Difference Between Leather And Suede: Your Ultimate Guide

The main difference between leather and suede can be found in the process used to make the material, and the comparative strengths and textures of both.

There are many items and products that look just as good in leather as they do in suede. So which one of these materials should you choose?

In this article, we will look at what these materials are, along with the pros and cons of choosing one or the other.

What Is Leather?

Take the rawhide of an animal, tan it, and then you have that durable material we call leather.

The most common form of leather is from the hide of cattle; however, practically any animal can have its hide turned into leather. You will see many types of leather when you browse the shops, and there is even an exotic market for leather coming from lizards, snakes, and animals you might not normally consider, such as kangaroos.

Leather is commonly used around the world and treated right it can last a very long time. In fact, the oldest leather item ever found is a shoe that had been kept preserved for 5,500 years. That is some truly astonishing durability.

Types of leather include:

  • Brain Tanned Leather: This is a soft leather created from emulsified oil and extracts of the animal brain.
  • Chamois Leather: This is leather that absorbs water well. It is made via oxidizing oils.
  • Chrome Tanned Leather: Too much water can impact this leather, changing its shape and the way it feels. The creation process requires chromium sulfate and chromium salts.
  • Rawhide: This requires an animal hide that is processed. The skin is scraped to a thin layer, soaked, and stretched until dry. The end result is very stiff.
  • Synthetic Tanned Leather: This is a white material that requires synthetic plastic, and therefore is not made from any natural product at all.
  • Vegetable Tanned Leather: This is a delicate leather that needs a lot of work to keep it well maintained. It is made using extracts from natural non-animal products such as fruit and veg, trees, roots, and plant extracts. Because this leather is so difficult to maintain, it can shrink when in contact with too much liquid.

What Is Suede?

Suede is a form of leather. It is softer than traditional leather as it is made from an animal skin’s underside.

Most commonly, suede is made from lambskin, but you can also find types of suede that have come from animals such as deer, calves, and goats. Pigskin can also be used. Because suede has such a delicate feel, it is often considered a luxury item.

The terms suede refers to any leather type that has a napped surface. A napped surface is raised, often described as being ‘fuzzy’.

While the animals we listed earlier are most commonly used for suede, any animal hide can be turned into this product.

Suede is known as a ‘split’ leather. This is because the animal hide used to make it is separated, with the underside being used. The result of using the underside is the thin, delicate leather.

Younger animals are used to ensure that suede has the soft nature and smooth feel that people love. The ‘fuzz’ or nap of suede is actually tiny hairs that would be less soft if coming from older animals.

Difference Between Leather And Suede

The difference between leather and suede isn’t only from the touch and the way it looks. Many factors make a difference.

Leather is smooth to the touch, and you can instantly feel that it will have greater durability. On the other hand, suede is soft, napped, and a lot thinner. This is because what we know as leather uses the protective layer of animal skin, while suede uses the underside only.

Animal hide has two sides. One side is known as the ‘grain’, and the other side is the flesh. Leather is made from the grain side. This grain side is where you’ll usually find animal hair or fur, and that is why leather has extra durability.

You may notice when you have leather that there are clear scars or blemishes in the material from where animals suffered injuries during life.

As we have previously mentioned, suede comes from the skin’s underside, usually from very young animals. The toughness of leather is missing because the grain is not there. The layer of skin used for suede is many layers below the grain.

Because suede lacks the protective layer of leather, it is used for much more delicate products that are more prone to dirt and staining. Therefore, suede requires much more maintenance than durable leather.

What’s Best For You? Leather Or Suede?

It depends on what you want to use leather or suede for. Each material has its pros and cons that make it more suited or less suited to certain products and situations.

To know which is best for you, you need to analyze the pros and cons of each. We have provided a table below to help you.

Leather is highly durableSuede is softer
Leather has a smooth finishSuede has greater suppleness
Leather has greater resistance to waterSuede has a napped finish
Leather can have a very decorative surfaceSuede can clean easily
Leather is easy to cleanSuede is more affordable
Leather is easy to conditionSuede is a porous material
Greater expenseProne to water and dirt damage
Maintenance costs can be highLow durability
High heat retentionA limited number of uses
 Can fade easily

Which Is Better, Leather Or Suede?

It depends on what you want to use suede or leather for.

From the table above, you can see the pros and cons of both suede and leather.

You’ll see that leather is more durable than suede, making it a better material for something like work boots.

