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How to Tell the Difference between Genuine & Faux Leather in 3 Steps

Many people often think the commodity is made with genuine leather if the product tag is marked as “made with leather”. In fact, both faux and genuine leather can be marked as “leather” in the product tags legally, and most consumers are confused and unable to differentiate them.

Hereby, we will tell you what genuine and faux leather is, and how we differentiate them by simple methods.

What are Genuine leather and Faux leather?

Genuine leather, often called “Real leather” is made from animal hides, commonly from cows, deer, horses, and sheep, while Faux leather, also called “Vegan Leather’’ or ‘PU leather” is made artificially from synthetic materials that imitate the texture and appearance of genuine leather.

The major difference between the two is genuine leather is much more durable than faux leather. The common lifespan of genuine leather goods is 10-20 years, while it lasts only 2-3 years for faux leather. Further, genuine leather has unique lustrous hallmarks such as stretch marks, scars, and veins that create features and exclusiveness to the good. For faux leather, the pattern is uniform artificially created pores and patterns. 

Is faux leather more environmentally friendly?

The common myth of faux leather is it is more environmentally friendly, as it is called “vegan” and not made from animals. Yet, it causes more drawbacks to the earth since it has a shorter lifespan and takes years to degrade while releasing toxic chemicals into the environment. Meanwhile, the raw material of genuine leather is mostly the by-product of the food industry, which is more biodegradable in the landfill.

3 Ways to differentiate Genuine and Faux leather

1. Ask the Accurate Question

“Is it made of leather?” You may have asked similar questions in several stores. Yet, as we said before, both genuine leather and faux leather can be counted as “leather”. Hence, the correct question you may ask is “What kind of hide is it made of?”, it may lead to an answer of the type of animal skin or material that is composed of leather from a store salesman. 

2. Look at the Edge

If there is no edge finishing or painting on the leather goods, you can determine whether it is genuine or faux leather by observing its edges. For genuine leather made from animal hide, it has multiple layers at the edge. If you see the edge is flat and smooth, that one most probably is faux leather.

This method is beneficial for leathercraft lovers during their purchase of leather pieces, as there is no edge finishing on these raw materials. 

3. Flip it

Flipping is a good method to tell between genuine and faux leather if you are unable to observe the leather edge or ask anyone, especially on large leather goods such as car chairs or sofas.

Genuine leather consists of complex fiber structures; therefore, they are stiffer than artificial faux leather.

Flip test. Genuine leather (left), Faux leather (right). Photo by Longisland Leather.

From the above photos shown, you can see that it is stiff for genuine leather, and relatively flat and soft for faux leather when you flip the leather.

To avoid creating any significant crease or damage, remember to try this test at an unobvious spot of the leather good.

Below are some common methods on the internet that we have doubts about and do not recommend.

Don’t do the Smell Test

The smell of genuine leather is very special. When you enter a genuine leather goods store, you will notice there is a distinctive smell, which in fact came from the plant tannin of vegetable-tanned leather. Some people may get the wrong idea thinking “vegetable-tanned” leather is made of plant material. Indeed, vegetable tanning is one of the leather production processes in the leather manufacturing industry, while vegetable tannin is used to alter the protein structure of the animal hide, creating a unique smell.

Yet, some faux leather manufacturers realized customers like the “leathery smell” and started adding artificial smells during the faux leather production process to imitate genuine leather. Therefore, we consider the smell test not 100% reliable anymore.


Don’t do the Touch Test

The method of touch test is allowing your finger to run across the leather surface and feel the texture.  Generally, genuine leather is rather uneven and filled with tiny pores since it is made of natural animal skins, and faux leather usually has a more uniform and smoother surface.

Nonetheless, nowadays manufacturing technology is improving and there are ways for faux leather to imitate the surface texture of genuine leather. It is difficult for a normal customer to differentiate the leather type by simply touching it.


Don’t do the Burn Test

If you burn a small part of the leather, you can distinguish whether it is genuine or faux leather easily. Genuine leather gives a smell of burnt hair, while faux leather usually smells like burnt plastic. Besides, genuine leather gives a slight singe from the fire, while faux leather will go up in flames.

This method works if you have leather or goods on hand that is available for damage/cut out. Yet in most situations, we are unable to use this method for testing, especially before purchasing.


To learn more knowledge about leather. You may join the courses held by The Hong Kong Hide & Leather Trades’ Association Ltd & The Clothing Industry Training Authority.

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