Leather has been helpful for various applications over the years, following a thorough refining done for increased attractiveness. Genuine leather is sourced from animal hides and treated through “tanning.” So, you can guess now that tanning accomplished in different ways also adds to the number of leather types.
Nevertheless, chrome-tanned leather is a popular choice, favored for its resistance to heat and stain. Whether you are a leather enthusiast or keen on getting a chrome-tanned leather bag, jacket, or other items, it would help to know more about this kind of leather.
So, this article explains all you should know about chrome-tanned leather, its tanning process, and potential advantages and disadvantages. And this piece further reveals some intriguing care tips for such leather pieces.
What Is Chrome-Tanned Leather
Chrome-tanned leather is a soft and pliable leather that goes through chromium tanning. This leather tanning method substitutes natural plant extracts (as in the case of vegetable-tanned leather) for some chemical solutions.
The tanning process for leather hides is necessary for treating the animal skin and preventing microbial growth that would cause rot. Impressively, chrome-tanned leather helps make several products and comes in various colors.
You can find chrome-tanned leather in abundance, as they are made in large quantities. Some characteristics of chrome-tanned leather include its suppleness and chemical smell. Also, the uniformity of this leather type remains for an extended period, meaning the leather color rarely changes. Hence, the leather surface does not develop or reveal a patina quickly.
Chrome-tanned Leather Explained
You should know that the two most famous tanning methods are based on the solution employed in the process. These tanning processes are vegetable tanning and chrome tanning. While the former is the oldest method and employs plant-based extracts, chrome tanning is employed for over 75% of the leather items manufactured today.
Before working with chrome-tanned leather, it would be best to understand its tanning process. With that in mind, the basic things involved in leather tanning include:
Getting the Leather Hide
The first and most crucial step for all tanning processes is sourcing the leather hide. Leather hides often come from the skin of different animals, primarily cows and sheep. Once the animal gets slaughtered, the hide is removed by a machine’s aid.
The raw animal hide is usually taken to the tannery, where the hair gets removed. This process involves soaking the animal skin in a chemical solution for roughly 24 hours before removing the hair with a knife or metal tool.
Recently, the industry has used specific machines that effectively remove the hair and bits of fats and flesh attached to the hide. Although the removed hairs often get discarded, some advanced tanneries now put them to good use for making biofuel.
Rinsing the Hide
The rinsing lowers the pH of the leather hide and prepares it for proper tanning. Here, a solution gets sprayed across the hide, and the tanners place the treated hides in wooden barrels. The barrels get rotated frequently for the next two days before the leather is removed.
However, chrome tanners often skip these pre-tanning processes, as they get pre-treated animal skins. These skins now have a distinctive bluish tinge, following their previous immersion in the chemical solution.
Now, for the proper chrome tanning, the hide is treated with chromium salts – this removes the water molecules within the skin’s collagen. Chrome tanners would leave the hides in acidic drums, fully immersed in the chemical solution.
The primary reason most tanners use chromium salts is their ability to speed up the tanning process. Chromium tanning could be done within a day.
Is chrome-tanned leather toxic? The chemicals used for chrome tanning can be hazardous, mainly when it contaminates water systems and cause severe environmental issues. However, no report of problem result from ready-made chrome leather items harming the skin is visible yet.
History of Chrome-tanned Leather
Chrome-tanned leather is traced back to the mid-19th century. Vegetable tanning was the most popular refining method for leather hides until the 1800s when there were some developments and the introduction of salt tanning. So, chrome-tanned leather wasn’t in the picture until the chrome tanning invention in 1858.
Friedrich Knapp, a German technologist and a Swedish, Hylten Cavalin, masterminded chrome tanning. But you should know that the first patented chrome tanning procedure is accredited to Augustus Schultz, an American Chemist. From then onwards, this tanning method became widely adopted across the world.
Chrome-tanned Leather Products
Chrome-tanned leather is mainly used for making various clothing and accessories, upholstery, and some footwear that require less structural toughness and stiffness. Thus, some of the famous chrome-tanned leather products include:
- Car seat upholstery
Pros of Chrome-tanned Leather
Chrome-tanned leather is alluring and soft; the leather gets suppler as it ages. One of the significant merits of this type of leather is its cost, which is lesser compared to the cost of vegetable-tanned leather. You can attribute this lesser cost of chrome-tanned leather to its quick tanning process.
When faced with chrome-tanned leather vs. vegetable-tanned leather comparison, you must know that modern chrome tanning is very fast and doesn’t exceed a day. However, vegetable tanning takes longer (up to two months).
Chrome-tanned leather has its color unchanged for an extended period, which is excellent for applications requiring color uniformity. Furthermore, this type of leather is resistant to stains, moisture, and heat.
Cons Chrome-tanned Leather
While many leather experts praise chromed leather, it has a few flaws. The first is the adverse environmental impact of the tanning process, especially the toxic wastewater. This issue is quite damning across developing countries, and such pollution often leads to several health concerns.
