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Footwear Leather: Choosing and Caring

Leather is something like a basic component of our life- like timber, metal or crops. A perfect alternative to leather? Yet to come! Shoe and boot leather has a number of layers and a number of qualities. Cattle skin is the most common. Let us see what are the leather types and how to take care of them.

Top Full Grain

The strongest and most durable layer of animal skin. These show the most natural characteristics of genuine leather. Whenever you think of leather, you mean this. Naturally, these are the standard ones. Most of the top class footwear use full grain. In the case of top full grain, only the hair is removed. They don’t alter cell structure or remove anything else. No sanding, embossing, buffing or snuffing means you get the best things possible. This organic composition allows the leather to breathe, beaded and last incredibly long.

They stretch less, tear less and get spoiled less. Full-grain means sturdiness. Usually, you can identify top full grain at ease. Top cells can be seen right away if you look closer or use a magnifying glass. You will see hair-pores. They may contain a little natural marking.

Why is Top Full Grain Leather Rare and Pricey?

At first, it feels like cheating. People use leather, lots of cow skin all around. If you can remove the hair and treat it without spoiling the uppermost layer, that should give top full grain leather, right? Yes, but the problem is, living animals spoil their skins. They get bumped, scratched, spotted. Cattles move and they get sick.

Whenever the uppermost part is wire-spotted or scratched, tanneries usually remove the spots- thus losing the top full grain for that part of the leather. That’s how the uppermost cells get removed and you no more get top full grain.

Only 3 to 6% leather products can contain enough amount of top full grain leather. But you have to take care of shoes in order to use them for long.

Full Grain

Technically, sometimes full grain means top full grain. In some other cases, if only the light spots are being removed along with some uppermost cells, they are called full grain. They cover somewhat 10% to 12% of all leather.

Cleaning Full Grain Shoe Leather

Full-grain shoes and boots are comparatively easy to clean. That’s because they are natural and sturdy. But do not forget that these are the most expensive material. If you can take care of your shoe leather, they will be serving for a really long time. Whenever they’re wet, cautiously take off the mud and mud-like things. Do not clean or polish before they are dry enough. While dry, remove the dart with a gentle brush.

You can always soften the leather with a full grain conditioner. It is the best practice, as frequently softened leather last the longest. Then rub off the extra stains.

After cleaning them properly, do not forget to rub an extra layer of leather care products like cream. It is better to polish them.

Then the dirt will be caught over the polishing material, not on leather; which will eventually elongate service time.

It is always good to do some waterproofing. This will benefit the leather in a number of ways.


Nubuck originally meant new skin which means the skin is intended to look fresher. Whenever they sand or buff full top-grain cattle leather, that results into nubuck. These are usually fade. As they are paler than full top grain, they usually come heavily dyed. These are also good ones, usually better than suede. These are cheaper than the previous ones but better and rare than suede.

How to Clean Nubuck Leather

While doing the regular cleanup, always use the nubuck-grade material. You can get a cloth, brush or spray but they should be made for nubuck cleaning. WikiHow has a great article on this.

Suede/Split Leather

Suède literally means Swedish! This name came from good old Swedish gloves.

Suede is anything but the uppermost layer. Suede can be good as well. There can be multiple layers other than the full grain one. The whole skin is usually cut thickness-wise in tanneries.

These cheaper leather are more elastic, usually thinner than the full grain, more available, less durable, less cleanable, not as shiny or smooth as full grains.

Smaller cattle yield better suede. Bigger ones like cows usually give less reliable suede.

How to Clean Suede Leather

You can use a brush, pencil eraser, paper towel, vinegar, baking soda, sprays and more. Wikihow did cover it very well.We are not going to mimic them.

Bonded Leather

The lowermost parts of a skin are way too stretchable thus resulting in the least dependable material.

What people do at the tanneries is, they shred them by scratching the lowermost layer out. That scratched out shredded scraps are then grinded and mixed with something like plastic, PVC, glue etc and turned into a leatherlike composite layer.

They also may contain fabric and some other lamination or coating.

Whether they look like leather or not, grinded low category raw material itself is not dependable. Bonded leather is not good at all for work footwear.

In bonded leather, you basically get 10% to 20% shredded and lowest category leather mixed with many things. We would love to call it `leather flavored plastic’. These will peel and delaminate within a short period of time.

This is a tiny little article on leather.

We tried to discuss the very basic things concerning boot and shoe leather. Let us know whether you need more information or not by commenting below.

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