other qualities of leather, full grain leather changes color over time, which can lead to enhanced aesthetic appeal.

How Long Do Real Leather Sofas Last?

Speaking of longevity, how long do real leather sofas last? The specific duration depends on multiple factors, including the quality of the leather, how it’s stored, and how or if it’s maintained over the years.

Typically, however, you can expect low-end leather sofas to last up to five years, while more high-end leathers can last for nearly three decades or even longer.

This means that, when it comes to buying a leather sofa, a cheaper initial price tag doesn’t always equate to cheaper overall costs once you factor in replacement fees over the years.

How to Clean a Genuine Leather Sofa: Best Practices

Before you purchase your leather sofa, it’s best to be prepared—and that means knowing how to clean your furniture in case it gets dirty.

To maintain the integrity of your genuine leather sofa, make sure to follow these tips:

- First and Foremost…

Always test any cleaning method on a small, inconspicuous portion of the leather to ensure you aren’t damaging the material.

- Never Use…

Furniture polish, varnish, cleaning solvents, ammonia water, or other abrasive solvents, as these could damage your sofa.

- When Encountering Butter, Grease, or Oil Stains…

Start by wiping off the excess waste and then try waiting a few days to see if the remainder of the stain soaks into the material.

Alternatively, you can dust with corn starch or baking soda, return after a few hours, and then wipe off the stain.

- For Scratches…

Try buffing with clean fingers. If you don’t have any luck, consider using a chamois cloth to get any scratches away.

Three Tips on How to Take Care of a Real Leather Sofa

In addition to standard cleanings, it’s also important to know these three tips when taking care of your leather sofa:

1. Buff It Often

Naturally, your leather sofa will take on scratches and other signs of wear over time.

The best way to minimize this is to buff it often using a soft, microfiber cloth. This can keep your sofa shiny and looking new.

2. Position It Wisely

By placing your sofa in a location that’s low on sunlight and away from heaters, fireplaces, and air conditioners, you can minimize the cracking and dryness that causes your leather to look old.

3. Condition It Regularly

You’ll also want to condition it regularly using leather protection creams that can keep it soft and fresh looking.

Such creams can also help protect your leather sofa from spills, while also maintaining its color over time.


With the right know-how, you can easily identify a genuine leather sofa.

If you’re looking to purchase one of these fine pieces, understanding leather qualities and their composition can help you make the right decision.

This article can help you distinguish between different leather types and also keep your leather sofa looking good for years to come.

Make sure to use this piece as your ultimate reference as you make your purchase!


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