There are two main ways genuine leather is tanned and that is chemically, also known as chrome tanning, and vegetable tanning. A lot of people write to us about vegetable tanning vs. chemical tanning so this blog talks about these 2 different processes and their advantages and disadvantages. It is important to know how the real leather you buy is treated and tanned. People with sensitivities to chemicals should pay special attention to the tanning process of natural leather so as to protect themselves. All of our handmade leathers products and apparel are chemically tanned, but we thought we'd let our readers know about the differences between the two different processes.

About Leather

Genuine leather is such a beautiful and diverse product. Its character and beauty tends to grow with age. Real leather is widely used in clothing and accessories. It can be strong and durable, yet soft and flexible making it an ideal material for many products and apparel. It stretches and moulds to the curves of your skin making it one of the most comfortable materials to wear against your bare skin. Desirable to many, natural leather even has an earthy smell which reminds its wearers how close they are to nature when they wear something made of it.

Genuine leather has been around for millenniums. Way before synthetic materials were invented, people wore handmade leather for clothing and footwear. Soft leather has to go through a multi-step process before it can be used for clothing and apparel. Real leather is made from the skin of a dead animal through a process called tanning. This process requires skilled tanners and dates back close to 5000 years ago when making high quality leather material was first discovered. Most traditional leathers are taken from cow, calf, or buffalo as well as sheep, deer and elk.

Tanning Process

The purpose in tanning animal skin is to alter the protein structure of the skin. This stops the decaying process and converts the animal skin into a genuine leather material that can be used to make apparel or accessories. The tanning process starts with a good animal skin, such as an animal that has been raised domestically. The animal skin is first cured by various methods such as salting, drying, or smoking. Then any additional hair or flesh is removed from the skin. There are other procedures that follow such as liming and washing before the real leather is ready for tanning.

Chemical Tanning

Chrome tanning is when the raw leather is soaked in a solution of metal chromium. Approximately 80% of animal hides are tanned using this method. Using the same technique with slight variation can cause the leather to be suited for a wide range of uses.

Chrome tanned leather is more water resistant than vegetable tanned leather. It is typically soft and feels nice to the touch. Real leather that has been chemically tanned can come in a variety of colors and these colors won't fade over time. Chrome tanned leather also reacts better when in contact with heat.

Chrome tanned leather is not as breathable as vegetable tanned leather. Unfortunately chrome tanning is dependent on using a chemical which is harsh on the environment. It is better to buy natural leather that has been tanned domestically to make sure that damage to the environment is minimal and to ensure that the proper laws, that protect the environment, are being followed.

Vegetable Tanning

Vegetable tanning is a much older method and like the name suggests, it uses natural products such as oak, bark, birch, pine and other natural materials during the soaking process. The animal skins are soaked in a series of gentle vegetable liquors. Very few tanneries in the world still produce genuine leather that use straight vegetable tanning. Vegetable tanned leathers all look different so there isn't the same consistency across the board using this process. There is always a slight difference in the hue of vegetable tanned leather which results in rich, warm tones, that all look completely natural.

One of the great things about vegetable tanned leathers is that it is all natural with no added synthetic compounds, no potentially cancer causing dyes or other artificial substances. People with certain sensitivities may be better off wearing vegetable tanned leathers as natural leathers processed this way are more hypoallergenic. Vegetable tanned leathers are generally thicker but still pliable enough to allow the leather to stretch, mould and breathe.

Some disadvantages to vegetable tanned leather is that it can crack or shrink when in contact with direct heat. Also, soft leather tanned this way tends to be more expensive. Vegetable tanned leather comes in a limited amount of more earthy colors so there are not as many options for clothing or accessories. This process of tanning leather is also less water resistant so it is more likely to show water stains and absorb water while wearing it.

Here is a handy comparison chart from

Also Consider ...

There is a combination tanning process that uses both the chrome and vegetable tanning procedure. It starts with the chrome tanning and then a second process which involves re-tanning with vegetable liquors. This method allows manufacturers the ability to benefit from the results of both procedures. It combines the soft and durable properties of the chrome tanned leather with the flexibility and thickness of the vegetable tanned leather. Genuine leather tanned this way is known to both flexibly mould to your skin and feel great to the touch. However keep in mind that this process is more time consuming to the manufacture and requires more resources, so as a result it may cause the leather product you are purchasing to cost more.

Concluding Thoughts

Both vegetable and chrome tanning techniques can produce high quality leathers however both require time and attention to detail. If a tanner rushes the process the vegetable tanned leather can crack and peel while the chrome tanned leather can become cheap and fake feeling.

Visit Moccasins Canada or Leather Moccasins to find a large selection of real leather women's and men's moccasin shoes and slippers as well a genuine leather bags and sheepskin hats and mittens. All of our products are handmade in Canada by with excellent craftsmanship and the leather is from North American tanneries located in Canada and the USA. We have great product descriptions and helpful pictures so you can see every detail in the footwear and apparel we offer. Visit us online to take a look at our men's and women's genuine leather moccasins, today!


  • The Brown Bear

    The Brown Bear

    June 16, 2022

    In response to Rick: This type of leather is not common, and is hard to find; vegetable tanning produces an uneven color and does not last as long as other types of tanning.

  • Rick Knox

    Rick Knox

    June 16, 2022

    I am trying to find some Vegatable tanned mens moccasin square toe boots. Thank you,Rick Knox

  • Cassie Jones

    Cassie Jones

    October 23, 2019

    Great information. Thank you!

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