Leather has become a very popular and durable natural upholstery covering material. Leather and suede are products derived from the skins and hides of animals. Hides originate from larger animals from which leather is obtained. Suede is the fleshy side of leather, produced by reversing the skins or hides and mechanically brushing the surface to create a nap. Ultrasuede is not leather, but synthetic fabric with a napped surface, made to look like leather. Typically, leathers come from domestic animals such as cattle, goats, sheep and pigs. But specialty leathers may also be obtained from other animals. Leather is a rugged but unique product that requires special care.
There are numerous types of leather and suede incorporating a large variety of tanning methods, finishes, dyes or colorants; protectants, sealants, oils and waxes; plus special texturing, finishing and patterning to impart final appearance. Production of leather begins with removal of the animal skin as well as hair and fibers. The skins are then subjected to the tanning process. Tanning is used to displace water and fluids remaining in the skin and to prevent it from future spoilage and deterioration. Following the tanning procedures, the leather may be split into different thickness depending on the intended usage and further finish needed.
There are three general classes of leather, known as A, P and N. These letters denote aniline (A) or unprotected leather, protected (P) or pigmented, and Nubuck (N) Aniline is a colorless material used for making dyes and resins. In upholstery covering, aniline finishing produces a more natural looking but unprotected leather, often with surface texture and markings. At best, it is given only minimal coating or short term surface protection. Aniline leather's porous surface is covered with only a clear or transparent dyestuff and has little or no protective treatment or water repellency.
Protected (P) leather is the most common and practical. It usually has a more uniform, colored appearance. It is dyed or pigmented, then specially treated and protected to better resist wear, usage and potential stains. The more protective finish that's applied, the greater is its durability during use. Nubuck (N) leather is least used for upholstery and often confused with suede. Nubuck is an aniline type leather, but one where the surface has been brushed like velvet, making it soft and comfortable. True suede leather is seldom used for upholstery coverings.
One of the most important consumer decisions with leather furniture is to properly protect it when new. Unprotected leather furniture is especially prone to damage from food and drink spills, stains, scratches or scars, color and texture changes. It's vitally important to have a leather care professional apply a soil, spill and stain repellent to your leather furniture. This initial cost is worth the investment in protecting and enhancing the useful life of your leather. It's also necessary to do periodic conditioning with leather. This can and should regularly be done by consumers using leather care products. But for quality and expertise (including rehydration, cleaning and conditioning), the job is best entrusted to a leather care professional.
Choosing leather wisely at time of purchase will assure its longevity and satisfaction. A quality leather product, appropriate for its intended usage, is the smart choice. Delicate, specialty or unprotected leather furniture should not be placed in family rooms or high usage areas. Colored or dyed leathers are prone to fading and color loss, especially when exposed to sunlight. If you do have an accident or spillage, immediately scrape and blot up as much as possible. Promptly contact an Association of Specialists in Cleaning and Restoration leather care specialist to minimize further damage. They might be able to remove some stains and recondition or repair the affected areas. Further specialty care may also include treatment to the surface finish, coloring or redyeing to match, refinishing and then conditioning or protecting the leather.