7 Reasons Why Leather Is Brown

why is leather brown

Before we get to the meat of this article, I want to sincerely thank you for taking the time to read this article. My goal for this article is to help you understand why leather is brown and share with you some helpful information about how leather gets its brown color.

So why is leather brown? Below are a list of reasons why leather is brown.

  1. Leather Is Brown Due To The Tanning Method Used
  2. The Fats Used In The Leather Making Process
  3. Leather Dyes Are Used To Make Leather Brown
  4. Oxidation Can Turn Leather Brown
  5. Accumulated Dirt And Stains Can Turn Leather Brown
  6. Extreme Exposure To Sunlight Can Scorch Leather Brown
  7. Mold And Mildew Can Discolor Leather

To learn more about why leather is brown, keep reading this article.

1. Leather Is Brown Due To The Tanning Method Used

One of the most common reasons why leather is often brown is because of the tanning method used. One of the common tanning methods is the vegetable tanning method.

This method makes use of leaves, roots, tree backs, seeds, etc to turn the raw skins of animals into leather. This tanning method often results in brown leather.

Different types of tannins can create different colors; oak bark and sumac leaves produce a light golden brown hue when used as raw material for curing animal hide while chestnut produces an even darker mahogany or chocolate-brown shade.

Other tanning methods other than the vegetable tanning method may result in a different color. Although the vegetable tanning method results in such natural looking leather material, it is not the most easiest tanning technique – vegetable tanning can take from 3 to 6 months for the tanning process to be complete.

Today, the process for tanning is still fairly simple as much as it was back when people first discovered how to do this by accident.

In order to make sure mold does not form after the hide has been immersed into water (or any other liquid), oil must be mixed in with either lime or quicklime which can also help set the final color of the leather depending on what type of tree bark or chemicals used.

The most common type of tanning agent used today is chromium salts combined with other chemicals such as vegetable oils and resins that gives the finished leather product its desired texture and appearance.

2. The Fats Used In The Leather Making Process

Apart from tanning, another thing that contributes to the brown color of leather is the fat that is used in the tanning process. Fat helps create a natural barrier on top of the hide to protect it from water and also gives leather its characteristic suppleness.

But as there are different types of hides (such as sheepskin or cowhide), this can alter how much fat is needed for proper tannage. In the process of getting this done the once white or almost neutral looking raw animal hide turns brown-ish.

3. Leather Dyes

Another reason why leather tends to be brown is due to the types of dyes that are used in the process. For example, chrome-tanned leather is usually dyed brown with a color called “aniline” (derived from petroleum).

Some other dyes which contribute to its brownish appearance include chestnut and henna – these two can be found quite often in handbags or shoes made out of vegetable tanned leather.

Natural leathers are known to have earth colors such as dark brown, light brown and a host of tan colors. So it is quite natural that most leathers will be dyed in the hues of browns.

4. Oxidation

Also, leather is brown because it is a natural material. When the white or almost colorless raw animal hide first comes into contact with air, it will turn brownish. This phenomenon is called “oxidation”.

There are two main types of oxidation – dry and wet; which end up giving leather its signature brown appearance. Leather that has gone through the wet process naturally turns out darker in shade as compared to those who have undergone the dry treatment.

This oxidation process is key as it is one sure way to understand why leather is brown in appearance even when the leather has not been dyed.

The process of tanning or the dyeing that follows, will also result in a lighter shade than what would have been attained if it was just left to oxidise naturally. However, there are some instances where tanners might want natural-colored leathers for their products and hence don’t use any dyes at all.

This may not be common but has its own charm because such colors speak about the authenticity of materials used – which no doubt makes them more valuable as well.

5. Dirt And Stains

Another reason why leather is often brown have a hint of brown has to do with dirt and stains. This particular is in reference to old leather items or leather items that see a lot of wear.

When leather goods are used for everyday purposes and seas a lot of handling, , dirt and stains can accumulate on the surface. This will also result in a lighter shade than what would have been attained if it was just left to oxidise naturally.

These dirt, stains, wear and tear often gives leather a rustic looking appearance that is priceless to many leather lovers.

6. Mold And Mildew

Mold and mildew can also be play a part in the color of leather. If you are unfamiliar with what these two things do, they can damage and stain materials over time.

Mold thrives on damp surfaces such as wet ground or carpets that have experienced flooding to name a couple. Mildew is more associated with moist clothes – it’s also known for making fabrics smell bad!

These two fungi can be found just about anywhere where there is water available which means that any type of natural material will not escape their wrath.

One example would be an old antique desk made out of wood; because wooden furniture often has gaps between joints, mold and mildew will accumulate easily if moisture gets into those tight spaces when left unchecked. And like more other natural surfaces leather upholstery also falls victim to this fungi.

7. Extreme Exposure To Sunlight

Lastly, another reason why leather is brown is because of the sun’s powerful effect on it.

Leather absorbs light at different wavelengths and intensities, depending on its thickness and color. The more exposure to sunlight a piece has, the darker it will be in comparison to pieces that have not seen as much sun time (or are covered from direct sunlight).

This will obviously be seen on leather items that have seen a lot of outdoor use such as boots, hats, to mention a few.


This article discussed seven reasons why leather is brown. It particularly covered how leather’s exposure to the sun makes leather turn dark brown in color and also discussed the fungi that cause discoloration as well as moisture infiltration.

You now know all of those things about what causes a piece of genuine leather to be brown! I hope this article has helped you understand more about your favorite material – Leather!


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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