What is Cowhide Leather?

Cowhide refers to the skin on a cow, which is natural and unbleached, covered beneath the hair of the bovine creature. This retains the original colors of the animal, ranging from black, white and yellow.

Widely used due to its availability and affordability, Known for its toughness, longevity, and comfort, cowhide leather is used in a variety of products including shoes, wallets, jackets, furniture, and car interiors.

It can also be processed into ‘hair-on’ leather, which retains the fur and can be dyed or printed for different designs.

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what is leather made of?

leather can be crafted from the hides of almost any animal, encompassing bovines, swine, sheep, goats, and crocodiles, among others. However, the most prevalent type of leather originates from cowhide.

Leather is produced from cowhide through a sequence of chemical treatments, mechanical processes, and decorative enhancements.

Selection of Cowhide Leather Material

To ensure the quality of the cowhide, manufacturers must select hides that boast firm flesh and a thicker coat of fur.

Processing of Cowhide Leather

Subsequent to this, the cowhide undergoes various procedures such as washing and soaking, to eliminate any residual, unnecessary substances like fats and blood.

Depilation treatment is carried out on the cowhide, typically utilizing chemical agents or other methods. Although chemical agents can swiftly remove the hair on the hide, they may potentially pollute the environment; other methods, albeit crude, are more environmentally friendly.

Processing of Cowhide Leather

This mainly involves removing incomplete portions from the hide, separating the subcutaneous fat and meat layer, leveling the leather, and so forth. These operations can be mechanized.

Beyond this, further steps such as dyeing, finishing, and drying are needed to enhance its aesthetic appeal and its resistance to water and moisture. These processing stages necessitate meticulous control over factors such as temperature and humidity, in order to ensure the quality of the product.

Cowhide leather is manufactured through several stages of processing and treatment. Every stage necessitates strict control over various parameters to produce a product of superior quality.

Types and Grades Of Cowhide Leather

Cowhide leather, the most commonly used leather worldwide, is known for its durability, versatility, and high-quality finish. It is categorized into different types and grades based on the area of the cow from which the hide is sourced and the processing methods applied.

1. Full Grain Leather

This is the highest quality of cowhide leather. It’s sourced from the top layer of the hide, including all the grain, hence the name. Full Grain Leather exhibits the natural markings and imperfections of the hide, making each piece unique. It’s highly durable and ages beautifully.

2. Top Grain Leather

Top Grain Leather is the second-highest grade, sourced from the top back portion of the cow. The hide’s surface is sanded to remove imperfections, resulting in a more uniform appearance than full grain. Top Grain Leather is more flexible and easier to work with, but not as durable as Full Grain.

3. Genuine Leather

Also known as ‘corrected grain’ leather, Genuine Leather is made from the remaining layers of the hide after the top is split off for the higher grades. It’s often treated, pigmented, and embossed to improve its appearance.

4. Split Leather

Split Leather is derived from the lower layers of the hide that are left after the top layers are split off. It lacks the natural grains and is less durable but is cheaper than higher grades.

5. Bonded Leather

The lowest grade of leather, Bonded Leather, is made by bonding together scraps of hide with adhesive. It’s less durable and doesn’t age well, but it’s the most affordable type of leather.

In addition to these grades, different finishing techniques contribute to the final product’s quality and appearance. These include:

  • Aniline Leather: This leather is dyed using soluble dyes without covering the surface with a topcoat paint or insoluble pigments. It allows the leather to retain its natural surface with the ‘grain’ like the skin of an animal.
  • Semi-Aniline Leather: This leather is dyed in the drum to achieve uniform color. Then a small amount of pigment is applied to the surface to improve its durability without eliminating the natural ‘grains’ of the leather.
  • Nubuck Leather: This is top-grain cattle leather that has been sanded or buffed on the grain side to give a slight nap of short protein fibers, producing a velvet-like surface.

Understanding the different types and grades of cowhide leather can help you make informed decisions when purchasing leather products.

What are the Pros & Cons of cowhide leather?

Pros of Cowhide Leather:

1. Versatility: Cowhide leather is versatile and can be used in a variety of products such as shoes, clothes, upholstery, and accessories

2. Durability: Known for its elasticity and durability, cowhide leather products can withstand wear and tear over time

3. Variety: It comes in different types including bovine, buffalo, real cowhide, and bison, each with unique properties

4. Resilience: Hair-on cowhide leather is more water-resistant because the hair on the surface acts as a barrier. It can also be cleaned aggressively with various soaps and water, making it easily maintained.

5. Comfort: Despite its toughness, cowhide leather is flexible and becomes more comfortable with use.

Cons of Cowhide Leather:

1. Breathability: Cowhide leather is not as breathable as genuine leather, which means it can cause skin irritation.

2. Care: Despite its benefits, cowhide leather requires regular care to maintain its quality and appearance.

3. Cost: Some types of cowhide leather can be expensive.

4. Special Techniques: Hair-on cowhide leather may require alternative techniques for its processing and care.

5.Ethical Concerns: Some consumers may have ethical concerns about using animal products. While leather is a byproduct of the meat industry, these concerns can still influence purchasing decisions.

6.Limited Colors: Unlike synthetic materials, cowhide leather comes in a limited range of natural colors. Although it can be dyed, the process may affect the leather’s texture and durability.

Uses of Cow Leather – Popular Leather Products

Cowhide leather is a versatile material that is used in a wide range of products due to its durability, resilience, and aesthetic appeal. Here are some of the most popular cowhide leather products:

Fashion Accessories: Cowhide leather is widely used in fashion accessories such as belts, wallets, and handbags. The durability and style of cowhide make it an ideal material for these items.

