How to Tell if Something is Made of Real Leather

“Genuine” leather isn’t always genuine, but there are a few ways to tell.

You just bought a new chair from Valencia Theater Seating, and it’s made of the highest quality, full-grain Nappa leather, sure to be comfortable and last you for years to come. It came from Valencia, so you know these movie chairs are covered in the good stuff – no question; it’s what we do! But it’s started to make you wonder how you can tell if other things you own are made of real leather. What if that “leather” jacket you got is not made of genuine leather? 

A sad fact of consumerism is that premium goods, such as leather, aren’t always advertised in good faith. Faux leather goods will sometimes be promoted and marketed to sound like the real deal, entertainment room chairs included. With an endless sea of products out there, how are you supposed to wade through and tell the real-deal leather from the materials that are anything but?

Since crafting custom, luxury leather theater seating in a wide scope of finishes and colors is kind of our thing, we’re experts on leather. Not just the question of is-it or isn’t-it, but also the question of quality, because not all leather is created equal—from full-grain and top-grain to bonded leather, there are a lot of types out there! So, here we’ve put together our best advice to help you figure out how to tell real leather from fake leather, because, if you know what you’re looking for, there are various ways to identify the difference between the 2:

Check the Care Label

The easiest way to tell if leather is real is to check the care label. Most manufactures have a tag on their products that tells you how to maintain the material to keep it looking pristine and at its best. If for whatever reason it doesn’t have a care tag, worry not—we have an article that goes over a few basic steps anyone can take to keep their leather products looking like they’re fresh out of the box. Since the care label talks about maintenance, it will mention what material the product is made of. Thus, if the product is made of leather, the care tag will say it is made of real leather. 

If the product is not made of real leather, you might find terms on the care label similar to “faux leather,” “vegan leather,” “cork leather,” or even “ocean leather,” with the latter describing a material made out of shark or dolphin skin—crazy, right? With a myriad of terms out there, it’s not hard to imagine how a buyer could easily end up with non-leather entertainment seating or a pleather wallet, thinking it’s the real deal.

But this method is not foolproof. There are many companies that aren’t honest about what material their product is made. It’s a tactic used all too often to cut costs, and the end result is consumer confusion, with 1 in 5 consumers believing that a material like bonded leather is genuine—hint: it’s not. Bonded leather is made up of repurposed, leftover leather scraps sewn back together, affecting the integrity and longevitiy of the product. There is a chance that if the tag says that it’s made of “real” leather, that it could be made of the fake stuff. So, you need to use other methods to back up the care label’s claims.

Do a Moisture Test

In one of our previous blogs, we talked about how detrimental water can be to leather and how to get potential pesky stains out of your premium leather theater couch. So, you are probably wondering: why would you use moisture to test if your leather is real? Would it not damage it if water is a precursor to leather goods staining? Let us explain—real leather is made of tons of interlocking fibers, and because of this, it kind of acts like the pores in your skin. While real leather isn’t waterproof, it is water-resistant and will be able to handle a quick splash. Prolonged water exposure, on the other hand, will discolor and stain your leather.

Thus, one way to test if your leather is real is to put a drop of water on the product. This small amount of water won’t damage the product, but it will help you tell if it’s real or not. If the water is absorbed, the leather is real. If the water rests on top of the product and beads, the hydrophobic material in question is fake. In the hopeful event that the item you’re testing is genuine leather, find a small spot to perform this test on. Better yet, if it’s a cushion on one of your media room chairs, flip that bad boy over and do a spot test on a location that no one will ever see—it’s always good practice to err on the side of caution even though real leather will be fine with a few drops of water. Just don’t let those sprinkles of water turn into a rainstorm!

Use Your Senses

Our five senses are some of the most powerful tools at our disposal, and fortunately, they can help us spot the difference between fake and real leather with a little extra know-how on your end. Any leather fanatic can tell you that leather just has a different smell, look, and feel when compared to the fake stuff—it just doesn’t stack up and compare, and for good reason. If you know what you are looking for, you will be able to tell if the leather is fake using just your senses. So, grab your nose, your hands, and your eyeballs, and let’s get to sensing.


Nothing smells quite like real leather—just ask any candle or perfume company who strives to replicate the alluring scent in their smelling notes. It’s subtle, yet immediately distinct and recognizable. This iconic scent is the result of the tanning process and the products applied to it during that. After all, if you saw a cow and went to stick your nose up to its hide, it almost certainly wouldn’t smell the same. 

Real leather is earthy, smoky, and woodsy. It’s reminiscent of stepping out into a forest after a light rain has washed over the trees, bringing out that tell-tale, natural smell. All of this is to say, it’s something that doesn’t leave your mind and olfactory senses once you smell it.

Fake leather, on the other hand, couldn’t smell any more dissimilar. Faux leather is, more often than not, made out of synthetic material, and the proof is also in the smell—vegan leather cinema couches and other non-genuine products will also have an iconic smell, however, it’s not nearly as pleasing to the senses and tends to smell like plastic. So, get out there and put your nose to the test—it won’t let you down.


Our hands and fingers are capable of picking up on even the slightest change in texture, and since leather is a natural material, it embodies that wabi-sabi element of “perfectly imperfect.” When you run your fingers across it, it should not feel perfectly smooth, instead having a slight tactile element to it, being able to feel the variation in the grains of leather. 

On top of this, when you press on it, it should stretch and wrinkle, the interlocking fibers that make up the product contracting and expanding in response. Real leather is porous and breathes, so it only makes sense that it has some give to the material. It’s a natural material that is minimally-processed, so it responds to touch and use, and gets softer and more supple over time, which is one of the reasons our Nappa 11000 leather is some of our favorite for luxuriously-comfortable, designer home theater seating. 

Faux leather on the other hand, is stiff and nonpliable. Again, with fake leather being typically made out of plastic products, it will have that same hard and unyielding quality that other plastic goods possess. Go on and run your hand over it—if your fingers glide effortlessly over the product in question, and it feels perfectly smooth and doesn’t wrinkle when pressed, it most likely is fake leather.


Like any other skin or hide, leather has a very distinct grain or pattern to it—ridges, lines, and grooves all populate a piece of genuine leather. When you scrutinize and get up close to real leather, you will notice that the grain is uneven and random, the hallmark of a natural material. Fake leather, on the other hand, is completely synthetic, so the grain pattern is perfectly aligned and consistent, being that it is machine derived and produced. The old saying “too good to be true” holds its weight here—if your product has no natural variation where the grain should be and looks a little too perfect, it’s more than likely fake.

Like we said, it’s not like you have to worry about the Valencia media furniture you bought for your home theater; we would never betray the goodness and quality of genuine leather (or our customers) like that. But we can’t promise you won’t learn something you didn’t want to know about that bag you overpaid for, or that “leather” coat that has started to peel at the hems. By doing all these tests, you will be able to see if your leather products are actually made of genuine leather… and then it might be time to go shopping.

If you’re looking for more information on the plethora of types of leather and their differences, we’ve got you covered on that front too