For thousands of years leather, or the skins of animals,has been used for a plenitude of purposes and has played an important role in the civilisation of man. Pieces of leather have been recorded in history as far back as 1300BC in Egypt. At some point in time man figured out how to preserve and soften leather using such things as the bark extract from trees, smoke and animal fat or grease. The art of tanning was invented.
Until the Nineteenth Century tanning using the extracts from the bark of certain trees (tannin) and other ingredients found in vegetable matter was the most common practice. However during this period tanning practices were very quickly replaced with a new form of tanning – Chrome tanning which used Chromium Sulphate and other salts of Chromium. It produced more supple and pliable leather and created the possibility for more colours to be produced. To date, this process accounts for approximately 80% of todays leather tanning. Other tanning processes include;
- Aldehyde – using glutaraldehyde or oxazolidine compounds. It’s main type of ‘chrome free’ leather commonly used in infant shoes and automobiles.
- Formaldehyde – this is another method of Aldehyde tanning. This process leaves the leather exceptionally waterproof. Fortunately this process is being phased out due to the toxicity to workers exposed to it.
- Brain Tanning – very labour intensive process that uses emulsified oils, quite often-animal brains. This process produces exceptionally soft and washable leathers.
- Synthetic – uses polymers such as Neradol. This process was invented during the Second World War when vegetable tannins were difficult to source and short in supply. During this period Urea Formaldehyde resins were also used.
When choosing leather for your furniture, knowing the different leather types is valuable. Different types of leather have different characteristics and perform very differently in diverse situations. Leathers used for upholstery industry are basically classified based on the different characteristics of their finish. I.e., how they look.
Basically leather is sold in four different forms.
This process produces magnificent leather leaving it in its most natural form. The colours tend to be very earthy and the natural beauty of the hide is preserved.
This leather has been processed to raise the fibres on the grainy side of the hide. It feels like suede.
- Semi – Analine:
This leather has been lightly coloured and the surface applied with a finish. The natural characteristics of the hide are less visible, however it is more resistant to wear and tear. This process also increases colour range.
This leather has been given a heavy coating to protect it and provides a limitless colour range. It’s extremely durable and is produced in two forms;
a. Full Grain – shows natural variation within the grain and marks etc.
b. Corrected Grain – some of the grain layers have been removed along with any naturally occurring marks and scars. The surface is embossed with a fake, more uniform grain.
- Wax effect:
There are many varieties of these leathers. It is usually Analine dyed leather, which has been infused with oil and or wax. These leathers have great depth of colour and are very durable to water. They do however scratch very easily and are less tolerant of sunlight and heat. The scratches disappear when rubbed and sat on.
- Bi – Cast:
This leather is a low budget product. It has a plastic coating laminated onto the surface allowing various colours and prints to be applied. Usually produced usinglow-grade leathers.
- Keep leather away from direct sunlight and heat. I.e., fireplaces and heaters as it will dry out your leather.
- Wipe down weekly with a white;dry cloth to remove any dust. Pay particular attentionto arm rests, creases and areas where dust and lint can accumulate. Vacuum the leather with an appropriate brush head to remove pet hair, dust and crumbs etc.
- Four times a year give your leather furniture some attention! Set aside an hours, and using reputable leather cleaner, give your furniture an overall clean. Following this apply a leather conditioner. Your leather may “drink” this if it has dried out. Leather can also be oiled/conditioned to increase its resistance to water. Replenishing oil lost through everyday use is a great way to preserve your leather. Apply as required. There are many reputable leather oil/conditioners on the market today.
- For additional protection you could apply a Leather Protectant to help prevent mould, dirt accumulation and moisture loss.
LEATHER’S NATURAL CHARACTERISTICS
Leather is derived from animals, which in their natural environment are exposed to various factors. These factors leave permanent marks on their hides. The marks heal and do not affect the durability of the leather. These characteristics contribute the leather’s individuality and uniqueness. These include; healed scars, fat folds, warts and insect bites.
CARING FOR YOUR LEATHER FURNITURE
Compared to fabric leather is extremely durable and hard wearing. A little bit of maintenance will help preserve your furniture’s appearance and maintain it’s natural beauty. The extent and care methods vary with type of leather and the furnishing.
Expose leather to direct sunlight and heat. I.e., fireplaces and heaters as it will dry out your leather.
Avoid using chemicals near your furniture. Fly sprays, common cleaning fluids, paint solvents, nail varnish, ammonia based products and acetone.
If you spill something soak up the fluid as soon as possible using a colourfast towel or rag. Wipe the over the affected area with a leather cleaner, dry off with a dry, colourfast towel or rag and leave to dry slowly in an area away from direct sunlight or heat. Apply a leather conditioner once the leather is dry. Try to rub stains away with leather cleaner as soon as they are noticed.