How To Tell If A Sofa Is Real Leather In 4 Steps

We have discovered four steps on how to tell if a sofa is real leather like a pro. In this article, you will use all your senses to determine if the leather is fake or not. We will also discuss how to read the tag to help you when shopping for leather sofas. 

Additionally, we recommend reading what to look for when buying a leather sofa, besides this guide. It also touches the topic of genuine leather sofas, but you might find extra information in it.  


How Can I Tell If My Couch Is Real Leather?


Step 1. Read the tag

Find the tag on the leather couch as the manufacturer will indicate that their product is genuine leather or even 100% leather proudly. You may also find other labels saying full-grain leather or top-grain leather, which should also be what you’re looking for if you want to get a genuine leather sofa. 


Full-grain leather vs top-grain leather

The highest grade and most expensive leather is full-grain because it comes from the hide’s top layer. On the other hand, top-grain leather refers to the outermost layer of the hide. It is the second-highest grade of leather as well. 


What if the sofa has no label?

If the tag does not say anything regarding its grade or using 100% leather, there’s a high chance of the sofa being bonded leather or faux leather. Technically, bonded leather is still leather because it’s made from leather scraps, while faux leather is purely synthetic. However, note that even if the manufacturer calls their bonded leather sofa real leather, the leather component will only comprise 10 to 20% of its composition. 


Step 2. Check the appearance

Since tags can be misleading, especially for someone unfamiliar with the terminologies, the next step or test you can do to tell if a sofa is genuine leather is by looking at it. Real leather is made from animal hide. It will have imperfections on the surface. 

Full-grain leather should have natural marks, while top-grain leather is smoother due to being sanded and coated. However, checking the appearance of the leather to know if it’s genuine can still be confusing because some leather types are given artificial patterns, especially bonded leather. Some synthetic materials are also made to look like imperfect, blemished animal-hide leather.


What color is leather naturally?

The natural color of leather is blond or russet because of the tanning agents used in the process. However, leather can also get a brownish shade from plant tannins, a yellow tint from fat and oil tanning, or a white or grayish tone if the agents used are alum or chrome. Therefore, color is not a helpful indicator to know if the leather is genuine. 

You can also eventually learn to paint a leather sofa anyway if you want to give it a new look.


Step 3. Touch the surface

Real or genuine leather does not only have blemishes that you can notice visually. Run your fingers across the leather couch to feel for the wrinkles. It might even have a bit of stretch to it, especially with full-grain and top-grain leather. On the contrary, an even surface without any wrinkling when pressed indicates that it’s a synthetic material or mixed with one, as seen in bonded leather. 


Real leather vs PU leather

Synthetic or vegan leather refers to polyurethane leather where a polyester base is coated with polyurethane. However, there is also double-cast leather that uses genuine leather covered with a polyurethane layer. And because of the plastic, PU leather won’t absorb water like real leather. 

Overall, natural leather must feel and react like skin, including being porous. If it feels too smooth, it’s a good indication that it’s a synthetic material such as polyurethane, made to look like leather. Check this guide on how to repair a pleather couch if your furniture eventually developed tears or holes.  


Step 4. Detect a smell

A genuine leather couch will have a unique, organic smell. Finding this distinct leather smell is perhaps the most reliable way to check for the authenticity of your leather sofa because it cannot be faked like the textures on the surface. You will also know that this smell is different from bonded and synthetic leather that bears a chemical odor.


Why does my leather sofa smell?

While it’s true that leather will have a distinct smell, it shouldn’t smell foul. The leather couch should not stink, but it’s prone to developing an odor due to being porous and accumulating moisture. Learn how to deodorize a leather sofa with vinegar to solve this issue.



Before you buy a leather couch, make sure that you are getting what you paid for. This means knowing how to tell if a sofa is real leather to gain its benefits, especially durability. To recap, you can check the tag, look and feel for the texture, and find the distinct leather smell to know if the sofa uses genuine or 100% leather. 

Another pro tip that we want to leave you is if the price is too good to be true, there’s a high chance that it is not real leather. The top quality and highest grade leather costs a lot to manufacture and will also have a high price tag. Therefore, it’s a true investment, so consider learning how to fix a leather sofa to keep your furniture at its best. 


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