Footwear: From casual shoes to formal boots, cow leather is a preferred choice due to its durability and comfort.

Furniture: Cow leather is also used in the upholstery of furniture, including sofas, chairs, and ottomans. It offers a rich, luxurious look and can withstand daily wear and tear.

Clothing: Leather jackets, pants, and skirts made from cowhide are popular due to their stylish appeal and longevity.

Automobile Interiors: The interiors of luxury cars often feature cowhide leather upholstery due to its feel, durability, and the luxury vibe it lends.

Kinnls chair

Bookbinding: Some high-end or vintage books use cow leather in their binding for a classic, timeless appeal.

Musical Instruments: Drum heads and some wind instruments use cowhide leather due to its resilient nature.

Sporting Goods: Cowhide leather is used in sports goods like baseball gloves, boxing gloves, and balls due to its durability and flexibility.

Jewelry: Cowhide leather is also used to create unique, rustic pieces of jewelry.

It’s important to note that while cowhide leather products are durable and stylish, they require regular care to ensure they remain in good condition.

What is the Difference Between Cowhide Leather and Other Types of Leather

Cowhide leather differs from other types of leather in several ways.

For one, cowhide leather is made from the natural and unbleached skin and hair of a cow, which is transformed into leather through a tanning process.

This makes it much stronger and less flexible compared to other types of leather like sheepskin, goatskin, and lambskin.

However, it is heavier and has better insulation properties.

Furthermore, cowhide leather is the most common and readily available type of leather, a byproduct of the beef industry. It can be easily stamped and colored to imitate other leathers.

This versatility makes it ideal for a wide range of products, from shoes and wallets to furniture and auto upholstery.

In contrast, other types of leather such as sheepskin, goatskin, and lambskin, while also real and genuine, may not offer the same level of durability or versatility as cowhide leather. They may also be more costly and less readily available.

Let us distinguish between cowhide and other types of leather, namely genuine leather, sheepskin and pigskin.

Genuine Leather:

Genuine leather is made by chemically treating the peeled skin of an animal. In contrast, faux leather (primarily PU and PVC) is manufactured by chemically treating synthetic fabric. The difference between the two lies in the raw materials used.


Goat leather has a more robust fibrous structure and excellent softness and elasticity.

It is similar to cowhide but thinner, with clear, delicate surface textures, providing a strong sense of authenticity.

Sheepskin, while similar to goat leather, has a larger number of sweat and sebaceous glands in its hair bundles. The resulting product is particularly soft with significant extensibility, feeling velvety to the touch.

However, its strength is lower and it is prone to decay, making it suitable only for leather garments and gloves, but not for shoes and handbags.


Pigskin has superior breathability and moisture absorption compared to cowhide because the pig’s bristles penetrate from the surface to the inner layer of the skin.

However, the large pores form a “品” shape, and the leather texture is rough, making it less aesthetically pleasing than cowhide. It requires further processing to rectify these shortcomings.

How to Spot Fake Leather?

Conduct a Combustion Test

The simplest and most direct method is to ignite it. The odor produced upon burning leather is somewhat similar to that of singed hair. After burning, it can be crumbled into powder with your fingers. In contrast, synthetic leather emanates an acrid scent when set alight, forming lumps post combustion.

Visual Examination

Primarily, visual inspection is used to distinguish the type of leather and its grain. Upon close observation, one can note that the surface of the leather has conspicuous pores and patterns.

Furthermore, the reverse side of synthetic leather has a layer of fabric serving as its base, aimed to enhance its tensile strength, while genuine leather does not possess this layer. This method of identification is the most practical and straightforward.

Texture Analysis

Upon touching the surface of the leather, if it feels smooth, soft, plump, and elastic, it is genuine. Synthetic leather feels like plastic and has poor resilience. When it is bent, the thickness of the wrinkles is similar.

Cowhide possesses a certain thickness and firmness, characterized by minute pores that are densely and evenly distributed, a full-grain surface, and a stronger hide than other leathers, with a robust and springy hand feel.

Olfactory Test

Natural leather has a strong fur scent. Even after processing, the scent remains quite obvious while synthetic leather products have a plastic smell, devoid of any fur scent.

Label Verification

The best initial method to determine whether a product is made of real leather is to check the label. If you see the words “synthetic” or “polyester” on the label, it signifies that the product is not made from genuine leather.

spot leather

How do you maintain and cleaning cowhide leather?

Maintaining and cleaning cowhide leather involves several steps.

First, regular dusting or vacuuming can help to remove loose debris and dust.

When ironing cowhide leather, always place a wet cloth between the hide and the iron to steam the leather, but ensure you do not soak the hide.

For cleaning, avoid using harsh chemicals and abrasive tools that could potentially damage the leather.

Instead, for minor stains, use a blend of water and mild detergent.

For grease stains, scrape off the grease gently and apply a minimal amount of eucalyptus oil on the stain.

Avoid exposing the leather to direct heat, sunlight, and high temperatures as it can cause the leather to dry out and crack.

Finally, conditioning the leather at regular intervals can help maintain its look and feel. If a stubborn stain persists despite your efforts, seek professional cleaning.

Remember, cowhide leather should not be exposed to dampness and high temperatures, and it’s necessary to follow these do’s and don’ts for maintaining the quality and longevity of your cowhide leather.

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One thought on “What is Cowhide Leather? Everything You Need to Know

  1. Danny Herns says:

    I bought a chair from you advertised as full grain genuine leather. What I received it fake plastic material. I demand a refund of my $1,300.00.

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