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6 Common Problems With Leather Furniture: How to Avoid and Treat Them

October 18th, 2023 | 8 min read

By Ryan Podnar

leather sofa chair and ottoman in living room

 

Let’s say that you are looking to add a beautiful piece of leather furniture to your home. It is advantageous to know the common problems with leather furniture and to have the awareness of how to avoid those problems altogether.

We at La-Z-Boy South Texas have over 90 years of experience in furnishing homes and have received countless questions about potential problems they may face with leather furniture. If it gets dirty, how should you clean leather furniture? Better yet, how should you care for your leather furniture to avoid those problems before they arise?

If you are looking for specific types of leather, we will discuss the different types of leather, the different attributes of each, and what is considered premium leather. 

This article will answer all of your questions and concerns on the matter. Continue on to learn about the 6 most common problems with leather furniture, and how we can treat and avoid those problems altogether!

 

In this article…


  1. Leather Cracking
  2. Body Oil Damage
  3. Color Fading of Leather
  4. Puddling
  5. Peeling Leather
  6. Smell of Leather

 

Different Types of Leather

types of leather

Before we jump right into the common problems with leather furniture, it is beneficial to know what the different types of leather are and the attributes of each type. Without further ado, here are the different types of leather furniture!

 

Full Grain Leather


This is the most authentic and pure type of leather furniture you can buy. The only process added to the original animal hide is hair removal followed by soaking the leather in a natural dye. The texture of full-grain leather is tough at first, but it begins to soften with more use.

Top Grain Leather

Top-grain leather goes through a little bit more of a polishing process than full-grain leather, though it is very similar to full-grain leather due to its purity. Top-grain leather will go through a buffing process which will make it softer than full-grain leather. If you are looking for a softer look and feel, top-grain leather furniture will be the correct choice over full-grain leather.

Aniline Leather

Aniline leather is a natural Napa leather, which refers to particularly soft, tanned hides from an animal. Aniline refers to the dyes that are used in the making of the final product where the tanned animal hide is dyed in a drum with aniline dyes. Aniline leather has more natural colors derived from the coloration of the animal’s skin.

Split Grain Leather

When the “top” outer layer of leather is removed, the remaining hide section is used for split-grain varieties of furniture. While less expensive, split grain is harder in texture and more difficult to maintain than the higher-quality types above.

Bonded Leather

Bonded leather is created from other pieces of leather projects and rolled up using adhesive material. In most cases, the final product is made up of 17% leather but still provides the leather look and smell. If you are looking for a high-quality leather look in your furniture at a lower cost, consider furniture made from bonded leather. 

Bi-cast Leather

Bi-cast leather is split grain with a coating of color polyurethane that gives it the appearance of top-grain leather. While it is much less expensive than top-grain leather furniture, it peels and cracks much more easily.

6 Common Problems with Leather Furniture

With the knowledge we now have about the different types of leather, you now have some context into the problems that people frequently experience with leather furniture.

Now, let’s address the 6 common problems with leather furniture.

1. Leather Cracking



brown leather sectional cracking

Cracking leather is a more common issue when it comes to leather furniture. Typically, cracking in furniture occurs when there are above-average fluctuations in both temperature and moisture levels.

While the cold winter air and summer humidity can cause cracking in leather, it is typically more common in combination leathers where the vinyl components are more susceptible to cracking, as opposed to authentic leather.

How to Prevent Leather Cracking

If you are looking to buy a reclining leather sofa, it will be important to learn what steps you need to take to avoid this issue. To avoid the cracking of your leather furniture, it is recommended to keep the furniture away from windows (UV) and other heat sources. 

Another way to prevent cracking of your leather furniture is to regularly clean it. This can be done by gently using a leather cleaner solution or polish. Clean leather is less susceptible to cracking.

Treatment & Repair of Leather Cracking

The treatment of cracked leather depends on the specific type of leather the furniture is. For example, Aniline leather must be repaired by re-dying the cracks. On the other hand, pigmented leather can be repaired by synthetic filling and re-dying the leather.

If you are looking for a place in San Antonio to take your furniture to treat leather cracking, check out furniture medics by experts in San Antonio.

2. Body Oil Damage



leather sofa with body oil damage

For those of you who have never had leather furniture, this may sound a little weird. It is important to remember that the oils contained in your skin can eventually rub off on your leather furniture. Common areas of concern are in the headrest and armrest as they are high-touch surfaces and will transfer body oils to the leather more frequently.  

Touch points on leather furniture are particularly vulnerable to body oil damage. For example, If one has a leather recliner sofa, the neck can be exposed to the upper portion of the sofa, and body oil damage can be a leading result. 

How to Prevent Body Oil Damage on Leather Furniture

An easy way to avoid body oil damage on leather furniture is to avoid resting on the furniture if you are sweaty, such as after working out. 

Let’s say that your future leather recliner sofa is the most comfortable piece of furniture in your house or apartment. I would want to rest on it as well! 

A simple way to avoid body oil damage would be to clean the chair with distilled water regularly. 

Ultimately, leather furniture is very comparable to our skin. It is best practice to regularly and gently clean the furniture to help the prevention of body oil damage.

Treatment & Repair

A temporary fix to the issue would be applying new dye to the product. This temporary fix will not solve the discoloration issue related to the body oil damage.

It is ultimately very important to maintain the leather furniture while it is in great condition to avoid body oil damage. According to our leather experts here at La-Z-Boy, it is almost impossible to repair body oil damage to leather.

This leads me to the next most common problem associated with leather furniture.

3. Color Fading


leather sofa color fading

When you first purchase your beautiful leather furniture, the color of the leather is very vibrant and rich. Of course, we’d love to keep it this way!

