6 Reasons Faux Leather Smells Like Fish & How To Fix It

why does faux leather smell like fish

If you have a fish smell on your faux leather item and you’re wondering why this is, you’re in the right place. Faux leather goods like upholstery, bags, wallets, shoes, etc., usually have a fishy smell, and in this article, I’m going to share with you how and why this happens and simple ways to get rid of those pesky smells.

Here’s a brief summary of the things that cause faux leather to smell like fish;

  1. Packaging It Comes In
  2. Dyes Used
  3. The Preservative Chemical Used
  4. The Glue Used
  5. The Protective Coating
  6. Long Periods of Storage

In the remaining parts of this article, I will discuss the details of the possible causes of fish smell that you may find when you purchase furniture or clothing made out of artificial or faux leather. I will also give you some tips to remove or minimize the smell of your faux leather.

Let’s get into it!

Why Does Faux Leather Smell Like Fish – Details

Below is a detailed description of why faux leather goods may smell like fish;

1. The Packaging It Comes In

If the faux leather item’s packaging has been recycled and might have been used previously for fish or anything fish-related, the fish smell can also cling to your faux leather clothing or furniture.

In most cases, the ‘fish’ odor will be on the outside of the faux leather item and may also infiltrate deep into the lining of the fake leather’s surface if you are not careful with cleaning instructions.

The best way to deal with this issue is to make sure transport boxes are properly aerated.

Also, check your faux leather products as soon as they arrive. If you find anything fishy (no pun intended) with the packaging boxes, ask for a refund if the smell is intolerable.

2. Dyes Used

The aggravating fishy smell of faux leather can also result from the dyes or coloring agents used to add color to faux leather. It’s not uncommon for these artificial additives to seep out and create that offensive odor.

These are usually colorants used during the manufacturing process of faux leather material. One such common dye used for adding color to faux leather during its manufacture is the azo dye.

This is the most common chemical dye used for coloring faux leather due to its low cost and wide availability.

While this class of dye doesn’t pose any risks regarding health, it can cause some level of smell, degradation in quality, or durability when applied over time – especially if not well monitored during the application process.

3. The Preservative Chemical Used

Faux leather items may smell like fish if the products were preserved with chemicals like formaldehyde during shipping.

The formaldehyde-based preservatives manufacturers use in their packaging and transportation processes is a form of a gas spray that is put on faux leather items before shipping.

And because these preservatives are gases, the gas particles can penetrate and seep deep into the faux leather item resulting in a smell similar to fish.

Manufacturers who do not want to spend money on expensive preservatives will often use these chemical agents to preserve products well enough until they reach their destination location.

And while such chemicals can cause the faux leather item being transported to smell somewhat like fish, it helps to prevent bugs, rodents, mildew, or mold growth during the faux leather items’ transportation.

In this type of situation, you will notice that the fish smell will often be strong in the beginning when you have just received the item, but the smell gradually goes away with time.

As if that’s not enough, the length of time the faux leather item spends in storage or while on transport with all the preserving chemicals can also determine how intense or concentrated the fish smell is on your faux leather item.

4. The Glue Used

There are two main ways glue can cause faux leather items to smell like fish. This can be from the glue used during the faux leather-making process or the glue used to assemble the faux leather items or products.

There are various types of glues that can be used to create faux leather items. While some adhesives are explicitly formulated for making faux leather goods, others are not, and using them may mean a whole lot of trouble, including a foul fish smell.

Let’s take a step back!

The fish smell may also be from the glue used during the manufacturing of the faux leather material itself.

The main ingredient in most glue products is usually PVA (polyvinyl acetate). During the faux leather-making process, it is used to bond other materials like polyester (and sometimes cotton) to other polyurethane-based components to make the faux leather material.

With all those chemicals combining and reacting, it is no surprise faux leather will have a smell that is not very pleasant.

5. The Protective Coating

Faux leather is often coated with a protective layer to prevent moisture damaging the material. The protective coating keeps water and moisture at bay but also gives the faux leather a distinctive sheen.

A lot of these coatings are petroleum or plastic-based, which can be one reason for the smell. The good news here, though, is it’s easy to remove this coating if you want to get rid of your fish smell problem.

