A man rolling out a large tube of aniline leather

Aniline Leather 101: What is Aniline Leather and Why Should You Care?

When you consider high-quality leathers, your mind may go to different grades of leather. Or you may think about the many reasons we’ve chosen to use Horween Leather over leather created by other companies. 


In truth, there are a variety of types of leather that are full-grain, top-grade leathers created by trained craftsman. While we always strive to use the best leather we can, different leathers are used for different tasks. 


Aniline leather is a subset of leather primarily used to produce luxury leather accessories. Although a little more pricey than some other leathers, aniline leather shines due to its supple feel and uniquely handsome appearance. 

What is aniline leather?

Aniline leather is high-quality leather made from only the finest hides. All aniline leather starts as napa leather, which is treated using aniline dyes. These dyes are where the term “aniline leather” comes from.  

Starting with napa leather

All aniline leather starts as napa leather. According to Best Leather, “napa refers to particularly soft, tanned hides from any animal.” 


Napa leather stands out from other full-grain leathers because of the distinct tanning process it undergoes. It is tanned using chromium or aluminum sulfate. These specific salts create a particularly soft leather that still has the ability to stand up to serious wear and tear. 

Transforming napa leather into aniline leather

Napa leather becomes aniline leather during the dyeing process. 


A translucent, water-soluble dye called aniline dye is put into a drum with the tanned napa leather. As the drum spins, the dyes have an opportunity to soak into the leather. 


Different parts of the leather may have different absorption rates. This leads to the unique coloring associated with aniline leather. Each of the natural pores of the animal’s hide is showcased within the dyed leather. This is one of the main reasons the leather dictionary calls aniline leather “the most natural-looking leather type.”

Why do people like aniline leather?

Like most full-grain leathers, aniline leather is a durable material that can be used to create a number of different leather goods and accessories. It has the same deep, nutty, earthen scent as other top-grade leathers. And when sourced from a good location, aniline leather can be used to design heritage-quality leather goods. 


But why would someone choose aniline leather over another full-grain leather? 


The choice comes down to two main factors: the softness of the leather and its appearance. 

Softness

Aniline leather is often used for accessories, like belts or watch straps, that need to feel soft against the wearer’s skin. 


The unique salts used to create napa leather softens the hides more than with many other full-grain leather tanning processes. The result is a buttery-smooth leather that many people will forget they’re even wearing. This is perfect for everyday carry essentials. 

Appearance

Aniline leather is famous for its natural appearance, which shows off every whirl and pore present in the hide it originally came from. When you look at a piece of aniline leather, you can see into the life of the animal it came from. It provides an deep connection between the products you use and the places they came from. 


Over time, body oils will also seep into the leather, and it will develop a rich patina. Leather purists love this all-natural appearance, rich with history and character. 

Why isn’t all leather aniline?

If aniline leather is so much better than other leathers, why isn’t all leather aniline? 


While aniline leather is great for small accessories, it may not be the best choice for larger items or items that need a uniform appearance. 

Large Leather Products

Aniline leather is not ultraviolet resistant. If you’re looking for a leather to make furniture with or to line your car with, aniline is not the way to go. Using aniline leather would give these larger products an uneven appearance that would change drastically as time wore on and the leather patina set in. 


Aniline leather also scratches easily and absorbs moisture. While this is great for full-grain leather accessories that you want to earn a bit of character over the years, it’s less great for furniture that you’re going to be sitting on daily. 

Uniformity

One of the major draws of aniline leather is that it shows off the natural imperfections of the hide it comes from. But some hides are more handsome than others. 


Companies that need their products to look the same need hides with minimal imperfections. 


For example, shoe companies need matching pairs of shoes, or no one will buy them. For these companies, the choices are to pay extra for unblemished aniline leather, or to save money by buying a lower-quality leather that removes the blemishes during the tanning process 

A pair of leather shoes made with Horween aniline leather
Some people love this look, with the swirling eddies of the original hide visible,​​ while others prefer for their shoes to be identical

How do you care for aniline leather?

Caring for aniline leather is similar to caring for any other type of leather. 


It starts with an understanding that an aniline leather patina will develop no matter how carefully you treat the leather. Embracing that patina, and the character that it brings into a leather product, is part of loving quality leather goods. 


That being said, there are choices you can make when sporting aniline leather accessories that will help it live its fullest, most handsome life.

Daily Use

Aniline leather accessories are meant to be worn. Whether you take them out occasionally or wear them on a daily basis, most everyday activities are fine for your leather products. 


Some people mistakenly believe that leather should never get wet. This isn’t entirely true. While we wouldn’t recommend swimming while wearing an aniline leather accessory, properly-treated leather can withstand a bit of rain while you’re walking to your car or a splash from a water balloon when your kids get a little rowdy. 


More important than keeping aniline leather dry all the time is giving it the space it needs to dry out when it does get wet. Never try to dry aniline leather by throwing it into a dryer or applying heat in some other way. It’s better to lay it flat and let it air-dry, even if that means going without your accessory for a day or two. 

Storage

When you’re not wearing your aniline leather accessories, you may want to pay attention to how you store them. Aniline leather can become sun-bleached. If you leave it in a bright space and don’t move it, you could find yourself with an unevenly-bleached product. 


You’re better off storing your leather products in a cool, dark, and dry location, such as inside a drawer in your bedroom. This will ensure that the elements don’t impact how your aniline leather patinas over the years. 

Cleaning

One of the things that makes aniline so special is the chemicals used in the tanning process. So the last thing you want is to undo that hard work by applying your own chemicals to aniline leather while you’re cleaning it. That’s why it’s always best to start with a water-dampened cloth. 


If you need a deeper clean for your leather products, the next step is to use a cleaning product, such as saddle soap, that is uniquely designed for leather use. 


When you’ve finished cleaning your aniline leather items, leave them to air-dry for a couple of days. Then, massage oil or leather conditioner into the hide to replenish the oils that were leached from the leather during the cleaning process. Treating the leather in this way prevents it from drying out or cracking, and protects that buttery-smooth leather texture for as long as possible. 

Which of our products use aniline leather?

At Popov Leather, we exclusively use Horween Leather for our products (and we’ve even written a whole blog post on why we love Horween Leather). Horween Leather’s chromexcel, essex leather, and shell cordovan leather are all considered aniline leathers. This means that every product you buy at Popov Leather is made from aniline leather.

Say “yes” to quality with aniline leather goods

If you’re looking for a stand-out leather for your next leather accessory, consider products made with aniline leather. This versatile, high-quality leather is perfect for men who care about both the quality and the texture of their leather products.  



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