6 Reasons Why Leather Smells Like Fish Plus 4 Ways To Fix

Why does leather smell like fish

Do you have a leather item worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars and cannot wear or use it due to a yucky fish smell on it? This is the post where I share with you why this happens and how to remove this foul fish smell.

So why does leather smell like fish? The main reason why leather will smell like fish will be due to the use of unfiltered fish oil during the leather tanning process. The fish smell on leather can also be attributed to the type of glue used during the making of a leather product.

During my research over the last couple of days into the reasons why leather will smell like fish, I uncovered a lot more possible reasons why this happens.

In the remaining part of this post, I hope to share 4 additional reasons why leather will smell like fish and all relevant information explaining how it happens, and 4 effective ways to remove the fish smell.

Keep reading to find out more!

Details On Why Leather Smells Like Fish

I took some time off to research on why leather smells like fish. I found some interesting reasons why this happens and I’m ready to share with you everything I have found. Enjoy!

1. Oil In The Leather Tanning Process

One of the basic causes of leather smelling like fish is the oils used during the tanning process.

Tanning is an important process in leather making. Tanning is what basically turns the raw animal skins into leather.

Related Article: Difference Between Vegetable Tanning and Chrome Tanning

But during this leather tanning process, some leather tanners or retailers will use cheap fish oils that have not been filtered to treat or soften the leather.

Filtrated fish oils will usually be rid of that distinctive fish odor and will not result in a fishy stench on leather once tanning is complete.

These cheap oils result in unsaturated bonds that react with the air which then causes it to go rancid and results in the fishy smell we all hate to have on our leather.

When leather becomes smelly this way, it’s usually a lot harder to deal with.

This is because these unfiltered oils used to treat leather during the tanning process seep deep into the fibers of the leather.

So simply washing or airing out the smell will usually not cut the smell from the leather.

What eventually happens is, the smell gradually gets worsened by the day – depending on how much heat, moisture, and sun the leather is exposed to.

With all these said, it begs the question, why then is it that the fish smell is usually not noticed when the leather item is first purchased at the shop?

Of course, you might not notice the smelly fishy odor in the shop when you’re picking out the leather item because the fish oil treatment will mostly in the initial stages have a fairly good smell.

After a while these oils begin to breakdown chemically, then the fish smell is released.

Fish oil is a very common oil used in the leather industry during the leather tanning process.

But it’s essential only high-quality fish oils are used because it’s more stable and does not deteriorate or go rancid.

2. When The Leather Becomes Wet

Another very come phenomenon that causes leather to smell like fish is the leather getting wet or damp without properly drying it.

This will particularly happen if you clean your leather items and do not allow them to properly dry.

Leather goods have to be maintained from time to time to keep it in good condition.

A typical maintenance routine for a leather article will usually involve cleaning and conditioning the leather item.

There are also some restores and leather protectors you can also use to ensure your leather goods are in top-notch condition.

A common rule of thumb is usually to allow the leather to air-dry after cleaning or conditioning is complete.

The best way to dry off the leather is leaving it in a cool dry place.

But depending on which part of the world you are in, the leather may not dry properly and can eventually cause the leather to have a smell similar to that of a fish.

Related Article: Can you Wear a Leather Bracelet or Necklace in the Shower?

3. Sweats

During the hot seasons, our leather apparels and accessories absorb a lot of sweat.

Over a period of time, the sweat gets absorbed deep into the leather and the salts from the sweat will begin to deteriorate.

So if the leather item is not cleaned properly and timely, it begins to build-up.

The stench that can come as a result of sweat build-up can be all sorts of smells.

From a smelly fishy odor to a funky meat smell to a dead rat smell and everything in between.

I apologize if I have gross you out in any way but the good news is this type of smell is a lot easier to deal with.

Related Article: 7 Best Leather Shoes for Sweaty Feet-Men (With Helpful Tips)

4. Not Properly Storing The Leather Item

Leather is a very porous material and so it tends to easily assimilate smells and scents around it both good and bad.

