Why Does Leather Turn Red?

why leather turns red

Leather can change to different colors from different factors. But when you search the internet there aren’t a lot of resources out there explaining why some of these peculiar color changes occur. So, I took it upon myself to work on a series of articles explaining why leather turns to certain colors. In this article, I research why leather turns red and I’m ready to share with you all I found.

So, why does leather turn red? The main reasons why a leather item will turn red can be attributed to;

  • Rust Stains Can Turn Leather Red
  • Dirt Buildup Turns Leather Red
  • How The Leather Is Color-Finished Can Turn Leather Red
  • Leather May Turn Red Because the Leather is Undyed

In the remaining parts of this episode in my series of articles on why leather changes color, I will delve into the details on why leather turns red and a couple of other helpful tips to further enhance your understanding of this topic so that you are able to find the best solution.

1. How The Leather Is Color-Finished Can Turn Leather Red

One common fact about leather is that it can be dyed and redyed. Dyeing leather gives us the opportunity to turn leather into the color of our choice.

Leather has a unique quality in terms of how porous it is and its distinctive fibrous layers that make dyes to sink deep to form a chemical bond that allows dyes to be permanent.

While dyeing is by far the best way to color your leather, there are also instances where painting or spraying the leather might be the best way to put color on leather.

But the problem with this is sometimes if the layers of the paint may have not been well placed on the leather, the top layer paint may begin to peel after a while allowing the reddish russet or mahogany natural color of the leather to show through.

Another possibility that can cause the leather to turn red when it comes to how the leather was finished is that the leather was probably predyed red and then redyed or painted another color.

Now what happens is when the top dye begins to wear out or when harsh chemicals are used in the form of cleaners and conditioners, they will strip the top dye causing the original red pre-dye to start showing through.

2. Leather May Turn Red Because It’s Undyed

There are certain colors that undyed leather will typically come in and this will usually be as a result of the tanning technique used – essentially vegetable tanned leather.

Russet is the natural color of undyed leather after tanning. And if you know your colors, russet is a type of color that looks like dark brown but with a touch of reddish-orange.

This will usually be the case when only natural tanning ingredients have been used to treat the leather.

Because these tanning ingredients are all-natural with different variations of tannin concentration, they may offer different variations of the color russet for the leather.

So depending on which variation of undyed leather you have, the leather can gradually darken to look red or lighten with constant exposure to light or cleaning too frequently to look red or mahogany in proper leather color terms.

3. Dirt Buildup Turns Leather Red

Dirt can in some instances also turns leather red. While it’s all going to be dependant on the kind and color of dirt, this is certainly one way your leather can turn red-like or brown especially if the leather has a bit of moisture on it.

The dirt from certain colors of soil can together with the moisture content on the leather act as a dye to put an undesired color on the leather.

I must stress that this will obviously come down to having some kind of red dirt or sand where the leather item(s) are often used or the environment in which the leather items are kept or stored.

For example, furniture and other unmovable leather items can be affected if the soil around them is reddish. Another example is the routes you ply with your car daily can also change the color of your leather when it comes to automobiles.

All these and more can cause dirt to stain your leather upholstery, furniture, or garments red (and essentially other different colors) over a period of time – especially if the leather item is not cleaned from time to time.

4. Rust Stains Can Turn Leather Red

One common material used together with leather is metal and in most cases, the reason why your leather may be turning red can be attributed to these metal components seeping reddish rust stains onto the leather item.

Just to put this point into perspective, you will often find metal components on leather bags, shoes, garments, furniture, sometimes wallets, among a host of other leather goods.

While some of these leather items may have large metal components others may come with very small metal hardware to either decorate the leather items or to facilitate the opening and closing of the leather article.

These metal components or hardware may come in the form of zippers, rivets, eyelets, press studs, the metal framework for furniture or car seats, domes (metal or plastic put under bags, or luggage to prevent the base of the leather from scratching), etc.

These metal components with time, as the leather comes into contact with liquids or moisture will begin to rust and turn the leather red.

  • One common reason why metals can cause the leather to turn red is that metals just with oxygen can rust and leave reddish rust stain marks on your leather.
  • Also, the metal parts of a leather item can sometimes react with the tannins in the leather and cause some discoloration on the leather.
  • The metal parts of a leather item can gradually rust and turn leather red if the leather item is often used in the rain, in highly humid environments, or around salty waters like the beach.

This is one of the numerous reasons why you don’t get leather soaking wet no matter what as the metal parts can breakdown, corrode, and cause your leather to turn reddish or something between brown and black.

This will particularly happen if the metal used for the leather item contains some amount of iron.

Some of the most common metals that will not typically rust would include aluminum, certain grades of stainless steel, and galvanized steel.

So if you’re a leather crafter, these are the type of metal hardware you should be using for the leather goods you make and if you’re a consumer, the metals mentioned above should be what you need to be considering when buying leather goods.

Apart from the above, general stains from things like permanent markers, red cabbage juice, and other types of juice, wine, etc can all cause the appearance of a red stain on leather.

How To Remove Rust Stains On Leather


Leather discoloration is no fun that’s why we always need to take a little bit of caution when using our leather goods. In this article, I discussed four reasons why leather turns red.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the reasons why your leather may be turning red but this article offers you a good starting point to find the possible reasons as to how and why leather turns red.

In most cases, your leather may be changing to a certain color due to your perculiar environment, lifestyle, and how you use your leather items.

So while there are some general reasons why leather may turn red, chances are the reason why your leather is turning red can be unique to you and you alone.

I hope this article was helpful to you. Thanks for sticking around! Feel free to check out my related articles linked below!

Related Articles

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  3. Why Does Leather Turn White? (Plus Simple Ways To Fix It)
  4. 3 Ways Leather Turns Brass Green (Plus 2 Simple Home Remedies)
  5. Why Does Leather Turn Blue?
  6. 5 Reasons Leather Turns Black & Guide On How To Prevent Each


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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