The more you know about your leather products, the longer they'll last. If you know what type of leather you have, you'll be able to clean and condition it in the most appropriate way. The best place to start is breaking down the five leather grades.
The 5 main leather grades
Full grain leather
Full grain leather is the highest grade of leather and because of that, generally the most expensive. It comes from the top layer of the hide and hasn't been buffed or sanded in any way, so imperfections are common. Usually, only the hair has been removed from full grain leather. Full grain leather is known for its durability and toughness. It also develops a nice patina over time, making it a good choice for expensive leather items, from saddles to designer couches.
Top grain leather
Top grain leather, the second-highest graded leather, is similar to full grain leather. The main difference is that while full grain is not buffed, split or sanded, top grain leather is. Top grain is also usually dyed. These processes remove any imperfections and make top grain leather look more appealing to some consumers. However, because top grain leather is slightly altered, it's not as tough as full grain leather. Top grain leather, with its softness and visually appealing look, is commonly used for high quality leather purses, shoes and jackets.
Genuine leather — sometimes called corrected leather — is sanded, buffed, dyed and embossed to give it a uniform look. Because genuine leather is changed so much from its original form, you'll typically find this used for slightly lower quality leather goods, from belts to upholstery. Genuine leather is also a term used for "real" leather, to distinguish it from faux or vegan leather.
Split grain leather
Split grain leather is even more altered than genuine leather. It is usually used for low quality leather goods, because it is an inexpensive cut of leather. Split grain leather is often used for items that are colored, like affordable couches, shoes and more.
Bonded leather is the lowest grade of leather. As its name implies, bonded leather is created by fusing tiny scraps of leather together using polyurethane or latex, and is considered a mix of real leather and faux leather. (Learn more about the difference between bonded and faux leather.) The end result is a highly-altered, less-durable leather. Bonded leather is often used on low-quality leather items.