Everything About Vegetable Tanned Leather


What is Vegetable Tanned Leather

Vegetable tanned leather refers to leather that has been tanned using natural materials, typically including components like tree bark. This process is known as 'vegetable tanning,' or simply 'tanning,' and is one of the oldest leather processing techniques still in use today. The term 'vegetable' in this context signifies the use of natural, plant-based compounds in the tanning process. Despite its historical significance and unique qualities, currently, less than 10% of all leather is tanned using this method.

What sets vegetable tanned leather apart is its thickness, robust body, and distinct character, making it particularly suitable for crafting high-quality leather bags. Another notable feature of vegetable-tanned leather is its ability to age gracefully, developing a rich and attractive patina. Additionally, this type of leather retains a natural leather smell, which is often highly appreciated by leather enthusiasts.


What does "veg tan" mean?

Veg tan' refers to vegetable tanning, a specific method of turning animal hides into leather using vegetable-derived materials. This process is distinct from other tanning methods, such as chrome tanning, and is known for its artisanal approach. In vegetable tanning, oils and waxes from plant sources are applied to rawhide or animal skins, resulting in a smooth, supple finish. The process begins with the removal of hair from the skin's surface, often using a water or saltwater solution known as 'pickle.'

The vegetable tanning process is intricate and starts immediately after the animal is slaughtered. Fresh hides are brought to a tannery's beam house, where they undergo initial preparation. This preparation includes steps such as soaking, liming, fleshing, and delimbing. Pre-tanning involves salting the skin to inhibit bacterial growth. Soaking then cleans the hides, removing excess salt, blood, and impurities. The file stage is crucial for improving hair removal and preparing the collagen for proper tanning.

This method produces vegetable-tanned leather, renowned for its unique qualities due to the traditional and artisanal manufacturing process. Vegetable-tanned leather is appreciated for its natural finish and the distinct character it develops over time.

What makes vegetable tanning so special?

What makes it special? To find out, let's consider vegetable browning in more detail. Using organic materials and wood from trees as natural sources of tannin makes it possible to produce vegetable leather. The most popular natural tanning substances are made from oak and walnut wood.

Depending on the concentration of the tree bark solution, different tree barks give a different appearance to the animal during the tanning process. The tanning agent is buried under the skin. The method is designed to remove moisture from leather. After this tanning process, it will become more resistant to water and bacteria.

As a result of this process, the leather becomes soft and flexible. It can take 54-70 days for the vegetable browns to develop fully. Vegetable tanning makes it possible to obtain leather products of excellent quality without hair or grease residues. The time it took to produce vegan leather led to the development of chrome-tanned leather.

Vegetable Tanning Process

The vegetable tanning process is a traditional leather-making method that employs natural tannins from organic materials such as tree bark. The process begins with preparing the hide, where hair or wool is removed using chemicals. Lime treatment follows to open the fibers and remove any unwanted material. This step is crucial for removing hair roots and altering the hide's elasticity. Physical methods are used to remove meat, and thicker skins are split to achieve the desired thickness.

In historical vegetable tanning, tannin concentration varied in different pits. Modern tanners use drum and pit systems to expedite the tanning process. The leather is immersed in tanning solutions, with the initial contact being light and less concentrated to prevent 'cooking' the surface. The skins are typically moved through a series of wells in a counter-current system, progressing from weak to strong tannin solutions.

After tanning, the leather undergoes curing or pickling to stabilize the tannins. It's essential to roll the leather when it's wet and slightly dry to manage its elasticity. The hides are then dried, often in a controlled environment with air circulation. Rolling the leather hardens it, while the drying process softens it. Different types of leather, like sole leather, require heavy laminating machines due to their need for strong, dense characteristics.

Vegetable-tanned leather is valued for its traditional manufacturing process and the unique qualities it imparts to the leather, such as increased body and character, making it ideal for a wide range of leather goods.

Why is vegetable-tanned leather mainly used?

Vegetable-tanned leather has durability and beauty that only a handmade product can maintain, even though chrome or chrome-tanned leather is cheaper to produce and the colors last longer.