All you need to do is scrub the leather with baking soda and then use warm water and dish soap to clean the faux leather surface.

6. Long Periods During Storage

Another reason for the fish smell on your faux leather item could be the amount of time that has passed since the faux leather item was manufactured. Or the environment where the faux leather piece sat before being shipped to your location.

The more time passes, the less likely chemical agents will cause odor problems. If you have faux leather items that have sat in storage for a few years, the material may have absorbed odors. This can lead to these items smelling like fish.

This means you should always make sure there’s enough airflow around your faux leather items when it’s in storage, or else they might start giving off an unpleasant odor.

If this does happen, don’t worry; all you need to do is wipe down the surface with baking soda for 30 seconds before wiping it clean with warm water and dish soap! Your faux leather item won’t smell anymore within minutes after treating it.

7. Cheap Faux Leather Goods

Finally, the last potential cause of a fish smell from faux leather is that you may have purchased cheap faux leather goods.

Cheap materials are often made with lower-grade synthetic fabrics and adhesives that can easily break down when exposed to air or moisture.

This issue is compounded when these cheap items are stored for long periods of time. As the lower-grade materials degrade, they start giving off odors that smell like fish.

How To Remove Fish Smell From Faux Leather

There are several ways to know out those pesky smells from faux leather, and here are some of the most effective home remedies:

Step-by-step: How To Remove Fix Smell From Faux Leather

1. Using Mild Dish Soap

One of the first things to try is basic mild dish soap, and here’s how;

Step One: Make a mild dish soap solution

  • Mix 5-10 drops of mild dish soap with a gallon of warm water and stir the solution.

Step Two: Wipe down the faux leather item with the solution

  • Wet a cloth in the solution and wipe down your faux leather item with it.
  • Make sure to get every nook and cranny and pay extra attention to places where dirt may have accumulated.

Step Three: Rinse it off

  • Rinse the faux leather item with plain water and make sure to remove all the soap residue.

Step Four: Let it dry

  • Allow the faux leather item to air dry.
  • This should take about an hour or two, depending on how wet the faux leather was when you rinsed it off.

2. Using White Vinegar

White vinegar is also effective in removing fishy smells from faux leather, and here’s how;

Step One: Make a solution of white vinegar

  • Mix one part white vinegar with two parts warm water in a spray bottle and shake gently to ensure it’s well mixed.

Step Two: Spray the faux leather with the solution

  • Spray your faux leather generously with the mixture, making sure all areas are evenly covered.
  • Allow it to soak for 10-15 minutes before moving on to step three.

Step Three: Wipe dry

  • Using a dry cloth or paper towel, wipe off the excess moisture from your faux leather.
  • Make sure to remove all traces of moisture; otherwise, you could end up with watermarks on your faux leather.

Step Four: Air out and enjoy!

Once your faux leather is damp but not wet, leave it out to air dry.

3. Using Baking Soda

Baking soda is a great natural remedy for removing smells from faux and natural leather, and here’s how;

Step One: Sprinkle baking soda on the faux leather

  • Sprinkle baking soda liberally all over your faux leather item.

Step Two: Let it sit

  • Let it sit overnight to absorb the smells.

Step Three: Vacuum

  • Use a vacuum cleaner to remove excess baking soda from the faux leather item.

Step Four: Wipe down with warm water and soap

  • Wipe it down with a cloth soaked in warm water and mild dish soap.
  • Then rinse off and let it air dry.

Tips On Preventing Fish Smell From Faux Leather Items

  • Make sure there’s enough airflow around your belongings, or else they might start giving off an unpleasant odor in time.
  • You’ll want to make sure that you’re NOT storing your faux leather items in tight spaces for long periods, as this can lead them to absorb smells from other things like food or drinks without proper ventilation.
  • Usually, proper storage practices will work just fine to prevent any fish smell occurrence.
  • Avoid applying any cosmetics or perfumes to your faux leather item to prevent the smell from returning.
  • If you need a quick fix for the fishy odor, spray Febreeze on surfaces and wipe them off with dish soap!
  • If it’s a leather item and the smell is coming from inside, try wiping down the interior with an odor eliminator like vinegar or baking soda!
  • You can also rub talcum powder on the inside of your faux leather for extra protection against unpleasant smells in the future.


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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