If the furniture rests in a spot where there is direct sunlight exposure shining down on it, the color of your leather will inevitably fade over time. Additionally, the original color of the leather may make this more or less noticeable. For example, an originally tan leather couch will fade more easily than a grey leather sofa.

It’s also important to note that direct sunlight exposure is not the only source that will fade the color of leather furniture. If it rests close to a heat source (such as a fireplace or a furnace), the color will also fade.

How to Prevent Color Fading of Leather Furniture

As we discussed earlier, of course, we want to keep the vibrant color of your leather furniture alive and well! 

The best way we can do this is when deciding where to place your furniture after you bring it home, try to avoid placing it next to windows or where there is direct sunlight exposure. Along with this, it is important to keep the furniture away from heat sources, such as your fireplace or furnace.


If you are not able to keep the furniture away from direct sunlight, one trick that will help avoid color fading is to reposition your furniture every couple of months. It will also be a great idea to close your blinds to avoid sun exposure.

If you would like assistance with designing your room, we are more than happy to help set up a consultation with one of our design services consultants.

Treatment & Repair

Color fading in leather furniture is irreparable. This makes it important to ensure that we take all measures to prevent any color fading in our leather furniture before it happens. 

4. Puddling



brown leather couch puddling

Some of you may be wondering, “What is puddling?” 

Puddling is the natural stretch of leather that will appear as wrinkled or loosened. This typically happens around the seat and back cushions of your leather. 

Of course, when you first purchase your leather furniture, the leather will be perfectly tightened to hug the seat cushions at every angle. It is important to note that leather is a natural material that will start to soften as it continues to be used regularly.

How to Prevent Puddling in Leather Furniture

There is no way to prevent the loosening or “puddling” of leather furniture.

But there is a silver lining!

The reality with leather furniture is in order to lessen the effects of puddling, the more solid the foundation encased by the leather must be.

Treatment & Repair

Unlike the reality of repairing color fading, puddling leather can be treated!

What you will want to do is re-stuff or replace the cushion entirely. When the cushion begins to retake its original shape, the leather will tighten back up again.

5. Leather Peeling



leather sofa that is peeling

What’s important to note about leather furniture is that peeling does not occur with higher-grade leathers. For example, full-grain and top-grain leather will not experience this problem.

Peeling leather is typically the result of one or two of the problems discussed earlier. If leather furniture has experienced cracking or body oil damage already, this is usually when you notice the leather peel in lower-grade leather. Interestingly enough, leather peeling is a common issue in Italian leather sofas and should be taken into consideration.

There are cases where leather peels as a result of improper processing. This usually occurs with leather that is highly processed.

How to Prevent Leather Furniture from Peeling

Since peeling is usually the result of body oil damage or cracking, the best way to prevent peeling in leather furniture is to keep away from sunlight exposure, and heat sources and by frequently cleaning the furniture.

When it comes to cleaning your leather furniture, here are some do’s and don’ts for cleaning leather furniture:

Do's:  Dont's:
Use mild soap and water Use baking soda
Use leather creams and moisturizers   Use window cleaner
Use a vacuum cleaner   Use bleach
Use a dry cloth   Use hairspray
 

Treatment & Repair

Using leather filler or a leather repair kit will help treat patches of damaged leather. 

Leather repair kits typically provide you with a cleaning solution, filler, binder, colorant, and patches. 

Using leather filler is a more labor-intensive option. Before you begin, you will need to cut away the peeling leather patches. Once completed, you’ll need to let the filler dry before you sand down the surface to make the furniture smooth again. 

6. Smell



smelly leather loveseat

Those of you reading this particular section may or may not consider this to be a problem. 

What may not know is that the unique smell of leather is a result of the perfumes and chemicals used in the tanning process. 

The reason why it’s important to tan leather is to prevent the rotting of the hide. While it’s highly unlikely, there are instances where the leather is not properly tanned and there is rotting inside the leather. 

How to Prevent the Smell of Leather Furniture

Since the smell of leather furniture exists upon purchase, there is no prevention for the smell. However, the smell of leather is completely normal and should not be considered a serious issue.

Treatment & Repair

There is no treatment for the unique smell of leather furniture. The best way to rid the smell of leather is to wash down the leather with distilled water and open a window.

If you do not prefer the smell of leather furniture but love the aesthetics, don’t worry! The smell will fade over time. 

 

Benefits of Leather Furniture

As important as it is to discuss the problems with leather furniture openly, it is equally important to discuss the many benefits of leather furniture!

In this section, we will discuss the pros and cons of leather furniture.

 

Pros 

Cons

Luxurious appearance Color fading
Unique look Body oil damage
Luscious colors Peeling leather
Premier quality  Puddling leather
Classy and classic look Leather cracking
Impressionable Unique smell
Hypoallergenic  
Durability  
Comfort  

Next Steps (Where to Buy Leather Furniture)

As you can see, it is important to know the common problems associated with leather furniture. As many common problems there are with leather furniture, there are just as many benefits to having a beautiful piece of leather furniture as well.

The beauty of buying leather furniture is that if you buy a brand-new brown leather sectional, a leather loveseat, or a leather sofa, the furniture will come to you in perfect condition. This means that as long as you maintain your furniture and clean it regularly, you can avoid problems like peeling leather, puddling leather, and color fading.

If you are not interested in experiencing the potential issues we have discussed, leather furniture may not be for you. An alternative furniture style you may be interested in instead would be fabric furniture. 

As helpful as we hope this article has been for you, the only way to find out if you will truly love leather furniture is to come sit in it yourself! Knowing the problems that are common with leather furniture, it is up to you to decide if leather furniture is right for you.

We’re more than happy to assist you with setting up an appointment with one of our Design Consultants or answer any of your questions at our La-Z-Boy stores in San Antonio.