Here’s the answer….
A consumer is frequently told that the leather they purchased is low maintenance and can easily be wiped off with mild soap and water. No further service explanation is given.
Several problems exist with this approach. First, low maintenance is usually interpreted as no maintenance. Second, “protected” leathers have a durable pigmented finish, but are not indestructible. This durable finish initially allows consumers to clean leather with almost anything and get an immediate satisfactory result. The use of these products, not designed for leather, may break down this durable finish causing the pigment to crack or peel. Improper maintenance directly leads to expensive restoration or replacement. Third, aniline and nubuck leathers are not low maintenance. These leathers are extremely porous and should be cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis to protect your investment. Fourth, leather is purchased primarily for the most active rooms in the house. This choice makes good maintenance a high priority to protect the looks of your investment and for prolonging the life of your leather.
There are four different types of soil to be aware of before you clean leather:
Consider the dust that builds up on a coffee table or desk over a week’s time. This same dust is being deposited on your leather. To this dust, add the airborne cooking oils and atmospheric pollution that is present, to some degree, in every home.
This includes the outside tracking of the common dirt, sand and vegetable fibers from plants. These are carried into the house in various ways, which can be transferred to leather directly or indirectly from kids and animals.
Dyes and Inks
The inks from newsprint in newspapers will readily be deposited on leather. Clothes such as denims will lose some of their dye onto leather in a process called crocking. The direct approach from the occasional leaky pen or the aspiring 2-year old artist should not be forgotten.
Oils and Grease
Body oils from both humans and animals cause soils to attach and hold onto leather. Hair and hand oils are easily transferred to the arms and head cushions of furniture.
Also called Pure Aniline or Full Aniline, this is the most natural type of leather. It does not have a protective coating nor any treatments that alter the natural feel of the hide. This gives it the most luxuriously soft feel of all the leather types, but leaves it susceptible to staining or soiling.
Choose this leather if:
You love the soft feel of leather and truly appreciate the beauty of each hide’s unique natural markings, but expect only light to moderate use of the furniture.
This type is fairly natural. The hides are first aniline-dyed and then coated with a slightly protective topcoat that may or may not contain some additional color. You will see some natural markings through the topcoat and it can still stain or fade somewhat, but it is more protected than a pure aniline leather and the color is more uniform.
Choose this leather if:
you appreciate the softness and texture of leather but also expect to use your furniture regularly.
This type is the least natural. The surface is coated with a heavy protective topcoat that has color added. Pigmented leather is usually buffed (sanded) to remove imperfections in the hide and then embossed with an artificial grain. The color and texture tend to be flatter, without the deep rich color or luxurious feel of an Aniline… but it is also the most durable and cleanable leather type.
Choose this leather if: you anticipate heavy use of your furniture, so you don’t mind sacrificing softness and texture for higher durability.
This is a top grain leather that has been buffed (sanded) to soften the surface and give it a “suede-like” appearance. It is extremely soft and very luxurious, and also stronger than suede which is made from split hide. Like other anilines, nubuck leather is very susceptiable to fading and soiling, and will develop an aged patina over time.
Choose this leather if: you want to make a bold fashion statement with a luxurious and truly unique piece, and don’t mind some maintenance and care.