Meaning if the leather is not properly stored or placed, it will take up whatever smell or scent that is around it.

For the leather to smell like fish, it will not necessarily have to be put around fish.

Of course except for rare instances where your leather somehow literarily came into contact with fish, hence the fishy smell.

What I find happening most of the time is that the leather if not properly stored will assimilate a combination of bad smells over a time period and the combination of smells will sometimes reek of something similar to that of fish.

So properly storing your leather items is definitely one way you will be able to ensure your items do not reek of fish-smell or something similar to that.

Related Article: How To Store Patent Leather: A Complete Step-By-Step Guide!

5. Aging

In instances where the leather has lived its lifespan and has aged, leather goods, especially the ones without proper care and maintenance, can possibly develop such foul smell.

Leather was once the skin of an animal so without proper care and as it ages, it will begin to deteriorate resulting in all kinds of defects like stinky smells, mold, mildew, discoloration, etc.

Related Article: 6 Ways Patent Leather Age Plus How To Slow The Aging

6. The Glue Used

Another possible cause for the fish smell on your leather items is the type of glue that was used to make the item.

So whether it’s a wallet, a purse, a jacket, a pair of shoes, or boots, I’m basically referring to the glue that was used to assemble the item before the leather item was stitched together.

Related Article: 6 Best Glues For Leather To Wood

Usually, there are two ways the glue used can cause the leather item to smell like fish.

The first is the type of glue used. There are some glues that some leather goods manufacturers or leather crafters use that will have a stinking fish smell.

Although the smell from these types of glues is often said not to linger on the leather for a long time, some would anyway.

Related Article: 5 Best Glues for Leather To Plastic: Guide Plus How To Bond

The fishy smell will be more apparent especially when the leather item is new.

One particular type of glue I have found that causes a fish smell on leather goods is the Copydex glue.

Another way glue can cause the leather to have a fish smell is when the glue used to assemble the leather item ages and begins to breakdown.

Related Article: 6 Best Glues For Leather To Metal & Easy Guide On How To Bond

How To Remove Fish Smell From Leather Goods

If you have your leather reeking of fish smell, all hope is not lost. There are a couple things you can use to remedy the smelly situation.

While some leather manufacturers may recommend using dryer sheets to gradually get the fish smell out, there are a couple of DIY methods using household items to fix this problem.

I’m going to share with you remedies that will generally range from very mild approaches to more robust approaches to dealing with leather smelling like fish in a way that is safe for your leather.

I decided to share multiple solutions so that you will be able to find something that will work for you even if you don’t have a bunch of things around the house.

Related Article: 7 Very Simple Ways To Get Smells Out Of Leather Car Seats

Before you go ahead, if you haven’t tried the simple remedy of airing the leather item out, then you would want to try that first.

1. White Vinegar Method 1

White vinegar is a great cleaning substance to have around the house. It can be used for virtually almost any kind of cleaning and it’s very accessible.

White vinegar is acidic and will be able to neutralize the fish smell on your leather item.

So whether the smell is emanating from the outside or inside (in the case of leather bags, jackets, wallets, and any other leather item with both interior and exterior parts) or both, you will be able to use this method to effectively deal with it.

You will be able to also use this method if you do not want to get your leather item to get wet in your attempt to remove the fish smell from your leather goods.

Things Needed:

  • White Vinegar
  • Small Cup
  • Baking Soda or Charcoal (optional)


Step 1: Prepare the leather item before you deodorize it. In the case of bags, purses, wallets, etc, you will want to start by emptying all of its contents.

Step 2: Place the leather item on a flat surface. You would especially want to do this for bags, purses, shoes, or any leather item that’s in the form of a carrier.

Step 3: Put a small amount of white vinegar in small cup.

Now set the cup with the white vinegar inside of the leather item in the case of a bag or purse.

