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  • Writer's picturePeter Smith

Real Leather vs Faux Leather - 14 ways to tell the difference

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

I am often asked how to tell the different between real leather vs faux leather. This article will help you determine whether your article is real or faux.

My job is leather repair and restore and making leather articles.

Often, the articles I am asked to repair are made from faux leather. Repairing articles made with faux leather costs more than the article did when purchased.

Faux leather is used because it is cheaper. Modern furniture and clothing are good examples of this.

There are many synthetic materials used instead of leather to make products and there are advantages and disadvantages in both materials, such as the look and feel, the price, longevity, quality, pollution and so on.

In this article I will focus on how to tell if an article is made with genuine or faux leather.

So, when you are out shopping for leather clothing or furniture, take these pointers with you to ensure you are buying the real thing (if that is what you want).

Lets Figure out Real Leather vs Faux Leather

Ignore colour

Real leather can be dyed with any colour and whilst a bright yellow piece of furniture doesn't look natural doesn't mean it isn't made of real leather.

Ignore colour and stick to feel, smell, and texture described below.

Real leather goods are rarely cheap.

A product made with real leather will be expensive. If a deal seems too good to be true, it likely is. Real leather is expensive.

Check the label

Look at the symbols on the label or stamp.

Symbols for types of material used in clothing and furniture making
Symbols for types of material used in clothing and furniture making

If the label does not say what the article is made with, it is likely the manufacturer wants to conceal the fact that it isn't real leather.

Most manufacturers are proud of the fact that they use real leather and will note it as any of following:

  • Real leather

  • Genuine leather

  • Top/Full grain leather

  • Made with animal products

Bonded leather is a popular material used in the furniture and clothing industries. It is made from shredded leftover scraps of real leather and mixed with a polyurethane binder or resin. This mix is then rolled together using adhesives to bond them, sometimes onto a paper backing. Some manufacturers add an additional coating of polyurethane to the bonded leather and emboss it so it has the texture of real leather.

Most bonded leather consists of only 10-20% real leather. Some manufacturers market bonded leather as real leather, when it in fact only contains a small percentage of genuine leather.

Bonded leather does not last. It is weaker than real leather and will tear, crack and peel with wear. Bonded leather is used a lot in furniture making because of it's price. I have often been asked to repair dining chairs that have been made using bonded leather. I have yet to win a job like this because it is more expensive to repair this type of furniture than it is to go out and buy a whole new suite.

Peeling bonded leather
Real leather does not peel like this piece of bonded leather..

Faux leather or bonded leather product tags may state one or more of the following;

  • Bonded Leather

  • Vegan Leather (more about this here)

  • LeatherSoft

  • Faux Leather

  • Pleather

  • Vinyl

  • Reconstituted Leather

  • Composite Leather

Check the properties

The Surface

Check the surface grain, the little "pebbles" and pores for imperfections and uniqueness that signal real leather. Imperfections in leather are actually a good thing.

Very regular, even and repeated patters, and similar grains often indicate a machine-made piece.

  • Real leather might have scratches, creases, and wrinkles -- this is a good thing!

  • Manufacturers are getting better at mimicking real leather making online purchases more risky if you are looking for real leather articles. It is better to see the articles in real life!

The edges

Real leather has rough edges as it is made of fibres, which naturally fray around the edges. Faux leather made from plastic has no such strands, meaning the edges are cleanly cut. Faux has even, perfect edges. Machine made materials look machine cut.

Real Leather Edge
Real Leather Edge

The Underside

Real leather has a natural grain and fibres as mentioned above. The underside of leather will be a porous surface or have a nap similar to suede.

Faux leather will be smooth or might have a pattern of some kind created during the manufacturing process. Also, some faux leather is bonded to other man made materials such as polyester.

The Feel

Press into the leather, looking for creases and wrinkles. Real leather will wrinkle just like real skin. Real leather feels softer too.

Synthetic materials usually just depress down under your finger, retaining rigidity and shape.

Fake leather feels smooth, almost like plastic. Real leather will feel soft and flexible and will have a grainy feel.

Faux leather does not stretch. Real leather can be stretched.

Real leather will feel warm, while fake leather feels cool.

The Smell

Smell the leather. Real leather smells like - well - leather or will have a natural musty smell instead of plastic-like or chemical smells. If you are unsure of the smell you're looking for in real leather, go to a store or leather craftsman that you know sells or makes genuine leather products.

Leather is treated animal skin. Faux leather is made of plastic. Real leather will smell like skin and faux leather will smell like plastic.

The Finish

Bonded and faux leather have a surface sprayed on. When looking closely, you will note that the surface has a plastic consistency.

A real leather article will have a natural polish or wax finish (except in the case of patent leather).

Do some Tests

The Fire Test

Use the fire test, recognizing that it will likely ruin part of the article. While there are few circumstances where burning an article is preferable to leaving it alone, this experiment works if you have a small, hard-to-see area that you can test, like the underside of a couch. Hold a flame up to the area for 5-10 seconds to test it out.

Real leather will only char slightly, and smell a bit like burnt hair.

Faux leather will actually catch flame, will melt and smell like burning plastic.

The Wrinkle Test

Bend the leather. If the colour changes slightly along the bend, you are looking at real leather. Real leather has a unique elasticity when bent, changing colour and wrinkling up naturally.

Faux leather is much more rigid and regular, and will usually be difficult to bend by comparison.

The Water Test

Drop a small amount of water on the item.

Real leather will absorb moisture.

Water will simply puddle up on top of faux leather.

The Scratch Test

Using your finger nail, scratch the article.

Real leather will mark and scratch easily.

Faux leather will be more resistant to scratches.

The Mark Test

Again, using your finger nail like a knife, cut into the article.

Your nail will leave a mark/channel on real leather.

Faux leather will resist the marking.

Faux Leather
Faux Leather
Real Leather
Real Leather

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