What is the Difference Between Leather and Suede?

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Usually, most people, simply by looking at them can tell the difference between leather and suede, but beyond feel and style of it, many people wonder if there is an actual difference between the capabilities of leather and suede.

The main difference between leather and suede is that leather is smooth and buttery while suede is napped and matty. Leather, unlike suede, is more durable because it is made from the exterior of the animal which is naturally the protective layer of the animals’ skin.

There are many seemingly little things in leather and suede that come together to make them different from each other.

Leather and suede aren’t just different because of their look and feel but because they offer different qualities for leather users as well. so let’s dive in a little deeper and find out what the real differences are.

Leather vs. Suede – What’s The Difference Really?

Leather

Leather is a versatile material that has been around for many years. Leather has survived for many years as archeological excavations have discovered countless leather items from history.

Leather has characteristics that make it different from suede. The durability of leather can not be overemphasized. Leather is highly durable compared to suede.

The hide, as you may know, is the skin removed from an animal most commonly cow, sheep, pig, and many others including exotic ones.

The hide of an animal has two sides, the grain side, and the flesh side. The grain side is the part of the animal where fur or hair grows. This part is made to protect the animals’ skin from harsh environmental conditions, abrasions, and whatnot.

Leather is made from the grain side and so inherits all the best qualities in durability, toughness, and strength.

When you look at leather, you will sometimes see the scars, bites, and blemishes the animal might have suffered. So you will find leather to be quite a bit textured or patterned.

Some people prefer and look out for such physical qualities before buying leather. Others may not appreciate the imperfections on leather and may want something more aesthetically appealing.

Suede

Suede, like leather, is got from the flesh side or underside of the skin from animals primarily lamb, even though deer, goat, and calf are also commonly used. The splits from cowhides are also processed for suede.

Suede is made from the corium part of the skin of the animal which is layers down.

So you will find that because suede is made from the underside which is layers down, it excludes the tough exterior layer from the grain side making it is less durable.

It is, however, highly soft, supple, pliable, thin with a napped or matty finish. It is most suitable for uses like gloves, upholstery, shoes, bags and many other accessories.

It is also used as lining for other leather products.

So what you will realize is that it does not have the original natural protective layer the animal originally has.

This makes suede have a textured nature with open pores making suede to become dirty and liquid stains easily. This all together makes suede highly susceptible to damage if proper care and maintenance is not done.

Overview of the Differences Between Leather and Suede

LeatherSuede
1. Leather is made from the
exterior, outer, or grain side of the leather
1. Suede is made from the
flesh side or underside of the leather
2. Leather is smooth and buttery2. Suede is textured
3. Leather has a nice sheen 3. Suede is matty
4. Leather is flexible4. Suede is more Flexible

What’s Best For You?

When considering which of the two, leather and suede would be best for you, you need to keep the pros and cons of each in mind.

Pros:

Leather:

  • Is Durable and has Tensil strength
  • Smooth and buttery finish
  • Water-resistant
  • Can have a lot of surfaces decorations
  • Can be cleaned and conditioned

Suede:

  • Softer and supple
  • Nice napped finish
  • Cleans easily
  • Less expensive
  • Porous
  • Not common

Cons:

Leather:

  • Leather is more expensive
  • High cost of maintenance
  • Retains heat

Suede:

  • Susceptible to dirt and water damage
  • Less durable
  • May be somewhat limiting in its usage
  • Fades quickly

Care and Maintenance of Leather

Regardless of how durable leather is you will still have to care and maintain it in order for it to last long for you.

Do remember that the care and maintenance of leather shouldn’t be done regularly. A good once or twice in a year will be enough to make your leather good as new.

The care and maintenance of leather is in two folds. There is the cleaning of the leather and there is the conditioning of the leather.

Cleaning leather will remove all dirt, debris, and any other unwanted materials the leather would’ve accumulated over the wearing or usage period.

You will clean leather with mild saddle soap and ordinary luke-warm water.

Conditioning leather is done after the leather has been cleaned. During cleaning, some of the natural oils of the leather will be lost and so the conditioning of the leather restores the lost oils.

There are different types of leather conditioners you can buy on the market and it is easy to find.

Check out an article I wrote on the difference between conditioners and cleaner.

Care and Maintenance of Suede

Suede is a lot less durable so it needs a bit more of tender loving and care to keep it going.

Sue leather is not like leather and so must not be cared for the same way. Don’t use leather products for suede to avoid damage.

There are multiple cleaning techniques for suede items and they are easy to do. Let’s dive into the various cleaning techniques.

Brushing is one of the easiest methods of cleaning suede due to its napped finish. After using your suede item for a while, you would want to brush it to remove accumulated debris and dirt.

Brushing is good for removing light stains, dirt, or debris.

You could get a soft brush for this purpose and when you encounter some stubborn debris, you could use a hard bristle brush. But on a regular day, always use the softer sable brush and brush in one direction of the fibers.

When brushing, make sure not to push or press the brush too hard on the suede. Ensure the suede item has a soft backing while you brush.

With some gentle brushing in the direction of the napped surface, it will let your suede look nice and clean.

Apply a steam cleaner on the suede if the nap has flattened over the years before proceeding to brush.

You can alternatively use a suede eraser or any ordinary pencil eraser you can get to remove tougher stains. You do this by simply erasing off all the smudges off the suede.

Then after you are done, use a soft brush to brush in one direction of the fibers to restore the nap.

In the case of water stains, remove stains by compressing wet cloth on the stain. By pushing the wet cloth on the stain, the whole area will appear wet. You then use a hand dryer to dry the area.

For a serious stain that is hard to remove, dampen the suede with a bit of water and take it quickly to a shoe expert.

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You can clean your suede items after 10 times of wearing or depending on how often you use it or how rough you use it.

Related Questions

What is the difference between suede and nubuck? The main difference between suede and nubuck is that suede is buffed or sanded on the flesh side or underside of the animals’ skin and is less durable while nubuck is buffed or sanded on the grain side or exterior side of the animals’ skin to have a napped look and is much durable.

Can Suede and leather be damaged by the weather? Yes! generally, any type of leather can be wholely or partly damaged by rain, snow, and salt. It gets into the leather and disrupts the fibrous structure of the leather.

Kwabena

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!

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