For leather jackets, shoes, etc, you can set the cup in a drawer or a wardrobe and leave the leather item in there with it.

Be careful the cup filled with the white vinegar does not tip over.

Step 4: Allow the cup to sit with or inside the leather item overnight. You would want to check to see if the odor remains the next day.

Leave it for an additional couple of days if you find the fish smell still persists.

Step 5: If you find there is still a bit of fish smell lingering on the leather item, replace the cup of white vinegar with a cup of baking soda or some pieces of charcoal if you have some leftover lying in your barbeque grill.

You would want to repeat the entire process a couple of times to ensure the fish smell is completely removed.

2. Newspaper And Baking Soda Method

This method is also an awesome way to remove the fish smell from your leather without getting your leather item wet.

Things Needed:

  • Newspaper
  • Baking Soda
  • Vacuum cleaner or soft cleaning brush


Step 1: Sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda on your leather item.

Step 2: Carefully wrap the newspaper around the leather item.

Ensure every part of the leather item is completely covered.

Step 3: Leave the wrapped leather item to sit overnight.

Check if the smell still lingers. If still on the leather, you can repeat this step if you find the smell hasn’t completely gone away.

Step 4: Unwrap the leather item and use a vacuum cleaner or soft brush to remove the baking soda residue.

3. White Vinegar Method 2

Still, on the application of white vinegar, it can also be applied in another way to remove the fish smell from leather.

This is a great method for removing smells stuck on the outside parts of leather goods like couches, jackets, bags, etc.

If you don’t mind getting your leather item a little damp, then this is going to be a great alternative for you to use.

Things Needed:

  • Microfiber Cloth
  • White Vinegar


Step 1: Make a solution consisting white vinegar and water.

Step 2: Dampen your microfiber cloth with the white vinegar solution.

Step 3: Now gently and thoroughly wipe the surface of the leather item with the damp microfiber cloth.

Make sure you do not over saturate the leather with the vinegar solution.

Step 4: Dampen another piece of a microfiber cloth with ordinary water and wipe the leather surface of the leather to remove the solution you applied earlier.

Step 5: Leave the leather item to air dry.

4. Lemon Juice Method

Lemon is great when it comes to removing fish smells and general smells from leather.

So you will be able to use lemon to also remove fish smells from your leather goods by following this simple application procedure.

Things Needed:

  • Lemon
  • Microfiber Cloth
  • Warm water


Step 1: Slice one piece of lemon and squeeze it into a small bowl with a small amount of warm water.

You can sift the lemon juice so that the lemon fibers are removed.

You would want to ensure the warm water is enough to dampen the microfiber cloth about 2 to 3 times.

Also, make sure the warm water is well saturated with the lemon juice.

Step 2: Dampen the microfiber cloth with the lemon solution.

Step 3: Wring out the damp cloth and thoroughly wipe the leather surface.

You can also wipe the inner parts of the leather item if the smell has permeated the interior or linings.

Step 4: Wipe the entire surface of the leather item with a microfiber cloth dampened with water.

Step 5: Leave the leather item to dry.

Once dry, check if the fish smell still lingers. If it still does, you can try the process again one more time.

The smell should be gone in the second round of application if it doesn’t completely get rid of it the first time.

Related Question

Why Does Faux Leather Smell Like Fish? Faux leather will often smell like fish due to;

  1. Faux Leather May Smell Like Fish From The Packaging It Comes In
  2. Dyes Used To Add Color To Faux Leather Can Cause Fish Smell
  3. Faux Leather May Smell Like Fish Due To The Preservative Chemical Used During Transport
  4. Faux Leather May Have A Fish Smell From The Glue Used
  5. Faux Leather May Smell Like Fish Due To The Protective Coating On The Faux Leather
  6. Faux Leather Items Will Smell Like Fish If Kept For Long Periods During Storage

For more information on why faux leather smells like fish and some tips and hacks on how to deal with the smell, check out this article I wrote earlier.


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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