Synthetic leather is smooth and lacks visible pores.

How to Test for Real Leather on Furniture

by Momi Awana

Leather furniture can last for decades, but furniture made out of leather substitutes can show damage within a few years. While shopping for your new leather furniture, you will need to identify whether or not the leather is genuine. This will help you to avoid purchasing realistic substitutes that lack the longevity and beauty of genuine leather.

Brand Names and Cost

Research leather furniture brands and manufacturers before you buy leather furniture. Compare products and read online reviews or ask your friends about their leather-buying experiences. But the manufacturer's reputation is not the only the only important issue to remember. Keep in mind the price of the item when you make your comparisons. A genuine leather couch or recliner will not be cheap, so if you see one that does not cost that much, it is probably synthetic or made of patched or bonded leather.


Test leather furniture by feeling it and sitting on it. Leather warms quickly to the touch, even in an air-conditioned showroom. Genuine leather is flexible, so when you sit on it, you will sink in a bit more than you do on faux leather. Push your fingernail into real leather to see if it leaves a temporary indentation. Your fingernail will not leave a mark on fake leather. Faux leather begins with a fabric base, and then undergoes a treatment of wax, dye or even varnish to provide color and texture on the surface. Bonded leather, also known as reconstituted leather, uses a plastic coating placed over ground-up leather or other synthetic materials to give the appearance of real leather.


Even after all of the tanning and processing, leather is still an organic material made from the skins of animals. It is covered with irregular patterns and minute wrinkles. Sometimes fake leather mimics this texture, but because the process is mechanized, the wrinkles appear in a predictable pattern. In addition, genuine leather is dotted with pores after fur removal. Each pore is smaller than a pinhole, shallow and more-or-less round in shape, but irregularly spaced. Fake leather contains pores in a regular pattern. Examine the underside of the leather to note to see if it has a rough texture. Vinyl, faux leather and other synthetic materials have a fabric backing.

Labels, Smells and Dyes

Examine the label to determine whether the leather is real or not, or ask the salesperson about the type of leather used in construction. When the product is man-made, the label must state that. Leather also has a distinct smell to it. When you find a real leather piece, smell it to lock it in memory. Plastic and vinyl also have a definitive smell derived from petroleum -- its odor gives away its origins. Genuine leather uses different coating processes. You can buy furniture made from aniline leather, a high-grade top quality leather that has no protective treatment applied, semi-aniline leather, which might contain pigment, a light surface coating or clear finish, and pigmented leather, a top-grain leather that has a pigment or clear finish coat. Pigmented leather adds color to the leather, such as bright red or blue, which gives it a not-so-natural appearance.

About the Author

Since 2003, Momi Awana's writing has been featured in "The Hawaii Independent," "Tradewinds" and "Eternal Portraits." She served as a communications specialist at the Hawaii State Legislature and currently teaches writing classes at her library. Awana holds a Master of Arts in English from University of Hawaii, Mānoa.

Photo Credits

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