Last Updated: January 2021
Leather is an extremely durable material and that is why it has been used for thousands of years to make clothes, furnishings, and more. Granted, there are some types of leather that are more durable than others, namely full-grain leather, but even cheaper leather can still be durable.
And leather is not only prized for its durability. Leather looks amazing, especially when you have high-quality leather with a beautiful natural grain.
When you buy a leather product, you are investing in quality and often get an item that can last a lifetime.
Before you buy your leather, you should know a little about the material. Some will last longer, so you should know what you are getting before you shell out your hard-earned cash.
The 4 Types of Real Leather
Sometimes, words are thrown around and you never quite know what they mean. Is full-grain better than top-grain? Bonded sounds strong, but is it the strongest type of leather? Let’s take a look at the quality of each leather.
Full Grain Leather
Full-grain leather contains all of the natural grain of the hide, and, as you might expect from that, it comes from the top layer of the hide.
This type of leather contains all of the strength and durability of the hide along with any beauty and imperfections. It is the highest quality of leather available, which also makes it the most expensive.
Over time, top-grain leather will absorb oils and this changes the look of the leather, often enhancing the beauty.
Top Grain Leather
Second in quality to full-grain leather, top-grain leather takes the top layer of the hide but sands down any imperfections and is also often stained to hide any blemishes and give a more attractive look.
Essentially, top-grain leather takes the top layer of the hide that has too many imperfections to be used as full-grain and hides those imperfections. As it is sanded, it has a smoother feel than full grain, and it can be more flexible too.
Top grain is often used to make suede and nubuck.
Corrected Grain Leather
Once the top layer has been removed to produce full grain and top grain, the next layers are split off to make corrected grain (also known as genuine, bottom cut, or split-grain).
Corrected grain leather is still durable and is often tougher than the layers above it, and is used where leather does not need to be soft, such as in furniture making. This type of leather is often sanded to hide any imperfections and then painted or embossed with a leather pattern to give the appearance of full grain or top grain leather.
Whatever is left after the above three types of leather have been produced is used to create bonded leather, including leftovers, dust, and shavings. They are all bonded together using polyurethane or latex. Once molded, the finished product is often sprayed to resemble full grain or top grain.
Sometimes, the manufacturer will disclose how much leather is actually in the product, but more often you will not know. Bonded leather is still durable, but it is the lowest grade of leather and the cheapest.
Leather Longevity by Type
Full-grain leather is the highest quality and the most durable. With the right care, it can last more than five times longer than other fabrics, and, depending on how you use the product, it can last you decades, in some cases even over 100 years.
While full-grain leather will last the longest, it has to be taken care of properly. That’s why we have written extensive guides on how to clean and maintain leather purses/handbags, gloves, shoes & boots, car seats, and jackets.
- Typical products that are made out of full-grain leather: Handmade and high-quality bags, belts, shoes, boots, portfolios, furniture (couches, sofas), wallets, and more.
Top-grain leather is still used in luxury goods, but its durability is somewhat compromised by the way it’s obtained. Still, you can expect top grain leather goods to last for decades.
- Typical products that are made out of full-grain leather: Handmade belts, shoes, boots, briefcases, furniture (couches, sofas), wallets, and more.
Genuine leather and bonded leather are low-quality leathers, which makes them affordable for most people, but the durability is nowhere near that of full-grain and top-grain leathers. These lower quality leathers will fade, crack, and peel over time, no matter how well you take care of them. However, you can still expect this type of leather to last 5 to 10 years.
- Typical products made out of genuine and bonded leather: Mass-produced wallets, bags, and belts by major brands.
Faux/PU Leather vs. Real Leather
PU (polyurethane) leather, also known as synthetic or faux leather, is a material that is created from polyurethane and has a similar look and feel to real leather. The main benefit of PU leather is that no animals are harmed in making it, so it is a good fabric choice for vegans and vegetarians.
The look and feel will be similar to leather, but you will notice that it is not as heavy, and it certainly won’t last as long as real leather. PU leather is not as breathable as real leather, but it is more breathable than other synthetic fabrics. PU leather is also water-resistant.
While genuine leather will become more attractive over time, with the grain becoming richer and more pronounced, PU leather will keep the same look. And, while it is not as durable as real leather, it is a lot cheaper, so there are certain situations where it is a more obvious choice than real leather.
PU leather is resistant to sunlight, so you will often find it used in textiles where it is going to be out in the sun, like car seats or outdoor furniture.
You can expect faux/PU leather to last only a few years before it starts fading, cracking, and peeling.
Many products are not manufactured as one-use or limited-use items. Leather aims to combat our disposable natures and allows for clothes, accessories, furniture, and more that can last a lifetime. And, if you invest in full-grain leather, your jacket or bag is only going to become more beautiful over time.