9 Ways to tell if leather is real or fake

9 Ways to tell if leather is real or fake

Since there are a bunch of different types of leather out there it can become very hard to know if your item is made from real leather. There are many different techniques on finding out whether your leather is real or not and why some won’t work. So today we are going to go over how to tell if leather is real or fake and different methods to try and avoid.

How to test if leather is real or not

1. Check the Tag

Most items will state on a tag or stamped into the leather will state the material used on the item. Especially if it is very good leather like top or full grain or Italian leather, the company will want to state what they used. You will commonly see those two on tags or stamped into wallets and other small items but you may see ‘Genuine Leather’, ‘Made from Animal’ or ‘Real Leather’. If the item doesn’t state anything about the leather it may mean the company is trying to hide something.

Also take note that genuine leather is not great/100% leather. Although it sounds good, this leather usually uses the split side (furry side that makes suede) and then coated with chemicals to create a leather feel on the surface.

So although it has some parts of the hide in there, the actual feel/look will be fake using chemicals.

This is the same with ‘real leather’ as this can refer to bonded leather or have a percentage of leather in the material. These types of leather can be made from scraps of leather then grinded down to a powder, glued and pressed to make a sheet. Although it has leather material in it, it is not leather cut from a hide then dyed and put together.

If you have a vintage item your tage may have fallen off so lets jump to the next best method

2. Fire

If the leather is real you should be able to light a lighter and touch the leather for a few seconds without the leather catching on fire. Fake leather will easily catch on fire due to many chemicals inside the material. While real leather may get a little charred mark, it will not catch on fire.

testing real and fake leather
Burning the edges of fake and real leather (goatskin 2oz veg-tanned).
real leather vs fake leather
Result of placing a match over top of the leather.

This might not be an ideal way to find out because you may end up burning a hole into your material. But at least you know its fake! If it’s real you will end up with a small dark spot though so this might turn you away from this idea.

You will even tell the difference between smell, as the fake one will smell more of a chemical when burned.

But if you want to try it, find a very small corner of your item where you might be able to hide any blemishes.

3. Take a close look at the leather

Inspecting the leather can show a lot or it can show nothing.

If the leather is veg-tanned full or top grain you will notice imperfections and tiny pores like skin in the leather. You should look for any scratches, stretch marks or any odd marks you can pick out. These will be caused from the natural life of the animal as it will grow, causing stretching and bump into fences causing scratches.

This is not a proven way though since this is only one type of leather that will show these marks. Many leather is still real, they just have been corrected (sanded for smoothness) and or embossed to have a uniform look. Also chrome-tanned leather will usually fade away any natural blemishes on the leather.

4. Does it have a Patina?

A patina or worn look is very common for older leather that has been veg-tanned due to the tanning process. This is very easy way to notice that the leather is real since the leather will age and start to take on a more worn in look. The patina look is also a very desired look and can only be obtained (at least very nicely) with the veg-tan leather.

That being said, it again is not a sure way since chrome-tanned leather will most likely not have this look due to the chemicals making the leather less breathable.

5. Look at the edges

Edges on fake leather can look almost perfect even throughout the life of the material. Edges on real leather however will eventually fade and fray a bit especially with heavy usage.

real leather vs fake leather

The only issue with this is that a new leather item will tend to have very nice edges because the maker has slicked them. When slicking the edges it will cause the edge to be rounded off and “glued” to avoid fraying. Edges can also have edge paint on them which will look like near perfect edges but eventually it will start to ware off.

6. Time will loosen the leather

Real leather will loosen up or “break in” after use. This is similar to a veg-tanned leather having a patina as the features of leather will change over time.

Fake leather will stay in place over time, so if it is shoes, they may not break in to your foot’s shape. Whereas real leather will loosen up to the up over time allowing for extra room and a little more flimsiness.

7. Look At the back

Fake leather has an unnatural look on the back of the leather that will be very obvious once you see. Most real leather will either been fully died so the back will have the same color or will have the natural color still showing.

fake leather vs real leather

You may not be able to access the back of the leather though if there is a liner in the way. You may have to cut a way a layer to be able to see the backside of the leather.

More common backside of fake leather – Photo Courtesy of – JGShoe

This is not always the same back, as this one has a foam style backing. Some have a more “natural” looking backs but it will mostly be pretty obvious to tell if you see the back.

8. Wet test

Water should absorb into leather much easier than fake leather but this is why leather makers attempt to make the leather waterproof.

Different tanning methods like chrome tanning and brain tanning are both methods that will cause the leather to be very water resistant. Not only tans change this but finishers for the leather can help leather repel water.

All dyed leather needs to have some type of finisher on the material to avoid the dye to rub off onto other objects. These finishers can be very strong that make the leather extremely water repellent and near impossible to tell using this test. Even if the item is old, as long as it was properly taking care of using saddle soap or wax this will still not allow the water to penetrate the leather.

Many of these items are made for strong durability especially boots, sheaths and saddles so making them water repellent is a common trait.

9. Wrinkle Test

When pressing in on the leather, do wrinkles show up in the leather?

This test can easily tell if leather is real or fake because real leather will wrinkle under pressure while fake will not.

Fake leather shows no wrinkles or sign of blemishes while under pressure.
Real leather on the other hand shows signs of wrinkling very quick.

Even when the leather has been heavily coated and died it should still show up on the surface. It may be a little harder if the leather has been corrected (sanded down surface and embossed) as the top layer will have been stripped a bit.

Why some methods won’t work

There are some reasons why determining leather is fake or not will be very hard or will alter the test.

Different tanning and dye can affect water tests. If the item has been dyed with dark brown/black color and has been properly sealed the water will be hard to see in the leather. This is also similar with chemical tanned leathers as they will have a coating of different types of chemicals.

A lot of people will point out that a designed/embossed leather is fake due to its “pebble” look. This is not the case as real leather can be embossed to have a uniform look to it as well. Sometime it is prefered since the leather has been too damaged.

Avoid Smell test

You may be able to smell the leather, but this smell will only be on organically tanned and water/oil based dyed leathers.

This method is also near impossible due to the fact that companies can recreate this natural smell and spay it into their leather. Of course these smells will most likely last for a few weeks but that will be long enough for someone to buy the item. Also if the leather was chrome tanned, that will completely dissolve any natural smells in the leather. This method uses very strong chemicals that become a very smelly process when tanning and can leave the leather to smell like chemicals/plastic.

Avoid Cost

Just because you are purchasing something at a high value doesn’t necessarily mean you are paying for what you get.

Many companies producing their products with fake leather will either admit it and will have a cheap price or they will fake it have a high cost for the product.

You will never truly know based on the price unless they admit it is fake leather. So if you are purchasing the leather item at a high price it could just be a trick as most companies will try to do to their customers.

Hope this has helped you determine whether you made a good purchase or not. And please don’t get angry at us if you found out a $100 wallet is actually fake. We are just here to help you avoid these purchases!