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If you're buying a new sofa, you're looking at an investment that you'll have in your home for years to come. So, of course, you want to find a perfect match for your budget, lifestyle, needs, and preferences. For many people, one of the most challenging parts of the buying process is deciding between leather vs. fabric sofas — it doesn't have to be this way, though!
Even the most difficult choices become easy when you're prepared. And that's where we come in. We worked closely with professional interior designers to create a quick and easy guide you can scan to decide which option will work best for you. So keep reading for pros, cons, and expert advice to make your choice between leather vs. fabric sofas a snap.
Meet the experts
At Living Cozy, we want to help you find home goods and furnishings with which you're excited to share your home. You'll hear from the following experts in this article:
Leather vs. Fabric Sofa: 3 Things You Need to Consider
"A few things you should consider when deciding between a leather or fabric sofa include cost, comfort, ease of cleaning, and durability against pets and kids," Katie Simpson told Living Cozy.
Below, we'll explore each of these considerations in more detail so that you can get a good idea of what you want when picking the best sofa for your space. It can help to keep track of your personal needs for each of these sections on a notepad that you can refer to during the buying process.
"The first thing to look at is cost — what's your budget?" Jil McDonald explained. "On average, a well-made leather sofa may be at least three times as expensive as a fabric sofa."
A good sofa is pricey even if you're not shopping for high-end pieces. Figure out your ideal and maximum budget to keep you realistic about what you can afford. And remember, some brands feature customization options for upholstery fabric that can increase or decrease the price on the product page.
The most expensive sofas will likely feature high-quality leather upholstery, and you may see varied pricing for different types of leather. Sofas upholstered with high-quality fabric are typically much cheaper than their leather counterparts, and they often feature several types, styles, and pricing tiers.
Comfort and Style
"Next, you should select a couch based on its aesthetics and suitability for the room," said Margaret Carroll. "For example, fabric sofas are sometimes thought to be more comfortable than leather sofas since they do not get as hot or cold as leather."
Consider the style of your living room and what materials would be the best visual matches for the space. And most importantly, think about what you find most comfortable. If you're not sure, test different sofa materials at a showroom to figure out what type of fabric or leather you prefer.
When testing leather vs. fabric sofas, consider breathability, temperature, handfeel, and aesthetic appeal in different lighting. Sit on different couches for a few minutes each to see what you think, and if you're shopping for your family, you may want to bring them along to get multiple opinions.
Maintenance, Size, and Versatility
Maintenance, size, and versatility can help you identify what you want from your new sofa. Here are some points to consider:
Maintenance: Each type of fabric and leather will require different maintenance and care. "A leather sofa is sometimes easier to clean and maintain than a linen or velvet sofa, which can be extremely difficult to take care of," Margaret Carroll said.
Size and versatility: If you intend to keep your sofa for over ten years, ensure that the size will work for any future homes or rooms. "Sectionals are wonderful, but unless you buy a modular option, they may only work in certain room configurations," noted Jil McDonald.
Think about what you can reasonably keep clean and beautiful in your household, what size will work for future configurations, rooms, and homes, and how much versatility you need.
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The Pros of a Leather Sofa
It should be no surprise that people struggle when comparing leather vs. fabric sofas — leather furniture is always in style. Below, we've highlighted some of the top benefits of a quality leather couch or sectional sofa.
Appearance and Elegant Style
"If you are looking for elegance and style, nothing beats a quality leather sofa," said Jil McDonald.
Leather sofas can feature a gorgeous sheen and, in later years, a beautiful patina that adds visual interest and appeal. Patina refers to lustrous marbling and wrinkles that occur as the leather wears and ages, making it appear more attractive than when you first bought it.
To capitalize on the elegance of a leather sofa, consider picking your favorite piece and designing your room around its appearance. Or you might look at the style of the space you're decorating and choose your sofa accordingly. "For instance, you might opt for a classic Chesterfield leather couch with large rolled arms to create a library with a moody, old-world English atmosphere," recommended Margaret Carroll.
Stain-Resistant and Easy to Clean
High-quality leather sofas are known for their timeless elegance and ease of maintenance. Whether you spill water or a cappuccino on your leather sofa, you can easily wipe it clean with a damp cloth. We should note, however, that leather is a porous material, and light colors can be more susceptible to stains, especially from excess oils on your hands and skin.
"With leather being a natural fabric, it may require more care and attention than a fabric couch. Marks and scratches are to be expected but can add to the character of your leather piece over time," said Chris Walsh, Senior Trade Client Associate at Maiden Home. "So, if you're looking for a good quality, luxurious piece of furniture with personality, leather upholstery may be the right option."
Leather may be an excellent fit if you're looking for the perfect sofa for a hypoallergenic household. Unlike fabric furniture, leather naturally repels dust mites, pet hair, pet dander, and other allergens.
If you've had to replace living room furniture due to allergies in the past, it might be time to switch to leather upholstery. Faux leather is also hypoallergenic, but to a lesser degree than natural leather.
Note: Pay attention to the type of leather
There are four main types of leather, and leather furniture comes in a range of qualities:
Full-grain leather: Full-grain leather is the most expensive and highest quality option. It boasts a smooth, luxurious surface with very few flaws and has not been sanded or buffed. In addition, full-grain leather develops a beautiful patina and is used in high-end pieces. It comes in semi-aniline and aniline options:
Aniline leather is dyed without covering the surface with a topcoat or insoluble pigment, making it the most breathable option.
Semi-aniline leather features a thin, protective coat to protect against stains and premature wear, making it slightly less breathable.
Top-grain leather: Top-grain leather is less expensive than full-grain leather and is the second highest quality option. It is thinner and more pliable than full-grain leather because it only consists of the upper layer of the natural hide. In addition, top-grain leather is usually sanded with a protective coating, making it slightly less breathable but more durable.
