Friend or Faux? How to Tell if That Leather is Real or Not

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: American Signature)
(Image credit: American Signature Furniture)

Thinking leather might be better? Keep in mind it’s not all created equal. The difference in quality between genuine, bonded, and flat-out fake leather is huge, and there are some easy tricks to spotting the good stuff. We looked at American Signature Furniture’s new line of genuine leather furniture to learn what to look for.

(Image credit: Value City Furniture)

1. Labels: The Very Best Place to Start

OK, duh. But the label is going to say more than just “real” or “fake!” Here are some terms you might see:

  • Genuine: This basically means it’s the real thing. Genuine leather may be labeled with the following terms to describe how it’s been processed or treated.
  • Pure Aniline: The most natural of genuine leathers: no treatments, dyes or pigments here.
  • Semi-Aniline: Dyed and treated with a topcoat, this leather will exhibit some natural markings but is more durable than pure aniline genuine leather.
  • Pigmented: Super-durable, pigmented genuine leather is usually dyed, buffed to erase any imperfections, and given a topcoat for heavy protection.
  • Nubuck & Suede: You’re probably familiar with both, but what’s the difference? Nubuck is genuine leather that has been buffed on the outer (more durable) side of the hide for a fuzzy feel. Suede is the opposite—the inside of the hide is buffed, resulting in a superfine, velvety texture.

…And The Fake Stuff

Look out for “faux leather, “naugahyde”, “leatherette”, “vegan leather”, or “pleather” on labels. Also: bonded leather, though manufactured with remnants of genuine leather, does not age nearly as well and should generally be avoided if you’re looking for the real thing.

(Image credit: Value City Furniture)

2. Price: Just Like Your Mother, Usually Right

Yes, you’re going to pay more for genuine leather. But keep in mind that even though you’ll pay more upfront, it will last about 4x longer than fabric upholstery, making it a great investment.

3. Appearances Are Everything

  • Smooth, perfect edges tend to indicate faux leather, while rough, uneven edges are more prevalent in genuine leather.
  • Good quality leather is full grain, meaning it’s dyed with transparent dyes to retain the appearance of the full natural grain. So if you can spot a scar or two, it’s probably real.
(Image credit: Value City Furniture)

4. Take A Seat

  • When you sit on real leather upholstery, it is warmer and more pliable than the synthetic stuff.
  • Fake leather typically feels cold and smooth to the touch because it doesn’t “breathe” like real leather, which has pores with irregular shapes.

5. And While You’re At It, Take A Whiff

  • Genuine leather has a distinctive aroma that you just won’t find with the fake stuff. If an upholstered piece emits a rich, appealing aroma, it’s likely genuine leather.
  • Faux leather may have an unpleasant chemical smell derived from its synthetic fibers.

Now that you know, visit American Signature Furniture to see what genuine leather looks like.