Because there are so many leather office chairs on sale in South Africa, it is important to consider the different types of leather available, and also the common misconception surrounding the term ‘genuine leather’. For some customers, “leather is leather”, but this is not the case as there are huge differences between the different types of leather used for office furniture, and chairs in particular. Broadly speaking, office and casino chairs can be upholstered in leather, bonded leather or faux leather, and each variant is quite different from the next. Fundamentally, leather is a natural product that comes directly from an animal hide. Bonded leather and faux leather are synthetic, or man-made products.
If you research “leather”, you will come across various differences in terminology. For example, some manufacturers have different definitions for “real leather”, “genuine leather” and “corrected leather”. The aim of this knowledge article is to help you understand the difference between the types of leather, their advantages and disadvantages, and finally, their suitability for office and casino chairs.
1. Genuine Leather
We define any leather that comes from an animal hide, as “genuine leather”, and we only use bovine leather to upholster our office and casino chairs.
Leather consists of layers or grades known as Full or Natural Grain, Top Corrected Grain and Split Grain Leather. Because it is a natural product, when you run your fingers across leather it will not feel perfectly smooth. If you press your finger into the leather, the surface will stretch and wrinkle, just like your skin.
Leather has a unique and inherent smell that cannot be imitated. Think of the beautiful smell of a new car with leather upholstery!
The outer layer of leather is the strongest. As you go lower, leather loses its density. The lower layers are used to make the softer versions of leather such as suede.
Unfortunately, when it come to leather, many people are not familiar with such terms as full, natural, top or corrected grain. Instead they simply look for the words genuine leather. Let me explain in greater detail.
a. Full or Natural Grain Leather
Full or natural grain leather is the highest quality of all types of leather and also the most expensive. It is the top layer of the hide and includes the full thickness of the natural grain. With full grain leather, you can see the pattern of the skin and marks and scars from the animal’s life. It is not sanded or buffed to remove these marks or imperfections. As the natural grain contains the strongest fibers in the hide, full grain leather is the strongest and most durable of all leathers. It also retains it’s original breathability and is weatherproof and damage-resistant.
Full grain leather is dyed which can, (and does), result in colour variations from one dye batch to the next. Because of this, office chairs, or any other products made from full grain leather, will never be identical. This may result in a lack of uniformity in a corporate environment where “all office chairs must look the same”.
As full grain leather ages, rather than wearing out, it burnishes and develops a colour change or patina. The patina is a soft sheen that develops on the surface of the leather and it only occurs on full grain leather. This adds a unique character to the leather….the more you use it, the better it looks and feels.
Patina only occurs on full grain natural leather
Because the natural grain has no artificial protective coating, it is susceptible to staining and is difficult to clean. Any liquid spillage will be absorbed into the leather and the resultant stain (if there is one), cannot be removed. Despite the fact that full grain leather is the best quality and most expensive, some consumers regarded it as inferior due to the visible marks and scars on it’s surface. Natural grain leather is used to upholster high-end furniture like sofas, but it is not often used on office chairs.
Full or natural grain leather is the highest grade and most expensive of all types of leather.
Top grain corrected leather is the second-highest grade of all types of leather.
b. Top Grain Corrected Leather
Top grain corrected leather is the second-highest quality and is the type most commonly used in high-end genuine leather products and office chairs. With top grain leather, the top of the hide is sanded or split off which removes the imperfections and marks on the surface. By removing the top portion of the the hide, top grain leather loses some of it’s strongest fibers and as a result, it is not as strong and durable as full grain leather. It is however, more affordable.
After sanding away the marks and imperfections, top grain leather is imprinted or embossed with a fake grain to give it a uniform look. The leather is then pigmented and finished off with a clear protective layer. This protective layer prevents corrected leather from developing a natural patina like full grain leather, instead it will just get scuffed. The finishing coat reduces the breathability of the leather, but it provides protection against stains that would otherwise sink into full grain leather. Corrected leather is therefore much easier to clean.
Genuine leather that has been corrected, is highly suitable for those applications where “uniformity and stain resistance is important”, and as a result it is commonly used for office furniture and casino chairs in South Africa.
Correction of leather means removing the intrinsic marks and imperfections in the hide by sanding or buffing. The sanded layer is then imprinted with an artificial grain to make it uniform. Any leather that has been modified in this way is known as corrected grain leather.
c. Split Grain Leather
Split grain leather is the third split or segment of the animal hide. It is the weakest portion of the hide and requires chemical treatment to improve it’s strength and durability. It is more altered or corrected than top grain leather, and the chemical treatment ensures that it is not as soft and supple.
