Real or Fake Leather?

I watched so many videos and I cant get a clear indication on how to test for real or fake leather. They are poor quality or inconsistent videos so far so I havent learnt anything. Anyone point to any good videos?

I got these and I think its vinyl bonded to sueade leather since the colour is so bright

I will burn this later but what do I look / smell for on the burn test?


You get a feel for it after working with both for a while. There are too many chemicals possibly in use for burn test to be reliable. (Tho real leather smells like really bad burnt hair)

If the backside is suede it’s generally real, if the back is a fabric almost always fake. If it looks like there’s a fabric or other material sandwiched in between some layers then it’s almost always fake.

You can also sometimes tell by looking at the edge, look for distinct layers that don’t look natural. However sometimes chrome tans can surprise you as color doesn’t always permeate all the way through and there could be painted on surface treatments.

Judging by the fraying on that edge pic you posted, I would say that’s real, but would look at the back to be sure.

Does it smell like a great leather jacket or plastic-y?


PS, judging by the colors and that whitish color on the edge, if they are real they look like chrome tanned. The usual warnings about hexavalent chromium and lasers apply.


Yeah, based on the color, you likely won’t want to laser it either way. I have some bright leathers that are from a sneaker line, so they do come in vibrant shades.

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It smells like both, which is why I think it’s vinyl on real leather. We did burn it and the back didn’t burn quickly and smelt like burnt flesh. The coloured burned quickly and it was a black hard lump

That sounds like a coated chrome tan. I would highly advise avoiding breathing any of those fumes.


Thank you. That’s the term that made this fall into place for my understanding on leather. Now I know what to look for when people give me more free “leather”


What a great graphic, it should get automatically added to any “can I ______ leather” post. Pretty much nails it.


They do look more akin to bonded leather, especially since it’s also perforated, likely done for upholstry (car seats?) so water proof type of finish the shredded leather bonded/pressed on the back side to try to look and behave like the split flesh side.

Another question: when you bought it, was it as yardage, or as a hide, or half hide? cowhide is about 25 sq ft for 1/2, or 50 sq ft for the whole cow, and is not even edges–you often can still tell where the legs and neck were… bonded & faux is milled, it will usually be available as yardage.

What happens when you cut, does the leather tear more easily than you think it should? Or if you sand or shave down through the finish?

Nearly all faux leather is a synthetic “goo” spread over a knit or woven material, and you should see the fabric base on the back side, or in the cross section. And usually it’s white or black threads–but that’s not the case here, but most likely is bonded.

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We determined this to be vinyl on leather so cannot use in the laser

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The only caveat I would put to this graphic is that you can (and do) get nice bright colours in veg tanned!

For example:

Tandy used to sell studio sides that were fabulous, sadly they stopped :frowning:


While it’s true, that stuff is not cheap, nor is it terribly common. Chances are if you’ve been handed free “leather” from samples, etc., it’s either fake or chrome tanned.

:slight_smile: Depends on who you’re getting your samples from! I know I’m lucky on that front, there are a number of crazy high end furniture places that make/recover couches. They consider anything under about 3’ long a “scrap”.


Interesting! Mine are definitely samples and not scraps. Most of them are from sneaker/shoe companies (Nike, etc.). They’ve got to be chome-tanned. They are so processed, they don’t even look like leather, even though they are.

I’d guess I couldn’t afford a veg tanned couch. :slight_smile: It’s probably just as well, as I don’t want a leather couch to begin with, but I certainly don’t want one that takes the amount of love and care I’ve heard veg tanned leather requires to maintain!

Oh yeah, I can’t imagine sneaker companies are using anything but chrome - because the closer to plastic the happier they seem to be!

Veg tanned only requires ridiculous care if you don’t want it to darken/wrinkle with age, but I hear you :slight_smile: I most often use it for martial arts armour and shoes - my version of “care” involves spraying it with cheap vodka if it starts to smell funny :stuck_out_tongue:


Well, that sounds fun! I don’t know if I’d want to do that to my couch, but for armor… sure.

I just looked at your profile. My hubby loves hockey - he’s got the missing teeth to prove it (he has since matured enough to start wearing a mouth guard, thankfully).

Full cages are for winners! (and those who go to work in the morning :stuck_out_tongue: )

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There are quite a few fake leathers that are Polyurethane, Polyester, and Rayon designed for commercial interior upholstery out there. Could be a reasonable alternative, and samples can be had by requesting them from the companies.