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Six Ways to Tell if Furniture is Actually 100% Real Leather

When it comes to comfort, style, and durability, there is nothing quite like a 100% real leather sofa or chair. Unfortunately, for many casual observers, identifying a piece of 100% real leather furniture among the many inferior “split,” “bonded” and faux (fake) leather options can seem a little overwhelming, and is something you should be versed in prior to going leather furniture shopping. Thanks to deceptive wording, confusing product descriptions, unscrupulous sales practices and just plain lack of education on untrained salespeople, it’s often up to the consumer to determine if they are actually getting the “real thing” or just a cheap copy.

For instance, many furniture stores sell “bonded” leather pieces as being “real” leather, when in fact it is actually made from leftover pieces of leather that are ground together and attached to a synthetic backing sheet (akin to being a “leather laminate”).  In other cases, stores may list a piece as containing 100% real leather, but that may only apply to a very small part of the total piece – typically the seat. The rest of the furniture is either cheap “bonded” or faux (fake) leather. To add insult to injury, in some cases a manufacturer or salesperson will deliberately use confusing language to describe a split, bonded or faux leather item as actually being real, high quality leather.

Sadly, too many people get fooled into thinking they are getting the real deal at an amazing price, only to find out within a few months or years that they didn’t get a real 100% leather sofa. Worse yet, some dodgy furniture stores actually charge top dollar for fake leather.

Curriers Leather only sells furniture that is 100% real leather through and through. So you always can shop here with confidence. But we also understand that you may prefer to shop around. So we’ve put together this guide to help you determine whether that beautiful new “leather” couch or chair you see in another showroom is actually the 100% real deal.


One more caveat: it may not be enough to use only 2 or 3 of these tips as your benchmark, as they often all need to add up to conclude that a piece is truly 100% real leather.

1. Check the Price Tag

If you encounter a reasonably “honest” salesperson, they might be trying to sell a low quality leather as a great deal because the price is so low. But when it comes to leather quality, too cheap almost definitely means inferior or fake (although simply relying on price can backfire, as a higher price doesn’t always mean “real” leather either).

A full grain leather 3-seater sofa will generally have a starting price of a few thousand dollars, and go up from there. Om the other hand, you may find a nice-looking 3-seater leather sofa for $997 and feel that you’ve found an absolute bargain. Chances are that “bargain” sofa is not made entirely of quality real leather – instead relying on split, bonded or faux leather – and the overall construction may be lacking as well. So even if a real leather sofa is three or four times more expensive than the less expensive copy, it’s going to last more than four times as long too. It’s only cheap in the short term, but the long-term benefits of real leather are significant.

2. Look Closely at the Leather Surface

You’ll need to get up close and look at the surface patterns of the leather itself. A real leather couch or chair will have natural imperfections (more on these shortly), and it will not be completely uniform. The structure, pattern, and shading will not have a repeating pattern. If you get up close and see that it’s completely uniform, or if certain patterns repeat regularly, then it’s most likely faux leather or bonded leather.

Another dead giveaway? There is a very large continuous piece of leather. Typically, you’ll see that the back of a leather sofa will have one or two stitched vertical seams. The reason for this is that a natural animal hide has a size limit – it’s only as large as the animal it came from. So if you see very large areas of leather on the back of a couch, then it’s most likely faux or bonded leather.

3. Smell the Leather Upholstery

If you have ever smelled real leather, whether furniture or clothing, you’ll know that it has a unique scent. It’s a natural type of skin, and no matter how much the hide is processed, some of that original leather scent always remains. With a finely tuned sense of small, you should be able to tell the difference between real and fake leather pretty much immediately.

With fake leather and bonded leather, there typically is a strong synthetic smell. – like glue and cheap plastic. This is typically the smell of the top material (whether the faux of bonded leather) being glues to a synthetic background along with the harsh chemicals used to color and treat the upholstery (to make it look more like “real” leather).

4. Feel the Structure of the Leather.

Gently run your fingers across the leather surface. If it’s real leather, then it will not feel cold and completely smooth. The natural animal hide will have imperfections, and just like human skin, it will have lumps and bumps.

However, top-grain leather is a little more difficult to feel bumps as the preparation process lightly sands the outer grain. But there’s a solution for that, by pressing your fingertips down into the leather. If it’s a real leather sofa, you should notice wrinkles forming just like with your skin. This often helps people tell the difference between true top grain leather and bonded leather.