Although split leather is better than artificial or faux leather, it is certainly not the best leather you can get. It is also the least expensive. As a result, split grain leather is often used for less expensive furniture or on the parts of furniture that experience less heavy use, such as the sides and backs of sofas, or the outside backs of office chairs.
2. Bonded or Reconstituted Leather Office Chairs
Bonded leather is the chipboard or particle board of leathers.
If you enjoy the appearance and feel of leather but not the price tag, then bonded or reconstituted leather is the way to go. Bonded leather is a synthetic leather manufactured from left over scraps of leather which are made into a pulp and mixed with bonding materials. It is then attached to a fibre cloth or paper backed sheet, dyed, embossed with leather like textures, and coated with polyurethane to give it a glossy look and feel of leather. Durability, smell, and texture depend on the degree of organic leather in the chemical mix, which can vary anywhere from 10% to 90%. Bonded leather office chairs are available for sale in South Africa, and can portray very nice optics, but they cannot be compared to grain leathers in terms of quality and durability.
Bonded leather is mainly used to produce budget friendly furniture and office chairs where aesthetics and low cost are important. Over time, bonded leather may peel and flake, whereas real leather cracks and fades, but does not peel.
Pros and Cons of Bonded Leather
3. Faux Leather Office Chairs
Faux leather is a synthetic (man-made) leather also referred to as imitation or artificial leather.
Faux leather primarily falls into two categories, namely Polyvinylchloride (PVC) commonly known as Vinyl, and Polyurethane (PU). Both these synthetic leathers are manufactured for similar furniture applications, but they differ in a number of ways. Office chairs with both types of faux leather are available for sale in South Africa. What is Faux Leather?
a. Polyvinylchloride (PVC) or Vinyl Faux Leather
Vinyl (PVC) is made from two synthetic materials. The fibres of the upholstery are made from strong polyester fibres that are coated with polyvinylchloride (PVC) and plasticizers (phthalic acid). The PVC is melted onto the surface of the fibers, sealing them closed and making a virtually waterproof surface that is flexible and tough. Vinyl is harder and more durable than PU leather because it has additional layers underneath it’s coating.
Vinyl upholstery is easy to clean and maintain, and is typically used where cleanliness is a top priority. Common examples are hospitals, restaurants, laboratories and factories. Vinyl can become uncomfortably hot if left in the sun and your skin can stick to it’s surface. Vinyl may also crack with extended use, especially if it is cleaned with alcohol-based solvents. Such cleaning agents destroy the plasticizers and make the vinyl hard and brittle.
b. Polyurethane (PU) Faux Leather
PU is made by coating a backing fabric such as cotton or polyester with a flexible polymer and then treating it to look more like an animal hide. PU upholstery looks and feels more like real leather. Because there are no plasticizers used in PU, it doesn’t crack or peel like vinyl, and will remains soft and supple. PU is considered greener than Vinyl because it does not create dioxins. Because it is softer and more pliable than vinyl, PU is easier to work with.
PU is the most realistic imitation of leather as it can wrinkle like leather, and has a leather feel when used on office chairs and other furniture. Of the two types of faux leather, PU is more expensive to produce.
Pros and Cons of Faux Leather
Cleaning Leather Office and Casino Chairs
|Real and Bonded Leather||Faux Leather|
|Use a damp cloth and water or leather-specific cleaning chemicals. Some common home treatments like white vinegar, lemon juice, cream of tartar, baking soda, bleach and alcohol could be harmful to leather and should be avoided. Always use a microfiber cloth to prevent scratches.|
For your office chair, there are numerous leather cleaners and conditioners for sale from the larger retailers in South Africa.
|Faux leather can be cleaned with a soft microfiber cloth dampened with warm water. A mild detergent mixed with water is recommended to remove stubborn stains. |
Avoid chemicals, bleach and alcohol as it can dis-colour the Vinyl or PU and also cause the coating to become brittle resulting in cracks.
Not all leathers are created equal and there are a number of different types available. If you are looking for a ‘genuine leather’ office chair for sale in South Africa, it must be one that is upholstered with an animal hide. By understanding the differences between the types of leather as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each, you should be in a better position to make an informed decision as to which is best for your specific needs and application.
Contact us for more information.
Published: 11 July 2021
Author: Ronel Hendry
Office Ergonomics Risk Facilitator at Karo Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd