What's Your Leather Type?

Posted by Nick Bredhauer on

What is leather type?

Not all leather is the same. The way that leather is processed in the tannery dictates what type of leather it will be. Each type of leather has unique characteristics and each type of leather requires different types of care. Knowing a little about the different types of leather will help you to select the furniture best suited to your lifestyle, and to correctly care for your furniture once you get it home. There are three basic types of leather:

  • Pigmented Leather (P)
  • Aniline Leather (A) (including oil and wax pull-up leathers)
  • Nubuck Leather (N)

What's your leather type?

The simplest way to find out what type of leather you have is to ask your retailer, or inspect the piece of furniture for a Deck Label or Hang Tag that identifies the leather type. If this is not possible, you can identify the leather type using the steps below.

Please note, information below is intended as guide only, if you are not experienced with leather identification or if the leather is old or worn, it may be difficult to identify the leather type using these tests. Damage caused by wear may cause the leather to look, feel and behave differently than expected. Semi-aniline leather can also be difficult to identify, as it shares characteristics with both pigmented and aniline leather.

Step 1: Ask for Information

The simplest way to find out what type of leather you have is to ask your retailer, or inspect the piece of furniture for a Deck Label or Hang Tag that identifies the leather type. Many manufacturers place the deck label on the decking of the seating area near a piece of extra leather that has been sewn in. Be aware that, on rare occasions, the retailer or manufacturer may incorrectly identify the leather type.

Step 2: The Scratch Test

A Scratch Test is the easiest way to determine if the leather is pigmented leather or not. Lightly scratching the leather surface with your fingernail will either yield a light mark or no mark.

No mark: most likely pigmented leather. Pigmented leathers do not leave a mark when scratched. The surface is protected by a finish layer that prevents damage when lightly scratched. Though usually definitive, this test should be followed up with Step Four to be completely sure.

Light mark: proceed to Step Three. All anilines (including wax and oil pull-up leathers) and nubuck will leave a scratch mark when lightly scratched.

This is the best time to determine if the leather has waxes or oils added to the finish. Grab an inconspicuous area of leather and gently pull to see if the area lightens in colour. Lightening of the area indicates that waxes and oils are present in the leather and that they have dissipated. If area lightens, then it is most likely a pull-up leather.

Step 3: The Tactile Test

Checking for a nap will help to determine if the leather is nubuck. Nubuck leathers have been sanded or brushed leaving a velvet like nap. Rub your hand back and forth across the leather and look for a shading effect on the leather surface. The effect is similar to the effect a vacuum has when used on a shag rug.

Nap: it is a nubuck.

No nap: it is an aniline leather (if you determined that it is not pigmented in Step Two).

Note: you may not be able to notice the nap effect on all nubuck leathers. On some leathers the nap is very slight, the nap may also become flattened with age. If you're unsure, proceed to Step Four.

Step 4: The Water Test

Place two or three drops of water onto the surface of the leather, rub the water lightly with your finger, then leave it to sit. After a minute, check to see if the water has absorbed into the leather.

Water remains on the surface: it is pigmented leather (if you determined that it is not a pull-up leather in Step Two). Pigmented leather and pull-up leathers are inherently water repellent.

Water is absorbs: it is aniline leather or nubuck. If the leather absorbed the water, dry the area with a hair drier. Once leather is dry, look at the area where the water droplets absorbed. If the leather is aniline it will show no change in the appearance or colour, once the water has dried. If it is nubuck there will be a dark spot that will remain even after the water has dried.

Note: old, worn, or poorly maintained pigmented and pull-up leathers may absorb water if their protective topcoats have been damaged or worn away.