Leather, often chrome-tanned, has an acrylic varnish applied to the edges causing it to peel, crack and split after only a few years. Also, chromium is a heavy metal that is extremely toxic to the environment and the workers who handle it. Vegetable-tanned leather products soften and acquire a patina as they age, thanks to the long and slow traditional methods of preparing the hides.

The longer you use vegetable-tanned leather saddles, belts, wallets, notebook covers, backpacks, shoes, and handbags, the more comfortable they will be. The ends of the vegetable-tanned leather are burnished or turned, making them durable enough to last many years. Typically, this type of leather is initially stiff but becomes softer with time and use.

Additionally, vegetable-tanned leather has a distinctive "leathery" smell compared to the typical chemical smell of chrome-tanned products. The rich, woody, and aromatic aroma is present. Its character is enhanced by the ease with which the original fibers of the animal's skin can be seen. A piece of leather that has been tanned is truly one of a kind. Finally, because it is an artisanal process, vegetable tanning produces some of the most resistant and flexible leather.

It is used where toughness can be beneficial, such as in saddles, holsters, wallets, journals, travel journals, and handbags, as it is a much less flexible product than the leather retained by chrome. Vegetable-tanned leather is more expensive than chrome leather because the tanning process is very traditional. It is usually used for expensive handmade leather products. But because it becomes incredibly soft and malleable, many manufacturers use it to make durable goods like shoes, bags, belts, and clothing.

Although this tanning technique consumes a lot of water, it is not as harmful to the environment as chrome tanning. The vegetable tanning process also uses less machinery and, therefore, less energy.

Characteristics of Vegetable Tanning

One of the oldest leather tanning techniques is vegetable tanning, which involves turning an animal's raw hide into a product that retains many of its original properties using only tannins, which are only found in nature. These are known substances (especially in the bark of certain trees). It is from this complex transformation process that what is known as "vegetable tanned leather" is produced.

Using natural ingredients, vegetable tanning is a natural process that respects the environment and the animal while giving unique leather properties. Additionally, the leather is not modified or aggressively handled during this process. Finally, the raw hides used for tanning are made from recycled materials as they come from cows and sheep raised for subsistence and not for their hides.

This characteristic indicates that no animals are sacrificed for the tanning process. Thanks to all these factors, vegetable-tanned leathers not only do not contain harmful toxins for humans and the environment but are generally well accepted by people allergic to heavy metals.

History of Vegetable Tanning

Although the Middle Ages saw the greatest advances in vegetable tanning, by the end of the 19th century, almost all leather was produced using this method. Some natural tanning techniques date back 2,000 years.

The method uses water and a group of tanning agents called tannins, found in the bark of various plants, including oak, birch, chestnut, and acacia. Vegetable tanning used to be a very slow process, requiring hides to be stretched on a loom and immersed in a solution of water and tree bark for one to three months, with the condition of the tanning checked frequently.

Additionally, this type of leather could have been more flexible and was commonly used for belts, purses, and shoes. The secrets of this invaluable artisanal process have been carefully passed down from generation to generation by skilled tanners. Today, the process is a perfect combination of traditional methods and advanced technologies.

Vegetable tanning was done in vats (slow tanning in vats) and lasted about 30 days. Softer leather can now be obtained, and the tanning time, which currently fluctuates between 36 and 48 hours, can be reduced by the so-called rapid tanning method, mainly used on drums.

Benefits of Vegetable Tanning

The main benefits of vegetable tanning are:


  • Each skin is unique and irreplaceable, differentiating itself from others by these aspects.
  • It is safe for those with sensitivities.
  • a characteristic and recognizable odor
  • It's easily customizable using various methods, including engraving, printing, color, and more.
  • You can achieve a dense layer of up to 6 millimeters, which is impossible with other tanning methods.
  • The epidermis is stronger and more durable and tends to improve over time rather than with age.
  • It is environmentally sound.
  • higher cost than alternative treatments
  • The end customer sees greater value

Chrome Vs. Vegetable Tanning for Leather:

Today, many different staining techniques are used. The oldest and most complex process is vegetable tanning. The oldest known technique for tanning leather is vegetable tanning, which dates to around 6000 BC.

