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Leather Upholstery – Choosing Classic Style and Durability

From vehicle interiors to couches and ottomans, leather upholstery is a very common and popular fabric choice.  Before making that investment, it’s important to learn the different characteristics and qualities available to make the best choice.

Leather upholstery is tanned cattle or animal hides used for automobiles, furniture, and airplane interiors. Characteristics include different quality categories, from full-grain to bonded or genuine leather. Pattern, appearance, durability, and processing all determine quality. 

Are you looking for some new furniture but not sure if you’d like leather upholstery?  Did you know that leather upholstery is one of the most common and popular fabrics for furniture? 

What is Leather Upholstery? 

Leather upholstery is a type of leather created from tanned cattle hides and is most often used for upholstering automobiles, furniture, and even airplanes.  Cowhides are the most commonly used for leather upholstery, but other animal hides are sometimes used.  Different types of animal hides will give different looks to leather upholstery, but they are all still considered a leather. 

Leather upholstery has many pros for use in furniture and vehicle interiors.  If cared for properly, it will stand up to repeated use and last for quite a long time.  It has a classic look that never goes out of style, adds character, and ages well. 

Leather Chairs - Leather Upholstery - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Chairs

Leather upholstery items are timeless, remain relevant, and can be passed on to children and grandchildren with good care.  Various types of leather upholstery will respond differently to temperature, liquids, stains, and sunlight.  The higher the quality, the better resistance.

Characteristics of Leather Upholstery 

Leather upholstery is a great option for furniture because it looks good and has many options.  Popular choices for leather upholstery come from snakes, sheep, pigs, alligators, and stingrays. 

The animal hide is processed through tanning, either with chromium salts (chromium tanning) or natural dye from wood or nuts (vegetable tanning).  Chromium tanning prepares leather for industrial-type applications and is more affordable.

Leather upholstery fabric can be found online and in stores for reupholstering furniture, patching upholstery damage, or creating new projects from keychains to car seats.

There are several different types of natural leather, and the category determines price and quality.

  1. Full-grain or top grain leather is the highest in quality, durability, and finish.  It is a more natural look for leather upholstery as blemishes or textures are not buffed out.  When dyed through a process called aniline dying, the natural patterns and blemishes are emphasized, giving the leather a vintage look and adding character.  This quality of leather upholstery will last for a very long time.
  2. Embossed grain leather is stamped with a pattern to cover imperfections.  This is most often used because the material appears uniform, making creating large batches of product much easier.  This type of leather upholstery will also last for a long time.
  3. Bonded or genuine leather is scraps from manufacturing that are bonded together to lessen waste.  It’s a cheaper alternative to full-grain or embossed leather, but because it has pieces bonded together, it does break down eventually with use.

Types of Leather Upholstery

Leather Upholstery for Cars

Leather auto upholstery is better than cloth seats for many reasons.  It may cost more, but it lasts longer and is easier to clean.  According to professors Rogina-Car and Kovacevic of the University of Zagreb Faculty of Textile Technology, there have been adaptations in upholstery as seats have become more ergonomic, and leather upholstery for cars must be attached with high-quality seams. 

Leather upholstery increases car resale value, looks luxurious, and doesn’t stain like cloth.  It does, however, require regular cleaning with a special cleaner to keep it in good shape for the long haul.

Leather Car Seats - Leather Upholstery - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Car Seats

Leather Upholstery for Sofas

Sofas tend to take a lot of wear and tear, so they need to be durable.  Leather upholstery for sofas is available in different pigments and finishes to fit in any room.  With natural water and dust resistance, leather upholstery sofas are durable and easy to care for. 

According to researchers Hes of Technical University of Liberec and professors Mihai and Ursache of Textiles, Leather, and Industrial Management, humidity and sweat need to be resisted by cowhide and faux leather upholstered furniture for comfort, and natural leather performs better.

Leather Upholstery for Chairs

Just like with sofas, leather upholstery for chairs needs to stand up to heavy daily use.  Other than cost, there are things to consider for chairs when looking at leather upholstery.  Aesthetics is important, as is comfort and thinking about where the chair will be used. 

Genuine leather for upholstery is usually made of the highest quality cowhide, making it supple and soft, strong, and durable.

Leather Upholstery for By the Yard

If you’ve got an old piece of furniture you’d like to reupholster, you could consider leather upholstery by the yard.  Keep in mind the quality levels, appearance, and of course, using the right tools to trim and fasten the upholstery to the furniture.  Also, trimming to fit will lead to some wastage, so you will want to have an additional 18 sq ft per yard of the leather upholstery required for your project.

