How To Identify Real Leather

Leather products offer the natural and elegant finish that many people covet. These products are durable, strong and expensive. Naturally, with high demand leather is among one of the most counterfeited things in the world. Not only we mostly do not understand how to identify real leather and end up paying more for fakes, we also do not understand the various qualities of real leather.

Real v/s Fake Leather

As soon as you set your eyes upon that jacket or belt or bag or furniture item, check the label if it explicitly says ‘Real Leather’. The manufacturer would be too proud to not mention this and you can immediately be half sure that the product is authentic. The remaining half of surety should come in the next few minutes after you observe, touch and twist the material.

Start by checking the surface. Real leather will have small grains, creases and often visible small pores that can appear due to the hair follicles of the animal. Bend it next and it should not be hard and tight. Also notice that while pressing, the real leather will form wrinkles near your finger while fake will still retain a smooth finish. Smell can also be used to distinguish the fake from the real one, but since sometimes real leather is surface coated, this trick is better left to the connoisseurs unless you can easily distinguish between the smell of the skin from the smell of plastic.

Another good way to test is to put a drop of water on the product. Real leather will absorb it while the drop will remain as it is on fake leather. Flame test, not always recommended, can also be performed on the invisible area of the product (like the bottom side of a sofa). Real leather will char slightly with slightly burnt hair like smell while fake would probably catch a small fire like plastic.

Remember that leather is just an animal’s skin. So like yours, it should be slightly stretchable, wrinkly, minutely porous, soft and able to absorb moisture. If it’s perfect, it ain’t real.

   (clockwise from top) full-grain, top-grain, genuine and bonded leather

(clockwise from top) full-grain, top-grain, genuine and bonded leather

The ‘Genuine Leather’ Jargon

Among leather products, the most common type that appears is probably the product claiming itself to be made of genuine leather. While it is real leather, it is of a low quality.

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In the world of leather, there are four types of real leather – full grain, top grain, genuine and bonded; with full-grain being the most expensive. A leather hide while manufacturing is split into two parts – when both upper layers are included in a material, then we get a full-grain. The grain/skin is what gives the leather its strength. It contains all the natural scars of the skin, and no two full-grain leather products will ever be the same. When the top layer is sanded and refinished to give a relatively smoother appearance, we get top-grain leather. The less desirable lower layer, when used individually, is often what split leather or genuine leather is. This has no grain and is a lot less durable. Bonded leather is an even step down in quality. It is the collected leather waste that is stitched together and so can start cracking easily.  

While some people choose faux leather (not to confuse it with the cheap looking inexpensive fake) over real because no animals are harmed in its making, they both have their advantages and disadvantages. Real leather can fade gradually in the sunlight and also because of its porous surface can get stained (surface is often polished to provide protection from these and to give the real leather an even look), faux leather has a fraction of lifetime of real leather (if looked after properly real leather can last your whole life), cracks easily and offers less warmth. If you’re looking for something fashionable that you can keep on replacing then faux leather, genuine or bonded leather can be considered, but if something strong and long-lasting is your goal then real leather is worth the investment.

Further read: Lessons in Leather, Difference Between Bonded & Genuine Leather