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How to Identify Types of Leather

How to Identify Types of Leather

Posted by Aaron Snow on Mar 19th 2014

Knowing how to identify types of leather is important because when you own leather, whether it is in the form of clothing or furniture, it needs proper leather care. That might seem easy enough, but if you do not know the type of leather that you have, you are in a bit of a bind. Each leather type requires a different method for cleaning. Guessing and possibly using the wrong leather cleaner or conditioner is not an option in this case, unless you like ruining your treasured investments. Let’s learn how to identify types leather you may own.

The Starting Point

First things first, all leather starts the same. Are you confused? Don’t worry, it is common. All leather starts as aniline leather or at least the leathers that come from cows, pigs and goats. What then happens to that leather is what determines its type.

Main Types of Leather

There are three main types of leather: aniline, semi-aniline and pigmented (protected) leather. Now, you are probably wondering what’s the difference?

  • Aniline Leather – This is the most natural form of leather. Nothing is done to this material; basically what you see is what you get. This is the most fragile type, yet it is also the most beautiful as its natural color and texture are able to be enjoyed and the leather develops a wonderful patina over time.
  • Semi-aniline Leather – This type of leather is one step away from aniline as it is mildly treated before being made into a product, like leather furniture. It receives a light coating on its surface. This coating might alter the color of the leather a little bit, but not much.
  • Pigmented Leather – This is the most treated and the most durable type of leather as it is treated with a strong coating that also contains it's pigment and protects it.

Another way these types of leather can be described are as finished or unfinished leather. To learn more about furniture leather care for these types of leather, read our blog "".

Knowing What Type of Leather You Have

How do you tell the difference between these three types of leather? There are two good methods for determining the difference; by touch and with a simple water drop test. Sometimes with touch you still won’t be able to determine the type of leather so you’ll need to conduct a water drop test. Make sure you do these before performing any leather care.

1. Determining Type of Leather by Touch
  • Aniline Leather – This leather will feel the lightest and smoothest as it has not received any treatment – it will almost feel like a second skin to you.
  • Semi-Aniline Leather– This leather will feel a little light and smooth, but will not feel heavily treated.
  • Pigmented (Protected Leather)– This leather will feel almost like plastic - it will not feel smooth, soft or light. It will almost feel as if there were layers of paint placed on the product, which of course, are there to protect it. To give you a better idea of what pigmented leather may feel like, most leather car seats are made from this type of leather.
2. Determining Type of Leather with a Water Drop Test
  • First, make sure you conduct this test on a hidden, inconspicuous area of the leather.
  • Aniline Leather – Water drop will soak into the leather almost immediately.
  • Semi-Aniline Leather – Water drop will sit on the surface and then slowly soak in.
  • Pigmented (Protected Leather) – Water will sit or bead up on the surface and not soak in.

Is My Leather Actually Leather?

Finally, you should ask yourself if your leather is actually leather. You should be very skeptical of leather companies who say their leather is “premium” or “authentic” or “genuine” leather without describing what exactly that means. Furniture companies sometimes just add a little genuine leather in a few places while the rest of the material is actually plastic or vinyl so they can say the furniture piece is “Made with Genuine Leather”. Sometimes the material is a blend of glued leather dust and plastics. Also with protected leather, sometimes the clear coating can be so thick that a leather conditioner can’t absorb into the leather and you will be left with a sticky surface after application. You will usually find that the furniture company will recommend you clean this type of leather with warm soapy water and not condition it. The important thing to remember is to research what type of leather you have before you decide on a leather care plan.

Chris Repp (
Stephanie Clarke