Because of current manufacturing techniques, it is often difficult to tell whether a piece of furniture is covered in leather or vinyl. Many furniture manufacturers today use both materials in their upholstery of furniture, which reduces their costs and yours. Try a few simple techniques to tell the difference between vinyl and leather furniture, some of which require only your senses in the investigation.
Place your hand on the material for several seconds.
Wait to see if the material becomes warm with your touch.
Remove your hand and feel the fabric. Leather will not become warm, while vinyl will.
Feel the surface of older furniture. Over time leather becomes softer and vinyl retains its hardness.
Find a location on the furniture where you can look at the back of the material.
Note whether the back of the material has a woven appearance or a suede-like finish.
Run your hand across the back of the material to be certain of the type of finish. Leather will have the suede-type finish and vinyl will have the woven-type finish on the back.
Check for tags or labels. Depending on the age of the furniture, there may be manufacturer's tags or labels that specify what materials were used in the upholstery.
Smell the furniture. This may sound odd, but smell the piece of furniture at points where the covering is tucked back, such as where the arms of a couch and its main backrest meet.
Note if there is an absence of smell. Vinyl has no smell.
Note if there is a strong leather aroma. If there is, you have leather furniture instead of vinyl.
In the modern furniture market a wide variety of leathers and leather-like materials are used. Most of these begin with the use of actual leather and are combined with other materials to reduce costs. Over time the wear on vinyl will show because of its ability to tear easily, show punctures or visibly become worn out. Leather will merely soften with time and retain its strength; it is less likely to show signs of damage because it is more resistant to tears and/or age related imperfections.