Genuine leather: Despite the name, genuine leather is one of the lowest qualities — it's made from the lower levels of the hide and isn't as durable as other types of leather. Genuine leather sofas are often deceptively affordable, relying on the name to make the product seem high quality when it isn't.
Corrected grain and bonded leather: Bonded leather refers to leather with vinyl added to the underside for support and strength. The vinyl also gives the leather the appearance of full grain leather, but bonded leather is stiffer due to the extra layer. Corrected grain refers to leather that has been sanded or buffed to remove or reduce the appearance of imperfections. And because the surface is buffed away, corrected grain leather does not develop a patina.
Full-grain and top-grain leather are the two most common types used in high-end leather sofas. So if you see a leather sofa that isn't much more expensive than a fabric sofa, check the type of leather — it may be made from genuine leather, bonded leather, or corrected grain leather.
The Cons of a Leather Sofa
Leather sofas are super stylish and durable, but they're not suitable for everyone. We've outlined some drawbacks below to help you decide between leather vs. fabric sofas.
"Leather sofas are known to cost more upfront, but they usually outlast a fabric sofa over the years," Katie Simpson told Living Cozy.
The cost is the first thing to consider before buying a leather sofa. If a high-quality leather sofa would put you over budget, you'll likely be happier with a high-end fabric sofa. A high-quality leather sofa might outlast a fabric sofa, but a low-quality leather sofa won't.
Not Great for Pets and Kids
A durable fabric sofa might be the better option if you have pets or young children. Leather sofas are easy to clean, but kids are prone to accidents and may damage the surface while playing or roughhousing. Many parents opt for a couch with machine-washable cushion covers and wait for their kids to grow up before splurging on a leather option.
"I certainly wouldn't advise purchasing an expensive leather sofa if you have pets — cats especially tend to scratch up leather. Dogs with rough nails can also scratch through the beautiful top layer and into the lower layer of leather, which often isn't pigmented with the same color, resulting in white-colored scratches," explained Jil McDonald.
Limited Options and Formal
"Leather sofas tend to be more formal and look best if the whole space has been purposefully designed around them. However, a softer tan leather sofa can work in less formal spaces (i.e., Scandinavian style)," explained Becc Burgmann.
In addition to their formal appearance, leather sofas often have limited options for upholstery color. Plus, some prefer to avoid real leather in favor of a more sustainable and cruelty-free option, and current vegan leather isn't the perfect answer.
Heat and Cold Retention
During the colder months of the year, your leather sofa will likely feel chilly when you first sit down. And during the warmer months, that may feel hot and sticky, especially if you're touching and sweating on the leather with bare skin.
"A leather sofa may not be for everyone for the same reason that a leather seat in your car may feel sticky to the touch or chilly when it's cold outside," Margaret Carroll explained.
The Benefits of a Fabric Sofa
In the battle between leather vs. fabric sofas, you'll find many who prefer fabric upholstery every time, even if they cycle through several different types of fabric. With the benefits we've highlighted below, it's easy to see why.
"One of the top benefits of purchasing a fabric sofa is the wide range of fabrics, colors, and styles available," said Margaret Carroll. Fabric sofas also offer a wider variety of textures. You'll find everything from soft textiles like velvet or silk to earthier options like linen or canvas.
Fabric sofas feature a wider range of price points and materials that leather options, so there's something for every home. For example, if you have small children or pets, look for an easy-clean fabric with a high percentage of manufactured materials, like microfiber or canvas. Many of these materials are even machine-washable.
"Some people think fabric upholstery is more comfortable than leather, especially if you live in a hot climate, as leather can sometimes stick to your skin! Fabric sofas also tend to be less expensive," said Katie Simpson. "Plus, there are endless options for textures and materials, including some stain-resistant performance fabrics."
For example, natural fabrics such as linen or cotton are soft to the touch and perfect for eco-friendly homes, but they can be more challenging to clean and are often best for homes without pets or kids. On the other hand, manufactured fabrics like microfiber can feel just as soft and luxurious to the touch, but they're often made for easy maintenance, and many are pet- and kid-friendly.
Fabric sofas are almost always the more budget-friendly options. "I advise my clients to select a fabric made from a combination of natural and manmade materials," said Jil McDonald. "This way, you have a beautiful natural finish with the durability that the manmade materials provide."
Like leather sofas, though, it's important to avoid fabric sofas with prices that seem too good to be true. Low-quality fabric upholstery can quickly present issues like pilling, ripping, and fading.
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The Cons of a Fabric Sofa
Fabric sofas offer more variety and can be more comfortable during the summer, but no upholstery is perfect. We've highlighted some cons that might help some readers definitively choose between leather vs. fabric sofas below.
Tougher to Maintain
Fabric sofas need regular cleaning and maintenance, and some materials may soak up spills instead of repelling the liquid as leather would. They need to be vacuumed regularly to keep dust under control, too.
"One major drawback to fabric sofas is the level of maintenance required," agreed Margaret Carroll. "If you have small children or pets, they can easily ruin the fabric. This is especially true if it's a more delicate or unforgiving fabric, like velvet, suede, or silk. And, occasionally, you might need upholstery cleaners or a professional cleaning to clean the couch thoroughly."
Can House Allergens
Fabric sofas can attract dust, dirt, and dust mites, so if you have bad allergies and react to indoor allergens, they might be a poor fit. Unfortunately, even regular deep cleanings won't make a fabric sofa as hypoallergenic as a leather sofa.
While you can (and should) vacuum them regularly, removing every last bit of dust with a home vacuum can be challenging. Professional cleaning can help those with minor allergies to indoor allergens, though.