What Is the Difference Between Leather & Suede?

    by Dan Antony

    About the Author

    Dan Antony began his career in the sciences (biotech and materials science) before moving on to business and technology, including a stint as the international marketing manager of an ERP provider. His writing experience includes books on project management, engineering and construction, and the "Internet of Things."


    Suede is a leather finish, rather than a distinct type of leather. You might call suede the “inside out” leather, because its surface is the inside of the hide, not the epidermis.


    Any type of hide can be made into suede. Cowhide is the most common source, and most suede upholstery is usually cowhide. Deerskin, pigskin, goatskin, and sheepskin suedes are also widely available.


    Manufacturers typically split a hide, removing the grain in one large, thin layer. They then grind down the flesh side with an emery wheel to a consistent thickness and finish, called the nap.


    Nubuck resembles suede, but it is manufactured by roughening the grain side of the leather. One common use is for work boots. Nubuck gives them a suede-like texture with the durability of a stronger leather.


    Suede is more “high-maintenance” than smooth grain-side leathers. It shows stains easily, its nap wears off and it cannot be oiled as smooth leathers can. Oil simply stains suede and ruins the nap. To clean it, you must purchase cleaners and conditioners specifically intended for suede. They typically contain organic compounds, but not oils.