| 16.5°C Dublin

Smart Consumer: So, when is a leather sofa not actually a leather sofa?

Would you expect a leather suite to last a lifetime? Shouldn't leather be tough wearing and durable, getting better looking with time rather than worse?

A reader, going only by the initial T, thought so when he bought a three-piece leather suite in 2008 for €1,000. This proved not to be the case.

"At present," T says, "all the top coating is gone from the suite and we are left with a kind of fabric lining. It's a complete mess and only fit for the dump.

"Unfortunately the local furniture shop doesn't want to know," he continues. "I showed them pictures of it, and the manager refuses to call out to even look at it."

This isn't the first time Smart Consumer has heard this story. Someone buys what they believe to be a leather sofa or suite, saying it was described to them as leather. But a relatively short time later, the 'leather' starts to rip or peel.

When you are buying a sofa, as with anything else, the product must be as described and the description given cannot be misleading.

So if there is a label on the sofa saying leather or if the salesperson tells you it's leather, then that's exactly what it should be.

But don't go just by a label. While there are labelling laws governing textiles, leather is not a textile, so there is no legal requirement for a leather sofa to be labelled as such.

To make things more confusing, the laws state that if a sofa contains 80pc or more of a textile then it requires a label. But that means that the sofa could contain 79.99pc textile and just 21pc leather, but no label is required to tell you so.

You could end up buying something that contains leather, but that's quite different to something that is just leather.

So, you head into a furniture shop and could be faced with the following: full grain leather; a 'split' or layer of leather from underneath the top grain; a 'split' that is finished off with a coating such as PVC or polyurethane; or full PVC or polyurethane.

While your head is now spinning with the many varieties you may wonder how the hell you're supposed to know the difference. And that's all going to come down to how the shop describes the sofa to you. So what you must do is be aware there are differences and ask a million questions.

Leather expert Roy Mooney of Mooney's of Inchicore in Dublin, says: "Ideally you should be looking to buy a quality leather sofa; that is, one that is completely covered in full-grain leather, with the strong features still in it. While splits are perfectly acceptable for use in making shoes, trimmings, watchstraps, belts and bags, when a split is used for upholstery purposes you begin to see problems."

Mooney describes the "next step down" as being a sofa that uses a combination of full grain on the hard wearing areas such as the seating and the back rest areas and splits on the less hard wearing areas such as the arms, sides, backs and base trimmings.

"The mass producers and manufacturers often use this combination", Mooney explains, "and although not ideal this can work out okay. But", he cautions, "the problem is that consumers are not aware that this practice exists and make their purchase thinking that their sofa is 100pc leather."

The next level of quality down, according to Mooney, is a sofa made from a split or a split finished with a synthetic surface. And then you have a sofa made of artificial leather.

"These are not necessarily the poorest quality sofas in terms of durability," explains Mooney, but it is the biggest deception to reveal to someone if they have made their purchase thinking it to be a leather sofa".

There is a legal responsibility on the part of the seller to give you the correct information, so if they mislead you remember that you do have come-back.

However, in many cases of ripping 'leather' sofas that we've seen, the shop asserts that they never said it was leather in the first place.

The truth of the situation then becomes difficult to prove.

Irish Independent