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Choosing and caring for leather furniture

To care for leather, simply dust routinely. For occasional cleaning, use a mild soap and a soft, damp cloth. In a tufted piece, be sure that abrasive dust is not allowed to accumulate around the buttons of the tufts. Leather does not need special polish, wax, or saddle-soap applications. Do not use products such as paste or liquid wax, furniture polishes, ammonia water, bleaches, or special cleaners. These products may contain solvents that could damage the finish, clog pores, or keep air from naturally conditioning the leather.

Protect leather furniture from direct sunlight and from harsh chemical substances.

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Remember that top-grain leather is usually the best quality.

Be alert to the fact that fingernail-polish remover also removes the finish from leather.

If you find a store offering a super-fantastic buy on leather furniture, make sure the quality is there and check the reputation of the store. Be wary of a leather sofa advertised at $788, and make sure that it is a justified ''good deal.''

As for guidelines to think about when looking at leather furniture, look for good tailoring, because it reveals so much about the manufacture of the piece. Check seams. See if the cushions fit properly and if the welt lines are straight.

Ask about the frame construction, the spring construction, and the filling material used in the cushions. Because you will be living with the piece longer, it is essential that the insides be as good as the outsides. Ask what the guarantees are and what the procedure of redress is in case there is any problem with the piece.

If possible, learn as much as you can about leather and its different finishes before you go shopping, and always seek out a knowledgeable salesperson to help you. Explain what kind of wear you expect to give the piece, so the salesperson can recommend the right finish.

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