What’s the Difference Between Nappa and Dakota Leather?

All around the world, there are over 2 million BMWs produced each year. With such huge production task, BMW still ensures the best of information to guide you with your purchases of their cars. One of the important decisions you will have to deal with is your choice of the leather interior.

BMW car seats have their own terminologies and in this article, I did some research that focused on the difference between only two of their leather types.

So, what is the difference between Nappa and Dakota leather? The primary difference between Nappa and Dakota leather is the quality, in that, Nappa leather is a full-grain, un-split semi-aniline leather while Dakota leather is a corrected-grain or split, coated with a synthetic polymer paint.

Generally, Nappa and Dakota leather have applications in various products but in this article we are comparing Nappa leather and Dakota leather in the context of BMW car leather seat interior. You can still follow through as the characteristics of both leather highlighted in this article is applicable in all other leather products.

If you’re a BMW fan like I am, you definitely want the leather seat interior of your ride to be on point. I will shed more light on the differences between Nappa and Dakota so that you can choose what’s really great for you and your family.

What is Nappa Leather?

Nappa leather symbolizes a high grade of full-grained leather that is unaltered with a lot of natural characteristics. Nappa leather is usually given a durable finish that can allow it to withstand the daily grind that comes with an automotive interior.

The name Nappa takes its name from Napa, California, where a German tanner created the leather in a company called Sawyer Tanning company.

Napa leather in itself is a type of leather known for its very soft feel. It is commonly used for all kinds of leather products aside car upholstery such as clothing, furniture, handbags, shoes, and it’s indeed a staple of luxury in the automotive industry.

The car industry defines Nappa leather in an ambiguous way referring it as very soft, smooth leather obtained from the hide of cow, lamb, calf, and goat. In the BMW range of cars, it is considered to be the 2nd highest quality leather.

What Makes Nappa Leather Quality

1. The Source of the Leather

The quality of leather the manufacturers will get is influenced by the diet, lifestyle, fitness, habitat, and illnesses the animal suffered.

Hide from animals in good conditions and environment, with good diet and care produce the best of the best leathers.

So, generally, leathers from first world countries look and have excellent quality compared to hides from less developed countries.

More importantly, Nappa leather is unaltered and as a result, much of its original natural textures is retained as it is. This means only the best of hides can be processed and given the term Nappa leather.

It may often be dyed to match the desired car interior design or exterior contrast of the manufacturer.

Nappa leather is sourced from the best hides of the world although many different types of leather often appear on the auto market labelled as Nappa when the term and quality characteristics of Nappa doesn’t technically apply.

2. The Full-Grain Layer is Used

Natural leather can be split horizontally into 3 basic layers. The first layer is full-grain (the first layer on which fur or hair of the animal grows), the second layer which is the top-grain, and finally the third corrected grain.

On a quality scale, the full-grain is the highest quality because it comes from the top protective layer of the hide so the fibres are densely packed making it very durable.

Despite its durability, full-grain leather is really soft and supple and gives off Nappa leathers true luxurious feel when touched.

Full-grained leather may be blemished, a reflection of the lifestyle of the animal but even with its imperfections it still remains very expensive so when it’s used for Nappa leather, it’s always pricy.

With this Nappa leather interior is an optional upgrade for the higher-level BMW models such as the 5, 6 and 7-Series, X5 etc.

3. How it is Tanned

Tanning is the method used by leather makers to turn the fresh skin of animals into leather. There are different tanning techniques but the most common are vegetable tanning and chrome tanning.

Generally, chrome tanning is often used because it is very fast and easy to tan leather to be able to meet the millions of cars produced every year.

However, you will also find that some premium Nappa leather is produced using vegetable tanning, a tanning technique that can take more than 3 months to complete. It uses organic tanning material like tree back, fruits, seed, etc to make the fresh skins of animals imperishable.

You can check out an article I wrote earlier about vegetable and chrome tanning here!

What is Dakota Leather?

The Dakota leather is a corrected -grain leather split and coated with a synthetic polymer paint. It is also marketed as Nevada leather and when compared to full-grain and top-grain leather, it has lower grade quality with its surface embossed with artificial grains.

They are designed to have almost all the grain characteristics of full-grain leather and also provide a much affordable version of the full-grain-leather.

Dakota leather is made from 2 layers down from the full-grain layer so it’s not the very best quality but better than leatherette.

The corrected-grain is natural leather that has been buffed or sanded on the grain surface so as to remove all blemishes that full-grain leather has. It is then embossed with grain patterns to look like natural leather.

It has a slightly more plastic feel because of the heavy finish coating added in the manufacturing process but has a more uniform surface compared to full-grained leather and less prone to carrying marks or stain.

You will find the Dakota leather mostly used on most model’s base trims. Majority of leather used in modern cars are coated to give the leather material good protection. Dakota leather seat interior is great for families with kids and pets as it is very hard-wearing. It has a very comfortable feel and has a great look and feel of luxury.

Because it is buffed, it is lightweight but its quite durable with good physical and chemical performance, very easy to maintain, and cost-effective.

Similarities Between Nappa and Dakota Leather

Nappa leather share some similarities you might want to know about so that if the similarities are used as a selling point you will move away and focus on the unique difference so that you know exactly what you’re buying.

  1. Both Nappa and Dakota are from natural animal hide
  2. Both are tanned

Differences Between Nappa and Dakota – Summary

Nappa Leather Dakota Leather
1. From the top-grain layer 1. From the corrected-grain
2. More expensive 2. Less expensive
3. It is not split 3. It is split and so its lightweight
4. Nappa is not buffed or sanded
on the grain-side
4. Dakota is highly buffed on
the grain-side
5. Nappa has natural grain patterns 5. Dakota has synthetically
embossed grain patterns
6. Nappa may come with blemishes
on its surface
6. Dakota has perfectly even surface.
7. Nappa mostly has a semi-aniline finish
8. Dakota is coated with a
synthetic polymer paint


Overall, when making a choice in leather whether you’re buying a car or any other thing, remember to check and recheck as sometimes some dealers themselves may be confused about the types of leather. Going by this article, I trust you will be able to tell Nappa leather from Dakota leather within a few minutes. Cheers:D

Related Questions

How do you clean Nappa Leather? The cleaning required for Nappa leather is relatively very easy to do. It includes:

  1. Use a lint-free cloth to Remove Dirt and Debris
  2. To remove stains, use mild saddle soap, cotton washcloth, and warm water
  3. It is important you don’t rub the stain instead give it a gentle dap to remove stains
  4. Allow the leather to dry naturally and avoid direct sun contact
  5. Apply leather conditioner

How do you clean corrected grain leather? Cleaning your corrected grain leather will ensure it lasts long and retain a great look. The cleaning process includes:

  • You can dust off with a soft cloth or soft sable brush
  • Use mild saddle soap solution to remove grime and dirt stains
  • Apply a protecting layer of leather cream to avoid leather scratches and stains
  • In the case of liquid spills, use a damp cloth to avoid leaving watermarks or stains


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

Recent Posts