Although hundreds of different species of trees and other flora have been used, the tannins of trees such as oak, chestnut, or mimosa are best known. Minerals such as chromium sulfate were developed in the middle of the 18th century and are used in modern rapid tanning techniques (also called chrome tanning.

The collagen matrix must be cross-linked to prevent putrefaction and subsequent degradation, which is essentially the same idea. It is accomplished by binding the chromium salt to collagen proteins and cross-linking between them to form a stable chromium-protein complex. The process involves "washing" the leather in large rotating drums with chromium salts.

Chrome tanning can be accomplished in less than a day, is much faster than vegetable tanning, and generally results in supple leather that reacts well to water and lasts much of its "life." Due to its benefits and product effectiveness, chrome tanning accounts for approximately 80% of all leather produced globally, making it a low-cost means of leather production. However, the use of heavy metal materials often causes more harm to the environment.

How to identify brown vegetable leather?

Nothing could be easier than that; bring:


  • Thin Strip of Leather
  • Cigar
  • An Unfinished Piece of Paper
  • Amount of Liquid
  • Revenge

Once you have all these materials, start burning your leather with a small flame. Remove the flame once the leather begins to burn (producing black ash) and slowly breaks down. Collect the embers and spread them on a sheet of white paper using a cookie cutter.

Small dark chips indicate that the leather is vegetable. Vegetable tannins are responsible for the brown color. If your tip turns green, your leather is mineral tanned; the chrome used in mineral tanning gives the leather its green color.

If you don't see either of these important colors, we suggest rubbing your burnt leather on white paper to let the ash settle and moisten it slightly. The wet ash would enhance the brown color of vegetable-tanned leather or the green color of chrome used in mineral tanning.

What is vegetable-tanned leather made of?

Leather made from fir and oak bark is called vegetable leather. Quebracho, tara pods, olive leaves, rhubarb stalks, and mimosa are typical. Hides and skins are thrown into a pit with these materials. The leather is called vegetable-tanned leather because these polyphenols come from plants.

Vegetable tanning is a process that consists of six main steps:


  • Treatment

Animal hides are salted to kill rot-causing bacteria.


  • Liming

Lime milk is used to soak the hides and remove traces of hair and grease. 


  • D-liming

By immersing each skin in a different chemical solution, the pH level of each skin is lowered.


  • Tanning

For 30 to 60 days, the hides are transferred between several barrels, each filled with tanning solutions of different concentrations.


  • The Drying

After being removed from the barrels, the skins are dried for two to four days.


  • Treatment

The finished leather is stretched, measured, oiled, and cut. Different finishing processes can also be used depending on the use of the leather.

Where can I buy vegetable-tanned leather?

This leather is available for purchase locally and online. You can buy it where you will pay a reasonable amount. However, it is recommended to buy it privately after carefully checking it with your own hands.

How to care for vegetable tanned leather


  • Try not to get your leather wet.

Vegetable-tanned leather should never be handled roughly, and water should never come into contact with it. Regularly applying a protective spray will help maintain the finish of your leather products.


  • Keep heat away from your leather.

The two most common ways leather is damaged are direct exposure to sunlight and fire. Please note that vegetable-tanned leather is a special type of leather that requires special care to resist water damage and sun exposure. (avoid boiling the water).


  • Avoid using brushes with artificial bristles.

Proper care of leather is important to maintain its appearance and prevent damage. Instead of synthetic brushes, it is better to use brushes with natural bristles as they will not damage the underlying vegetable tan layer of the skin.


  • Never air-dry leather.

Caring for leather is essential because it is a beautiful and expensive material. Using a low heat setting in the dryer is one of the biggest mistakes people make when cleaning leather. It causes the leather to lose its color, shrink and tear.

Wrapping it up

Vegetable-tanned leather is a very rare and expensive leather. Only rich people use this type of leather product. In the above article, we shared some useful information about vegetable-tanned leather. If you are new to this type of leather, this article is for you. This article will tell you everything about vegetable tanned leather.

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