Leather furniture is made using many different types of leather that are created using different processes. That is what accounts for the different look, feel and quality of leather furniture, and ultimately even how to clean it.
Leather comes from many different sources, some obvious such as cattle, sheep and pigs, and some not so obvious as stingrays and ostriches. Even so it is the way it is processed that ends up placing it into three main categories, aniline, semi-aniline, and protected or pigmented leather.
Aniline leather is highly prized for the way it looks. It is the most natural looking leather and retains the unique surface characteristics. Aniline leather is dyed by immersing the hide in a dye bath, and the surface is not coated with any polymers or pigments. Only the very best hides are used as all surface marks remain visible, which is why it is also called "naked leather."
Advantages: Aniline leather is very soft and comfortable. It retains the unique markings and characteristics of the hide, making each piece different.
Disadvantages: Since it is not protected, aniline leather can be stained easily. It is not recommended for young families or very high traffic areas for that reason.
Semi-aniline leather is a little bit more hardy than aniline leather because its surface has been treated with a light coat that contains some pigment and this makes it more soil and stain resistant.
Advantages: While it retains the uniqueness of aniline leather, semi-aniline leather has more consistent color and is more resistant to stains.
Disadvantages: The markings are not as apparent, and therefore less unique than aniline leather.
Protected, or Pigmented Leather
Protected leather is the most durable type of leather, for that reason it is the most used leather in furniture and car upholstery. Protected leather has a polymer surface coating containing pigments.
While the thickness of the surface coating may vary, it allows the manufacturer to have more control over the properties of the leather. It is possible to add more resistance to scuffing or fading.
Advantages: This type of leather is easy to maintain and stands up to different conditions and uses.
Disadvantages: This type of leather does not have the uniqueness of aniline leather, and looks less natural. It can be hard to tell one kind of grain apart from the other as the surface is coated and embossed.