Looking after Leather Upholstery
Last month we looked at unfinished and lightly finished leathers, which are more expensive and more difficult to look after.
This month we look at the more easily cared for types of leather.
Most domestic upholstery leather is Pigmented Leather. This has a layer of pigment (paint) on the surface which protects the leather underneath. This is the easiest type of leather to maintain and stands up well to the rigors of daily life in most homes.
Absolutely any colour or pattern is possible and leathers with a mottled appearance are called “two tone”, as two colours are used to make the pattern or effect.
Water based spills will not soak in quickly, and this type of leather is pretty much “wipe clean”. Regular wiping with a damp cloth or sponge is the best way of cleaning this type of leather, although leather protectors do help to keep them clean.
Pigmented leather will still absorb body oils and this can eventually make the pigment crack, peel or rub off, so regular cleaning and protection of contact areas is recommended. Scuffs and scratches can usually be repaired to a good standard as any repair can be painted over. These leathers fade less than aniline leathers in sunlight, although two tone leathers can suffer from lightening of colour in wear areas due to loss of the darker top coat. This is usually repairable.
These leathers can absorb dyes from items such as dark coloured clothes, (especially jeans) and brightly coloured cushions. On lighter colours this can be very noticeable. This can sometimes be cleaned off, but more often will require removal of the pigment and re-finishing to repair the damage.
Occasional professional deep cleaning may be required, but pigmented leather is generally very robust and easy to look after compared to aniline leathers.
Bicast leather is leather which has a layer of polyurethane bonded to its surface using heat. The finish is basically plastic, so it is extremely hard wearing, very easy to clean and difficult to damage. Think patent leather shoes.
The down side is that it has a stiffer feel than pigmented leather, often having a very high gloss shine and is cold in the winter, hot in the summer, is slippery and not very comfortable to sit on.
Great for homes with pets and children, it is a cheaper alternative to most other types of leather. The only cleaning it should require is wiping down with a wet cloth or sponge, with a mild detergent if necessary. However, upholstery covered with Bicast should not be sold as “Real Leather”, as the finish is thicker than the 0.15mm allowed for a product to be called real leather.
When a hide is made in to leather it is too thick, so is split in to several sheets. The outside of the hide is called Top Grain, and this what is made in to aniline, pull up and pigmented leathers. It is sometimes also used to make Bicast leather.
Split leather is the next layer down from the top grain. With a more loose fibre structure than top grain, it can be very soft and pliable, but is also nowhere near as strong. There can be up to 3 or 4 splits from each hide, each layer being weaker than the one above.
Split can be finished exactly like pigmented leather, and the two can be difficult to tell apart. Typically used as a cheap alternative to top grain on the backs and sides of upholstery, if used on the contact areas, the item should not be sold as “real leather”, but identified as split leather.
So Which Is Best?
Well, the answer to that is “Best for What”?
How you use your upholstery is the most important thing to consider when deciding what type of leather to buy. The natural leathers we looked at last month are high maintenance but “top end”. The finished leathers above are much easier to care for so are more suited to homes with pets and children. Top grain pigmented leather is the most durable of the three types above, but they all have their place.
Next month we will look at the products which might be called leather and could be passed off as real leather by some less scrupulous upholstery retailers if you don’t know what you are buying.