Leather Upholstery Fabric

Leather upholstery fabric can be found online and in stores for reupholstering furniture, patching upholstery damage, or creating new projects from keychains to car seats.  It comes in various colors, patterns, and thicknesses for these different projects.  Pigmented leather is considered the best for furniture as it is highly durable.  Cowhide is durable and looks really nice for purses.

Various Types of Leather - Leather Upholstery - Liberty Leather Goods
Various Types of Leather

Genuine Leather for Upholstery

Genuine leather for upholstery is usually made of the highest quality cowhide, making it supple and soft, strong, and durable.  It can be used for chairs, couches, purses, and more.  Several different colors, styles, and finishes are available to match any aesthetic and personality.

Faux Leather for Upholstery

If you want the leather look for your couch or chair but don’t like the thought of what goes into that, there’s always faux leather upholstery.  Animal hides are not used, and faux leather is easier to clean because of less sensitivity to some chemicals in cleaning products.  It won’t last as long and feels a little like plastic, but it still has that leather look that goes well in any home.

Leather Upholstery Repair

Leather upholstery is very durable with the proper care, but it’s certainly not immune to damage.  Repair services in many areas can be found through a quick internet search. There are also instructions for leather upholstery repair.  Here are the steps to repairing a rip in leather upholstery:

  1. Start by choosing the right product.  There are patches, heavy fillers, and even full leather repair kits with multiple products included.
  2. Prepare the area by cleaning and drying.
  3. Place a sub patch behind the rip.
  4. Apply leather glue to the sub patch.
  5. Apply and build up a heavy filler on the rip, allowing each layer to dry.
  6. Apply matching colorant.
  7. Seal with leather finish.

How to Clean Leather Upholstery 

Leather upholstery can be exposed to many things with daily use, so it’s important to know how to clean it to keep it looking nice.  There are commercially available leather cleaners and protectants, but there are also simple methods of creating your own cleaners if you so decide. 

The first thing to do is figure out if your leather upholstery is finished by scratching it lightly.  If there’s not a mark left behind, it’s simple to clean it yourself.  As with any other fabric, test any cleaner you intend to use someplace inconspicuous.

  1. Use a clean sponge or absorbent cloth to pick up excess liquid as soon as it happens.
  2. Butter, grease, and oil should be wiped with a clean, absorbent cloth and then allowed to dry.
  3. Scratches can be buffed with a chamois or lightly moistened using distilled water and a clean cloth.
  4. Avoid furniture polish, varnish, ammonia, cleaning solvents, and oils for cleaning leather upholstery.
  5. For persistent stains or damage, consider contacting a leather professional.

Check out this video to help you select the right leather type, texture, and color for your leather upholstery project.

Leather Upholstery Insights

Is upholstery leather real leather?

Yes, upholstery leather is real leather made from, most commonly, cowhide but also from other animals.

Is upholstery leather expensive?

Upholstery leather is considered the least expensive, but it’s still a high-quality material.  Cost depends on the size of the hide and the type of finishing process used.

What type of leather is best for upholstery?

Pigmented leather is best for upholstery because it is durable, beautifully pigmented, and protected with polymer surface coating.

Can leather be reupholstered?

Yes, leather can be reupholstered for couches, cars, and more at a fraction of the cost of buying entirely new.

How long will a leather couch last?

A quality leather couch can last up to 25 years or more.  A lower-end sofa will last about two to five years with normal use.

What does leather upholstery mean?

Leather upholstery is a fabric created from animal hides, typically cows.  It is good quality, durable material that works well for couches, furniture, cars, and other items that are used daily.

The Most Common Leather Upholstery Items

I called leather upholstery stores to learn more about which items people use leather upholstery the most. Here is a table representing what I learned from my research about leather upholstery. 

Upholstery ItemTimes Selected
Antique leather chairs29%
Leather recliners14%
Leather car seats14%
Modern leather chairs21%
Leather ottomans 14%
Leather couches8%
Common Leather Upholstery Items

Final Thoughts

Leather upholstery is great for couches, chairs, purses, and car interiors.  It’s aesthetically pleasing, high quality, durable, and long-lasting.  With regular care and maintenance, these products can be handed down and increase in value and desirability over time.  It may cost a bit more initially, but consider it an investment and something you won’t have to purchase again for many years.  Leather upholstery is a good choice for strength and comfort.

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