5. Check the Upholstery Backing 

This is a bit more difficult, and you may need to tilt a sofa on its back. What you want to do is find an area of the leather where you can see the back of the upholstery. You might need to loosen some staples or stitching, but it’s important to see if it’s leather all the way through.

Synthetic leather or bonded leather will have some form of polyurethane backing. These are synthetic fibers that provide support and structure for the manufactured upholstery, and it’s a 100% giveaway that you’re not dealing with 100% real leather.

6. Look for Imperfections

Finally, let’s talk about imperfections. This is the best way to verify if something is full grain leather as the manufacturing process makes sure that the outer grain layer isn’t modified.

That means there will be natural hide markings like scratches from barbed wire and fence posts, as well as insect bites and possibly fat wrinkles. Fat wrinkles are completely natural and form in places where the animal’s fat deposits slightly protrude. If you can’t find fat wrinkles, then either the cow was on a severe diet, or there’s something strange going on.


Taking a Closer Look at Different Types of Leather

Finally, knowing how to identify different types of leather (and faux leather) can go a long way in ensuring that you are getting the quality, 100% real leather you’ve been promised.

Full Grain Leather

To identify full grain leather, there are three main things you need to do. First of all, feel the leather surface and pay attention to whether you can feel the bumps in the hide. Full grain leather shouldn’t be completely smooth as the processing ensures that the outer layer isn’t compromised.

Second, take a close look at grain characteristics and imperfections. The pattern in the grain should never be completely uniform or repeating. And when you press your finger down into the leather, you should see natural wrinkles form.

And finally, if it’s semi-aniline leather, then you should barely see any pores in the leather as there is a thin coat of dye.

Top Grain Leather

The main thing to check for with top grain leather is the feel and the bumps on the surface. During the preparation process, the outer layer is lightly sanded to provide a softer and smoother surface. This also removes some of the imperfections, which should be noticeable. Run your fingers over the surface and check if you can feel bumps. Then take a closer look with a magnifying glass to see if you can actually see these bumps on the surface.

Split Leather

This is not high quality leather, although you’ll sometimes see this labeled as genuine leather upholstery. Split leather is found on the bottom part of the hide, after the leather has been split into the more durable “top grain,” and what is left. Split leather is crafted from the fibrous part of the hide once the top grain has been separated and is not the best quality. Thus, it is better suited for work gloves, shoes or handbags as opposed to furniture. Fortunately, there are a few ways to tell split leather from the higher quality top and full grain leather that Currier’s sells.

First of all, split leather will naturally feel a lot rougher that top grain, as the outer smooth grain layer is completely removed. Then, manufacturers often roll or spray a paint layer on top to give it an artificially smooth feel and the visual texture of the grain. However, if you take a closer look with a magnifying glass, you should notice that what looks like bumps and imperfections really is just a clever mix of paint.

Bonded Leather

Bonded leather is made out of the pulp of discarded leather pieces. While it’s a clever way to recycle discarded leather – and it may smell like real leather – it won’t have the same feel or durability.

One of the giveaway signs that you’re dealing with bonded leather is that while it might smell like leather, there’s also a bit of a synthetic smell from the glue or bonding agent. Then there’s the fact that it will have a completely uniform texture. While some manufacturers spray on a grain effect, a close look with a magnifying glass will show you that they are not real bumps and imperfections.

Finally, check at the back or underneath the leather sofa to see if there’s even a small bit of exposed upholstery backing. If this is synthetic, it’s a slam dunk that you’re dealing with bonded leather.

Faux Leather

Many furniture companies have started marketing this fake leather as a vegan-friendly option. But even if it might look a bit like bonded leather, this synthetic leather type doesn’t last well for furniture.

The first thing you should check is if it completely lacks that appealing smell of real leather. You’re more likely to smell something completely synthetic, including the many solvents used to create faux leather. Checking the upholstery backing should also reveal a synthetic woven mesh that aims to hold the upholstery together.


Shop With Confidence At Currier’s

At Currier’s, we only sell 100% real leather furniture that is designed to last for many years – even decades. And with prices that are 40% – 60% off every day, you never have to sacrifice quality for price when shopping for a durable, real leather sofa or chair at our store. Best of all, since we stock hundreds of pieces, you can bring your new Currier’s Leather furniture hone the very same day. Stop in, or give us a call today. We look forward to serving you.