However, leather is also a high heat retainer, meaning it isn’t suitable if you just want a light, breathable pair of shoes. For that, you’d be better off with suede.

The heat retention attribute can be a positive for leather if looking for a pair of winter gloves. Leather is more likely to keep you warm during those cold months, and a delicate pair of suede gloves.

You can go through a wide range of products like this, making your own decision that would be better in leather and suede.

Ultimate Guide To Leather Care

For Everyday Care, You Should:

  1. Avoid overfilling any leather product so that it won’t stretch.
  2. Wipe away any dust or spots you find on leather products at the end of the day.
  3. Avoid contact with surfaces that can cause abrasions. This rule includes jewelry.
  4. Avoid getting leather wet, for example, on a rainy day, as you will need to give it extra maintenance.

For Long Term Maintenance, You Should:

  1. Give the leather a clean with a lint-free cloth
  2. Let the leather air
  3. Remove any water or moisture from the leather as quickly as possible
  4. Air dry leather rather than using artificial heat sources
  5. Condition leather every three to six months
  6. Remove stains with soap and warm water
  7. Disinfect the leather product using steam
  8. Avoid washing leather in a washing machine
  9. Avoid getting the leather wet
  10. Avoid putting leather in a dryer
  11. Avoid ironing leather
  12. Avoid full immersion of leather in water

Ultimate Guide To Suede Care

A. Suede Cleaning Methods

1. Brushing

Use a brass wire brush or a suede brush to do this.

You’ll want to use light yet quick strokes. This ensures the brush gets well into the suede fibers and that dirt or dust gets displaced or removed.

To maintain the look of the suede, ensure you brush in one direction only.

Should the nap of the suede look a little flat, you can give it a few seconds of steam and then brush.

2. Dabbing

If you have wet suede, you can dab it with a paper towel until dry.

However, should the water have dried, and you are left with a water stain, you need to spray a layer of water onto the suede then brush the suede. This is not to be done if the suede is fully wet.

For fully wet suede, soak up the excess water using a sponge. Dab the shoes until there is even wetness/dryness across the show. Finally, leave the shoes to air-dry overnight, followed by a light brush.

3. Use Talcum Powder

Dab any wet area with a clean cloth and then apply talcum powder. Leave this overnight to dry the suede and then brush the powder away in the morning.

B. How To Clean Certain Stain Types

  1. Blood: Use peroxide and cotton. Dab the stain with this until the stain is removed.
  2. Ink: Dab the ink with a paper towel as soon as you can. Should the ink set, soak a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and use this to dab at the stain until it goes.
  3. Juice/Tea/Coffee: Use two layers of paper towel, and press these with moderate force onto the wet area. Then brush.
  4. Mud: Wipe away mud, but don’t push too hard, or it will get stuck in the fibers. Leave any remaining mud to dry, then break off what you can. Finally, remove the remaining dry mud using a suede brush.
  5. Oil: Brush the suede as normal. Then brush with warm water.
  6. Salt: Add some white vinegar to a cloth, and apply this to the salt-lined area. Once the area is dry, brush.
  7. Wax/Chewing Gum: If the item is small enough, you can place it in a freezer to harden the gum or wax. Once hard, it can be chipped away, with the remaining mud brushed away.

C. Protecting Suede

Suede protector spray can be commonly found in the shops or online. This is a silicone spray that will waterproof your suede and protect it from dirt.

Every time you clean your suede items, you can give them a spray to ensure their longevity.

  1. Check suede is both clean and dry.
  2. Ensure you test the spray on a small portion of suede first. You’ll be able to check whether it leads to a bad reaction that changes the suede’s color.
  3. If everything is okay, spray the suede evenly without overdoing it.
  4. Brush the suede, remembering to brush in just one direction.
  5. Allow the suede to air dry for a full 24 hours, preferably on a towel if the item is the right size.

Is Suede As Strong As Leather?

No, as has previously been stated in this article, suede is made of a lower layer of animal skin well below the protective layer.

Therefore, suede is thinner and not as strong as leather, which is formed with the protective layer of ‘grain’ skin.

Does Suede Last As Long As Leather?

Many variables go into answering this, including how well maintained your suede or leather is and how much usage your suede or leather gets.

But well-maintained suede or leather used the same amount will see leather show fewer signs of wear and tear than suede. The reason for this is that leather is stronger and made from the ‘grain’ skin.

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