What type of leather do I have?

In the absence of an informative label, identifying one leather from another requires a process of elimination. Although there are countless leather and leather finishing variants in use around the world, when it comes to upholstery leather, most fit into 1 of 5 main types:

- Aniline and Semi-aniline

- Pigmented

- Nubuck and Suede

- Waxed or Pull-up

- Man-made

When it comes to caring for upholstery leathers, it’s important to know what type of leather you have before selecting your leather care products. That’s because each finish tolerates and benefits from different cleaners, conditioners and colourants. Using the wrong product may expose your leather to the risk of damage, unwanted changes or provide less than optimal results.

So, how can you find out what leather you have when your memories and receipt have faded? There are a couple of quick checks you can make to unearth the missing information.

Look for a product tag

Check theunderside of the sofa, the lower backrest seam or the bottom of a cushion for a descriptive tag. If you are in luck, it may list the type of leather and your search is over.

Search online for the same model. 

If you know the manufacturer, brand and model and it’s still in production, you may be able to verify the leather type via an online search. If you only know the store, they may also be able to help.

Each type of leather has broadly typical characteristics. Use this guide to identify your leather.

Aniline & Semi-aniline leathers

Aniline, in short, means 'dyed'. These leathers are “unfinished” which means that they have little or no coatings on the surface. They tend to show scratches and absorb water quickly. Aniline dyes are liquid stains that colour the leather throughout. Luxuriously soft and warm to touch, anilines may display naturally irregular grain, blemishes, and wrinkles. Semi-aniline leathers have sheer pigments and topcoats on the surface. When finished in the tannery, they are dyed then sprayed to render a softly mottled or two tone effect that looks natural to the human eye. Full anilines absorb water readily. Semi-anilines may have some water resistence, especially when new. Older leathers in this group often display UV fading ( window facing areas may change to a grey colour), colour wear, water-marks, oil stains, and other permanent marks. Look for natural aesthetics, often tan coloured, the colour right through the leather (front to back) and mottling.

Go to Care Products for this leather type.

Check out the most popular restoration system for this leather type.

See more examples of aniline and semi-aniline leathers below.

Pigmented leathers

Pigmented means 'painted' or 'coated'. This is the most common leather type found in family homes and cars today. If your sofa is opaque monochromatic red, black, blue, white, stone, chocolate or any other solid colour, it is more than likely, upholstered in pigmented leather. This practical material offers a degree of water and stain resistance. Some pigmented leathers feature a two tone effect, such as the antiquing found on lots of Chesterfields. The finish can be flat or high shine and feels smooth and/or 'cool' to touch. Older leathers of this type tend to display delamination (cracking and flaking of the coatings), scatches and scuffs, stains and a build up of soiling. When coatings wear or delaminate the area feels rough to touch, the leather is exposed, the cuticle may still be intact or the surface may be open, porous and fibrous. The colour of the leather (not the coatings) may be pale blue-grey, beige or light brown. If heavily impregnated with oil, the leather may be blackish in colour. Some pigmented leathers are dyed before being coated with surface colour. Test for water repellence in a new area where the original coatings are intact.

Go to Care Products for this leather type.

Check out the most popular restoration system for this type of leather.

See more examples of pigmented leather below.

Nubuck & Suede leathers

These leathers feature a luxuriously plush hand (feel or touch). Like anilines, they are ‘unfinished’ or ‘unprotected’ which means that there are no coatings on the surface. This means that they have no barrier to soiling, spills and stains. Suedes are made to feature the underside of the hide. They are the fluffiest and can feel like velvet. Nubucks are anilines that are buffed and brushed to render a low nap or doeskin feel. After cleaning and conditioning, brushing can lift the nap (velvety fluffy surface) and help to disguise or resolve marks and stains. Older leathers of this type may display marks, a flat or eroded nap, water-marks, grease stains and a build up of soiling. Look for a nap in areas that are in new condition Between cushions, for example). A drop of water may sit on the surface momentarily, then be absorbed fully. Look for an overall matte appearance.

Go to Care Products for this leather type.

See more examples of nubuck and suded below.

Waxed & Oil Pull-up leathers

Waxed leathers are dyed then coated with a hard wax that cracks and crazes in response to stretching during the upholstery process. A tapestry of light coloured fault lines forms in the wax rendering a vintage aesthetic. Pull-up leathers are dyed then coated with an oil coating that feels beautiful to touch and marks easily with creases, stretching and surface scratches. These tan and brown coloured leathers tend to be somewhat water resistant when new. Waxed leathers can be matte or high shine. Oil pull-ups are typically low sheen. When older, they can display delamination (flaking and peeling) of the wax coating and feel rough to touch. Oil Pull-ups show stains and greasy marks. Some of these leathers respond well to rubbing heat and friction to resolve scratches.

Go to Care Products for this leather type.

Check out the most popular restoration system for this type of leather.

View more examples of waxed and oil pull-up leathers below.

Man made leathers

Bonded, split, PU, faux, vegan and vinyl are man-made materials. Bonded and split leather contain a minor percentage of leather which is heavily processed. Others are made from plastic and fabric. Sometimes the underside looks woven, but not always. When new, they smell like plastic and repel water. Another sign of faux leather is unnaturally regular pores. With aging/use the upper layer can delaminate (crack and flake off) and/or peel away in large, thich sheets. They can become brittle, crumbly, split and take in stains. Look for a woven backing or a substrate that looks and feels more like plastic than leather (which looks fibrous). This group is not highly repairable. Filler and coatings may not bond well and if they do, durability may be reduced.

Go to the Care Products for this leather type.

Go to Repair and Recolour Products for this leather type.

More Information

For more information and examples of different leather types, check out the Customer Before & After tab. Here you will see lots of customer jobs, the leather type and the products they chose to restore their leather.