Can you stamp chrome-tanned leather? No! If you seek leather for stamping and patterning, then you should avoid chrome-tanned leather. It is unsuitable for tooling due to its nature. Finally, chrome-tanned leather loses its appearance and does not wear properly after a while.
How to Care For Chrome-tanned Leather
Leather requires a certain level of care to help maintain its appearance and make it long-lasting. Thus, learning how to care for your chrome-tanned leather wallet, purses, gloves, and similar products is crucial.
You should know essential things about chrome-tanned leather care, including proper cleaning, conditioning, and storage. Be sure to use suitable cleaning supplies and condition the leather afterward to retain its shine. Also, such leather items need a cool, less-humid, or dry place for storage.
How to Clean Chrome-tanned Leather
Generally, cleaning chrome-tanned leather requires less effort than cleaning vegetable-tanned leather. The nature of chrome-tanned leather makes it stain-resistant, and a wipe with a damp cloth could be all you need. Nevertheless, you may need a thorough cleaning, and here are some supplies you should get.
- Leather cleaner or mild soap
- A bowl
- Clean and soft cloth
- Leather conditioner
- Moisture and stain-repellent spray
Once you have these supplies, kindly follow the steps below to clean your chrome-tanned leather.
- Mix equal parts of mild dishwashing soap or leather cleaner and water in a bowl, and wet a clean cloth with the solution.
- Wring out the excess moisture to make the cloth damp.
- In small circular motions, wipe the surface of the leather piece to remove dust, dirt, and debris.
- Now, let the chrome-tanned leather dry; place it on a rack in a cool and dry area.
- Once the leather dries, apply a generous amount of leather conditioner to help extend the item’s lifespan.
- Place the chrome-tanned leather in a designated storage area. Be sure to store leather jackets, wallets, and shoes under the best conditions for leather material – away from heat and moisture.
Q: Is chrome-tanned leather good?
Chrome-tanned leather is an excellent choice for making several leather products that require less rigidity. This leather type is supple and soft and retains its color for almost its entire lifespan.
Hence, chrome-tanned leather projects involving non-color-changing applications would yield a great result, and you shouldn’t notice a patina forming. Furthermore, chrome-tanned leather has some resistance against moisture, stain, and heat.
Q: Is chrome-tanned leather real leather?
Chrome-tanned leather is genuine leather sourced from animal hides and tanned using chromium salts. Chrome tanners often get a pre-treated leather hide and soak them in a salt solution, which is the primary tanning process.
Kindly note that chromium tanning is swift and can be completed within a day. The tanned leather can also be dyed in different colors and employed for varying applications. The end product is often soft and quite flexible.
Q: How can you tell if the leather is chrome-tanned?
Identifying chrome-tanned leather is relatively easy using any of these two tests below:
- Get a piece of the leather and burn it with a lighter. Chrome-tanned leather should burn with much ease and leave green ashes. However, if you notice the leather takes time to burn and leaves black or grey ashes, it is vegetable tanned.
- Place some boiling water in a bowl and throw a narrow strip of leather in it. You will notice the leather strip floating on the water if it is chrome-tanned leather. However, vegetable-tanned leather curls up once placed in hot water.
Q: Is chrome tanning harmful?
Chemicals employed in chrome tanning can be very harmful. The significant raw material of this tanning process is sodium dichromate or chromium sulfate. These compounds have been associated with eye, kidney, lung, and heart damage since it is carcinogenic.
Also, the runoffs and scraps of such tanned leather are unsuitable for the environment. After the disposal of the chemical solutions, chrome-tanned leather toxic contaminants of water bodies can cause severe problems.
Q: What is meant by chrome tanning?
Chrome tanning uses a solution of salts, acid, and chemicals, mainly chromium sulfate, to treat the raw animal hides. It follows the common vegetable tanning practice of removing water from the hide’s collagen but substitutes tannins for chromium.
The process begins by placing a pre-treated leather hide in a bath or drum filled with the chemical solution. Cool is, chrome tanning is a fast method that chrome tanners can complete within a day.
Q: Is chrome-tanned leather biodegradable?
Chrome-tanned leather doesn’t biodegrade quickly even though the raw animal skin is naturally biodegradable. The refining process of the leather does not support microbial growth that could lead to rotting. Nevertheless, chromium tanning doesn’t mean that the item would not decompose at all – it will degrade but would take an extended period.
Q: Can chrome-tanned leather be dyed?
You can dye chrome-tanned leather in different colors. All that is needed is to choose a suitable dye for your chrome-tanned leather projects and learn the proper way to dye leather. What’s more, this leather type’s uniform properties allow easy dye penetration.
You can seal the leather following the dyeing process, making the colorant last long.
Q: Is chrome-tanned leather good for wallets?
Chrome-tanned leather helps make wallets, including high-end options found in the market. Since the leather is soft and flexible, it suits such an application and gives good leather wallets. You would find chrome-tanned leather wallets pretty attractive, with different designs and colors.
Q: Is chrome tan leather waterproof?
You would often notice chrome-tanned leather having significant water resistance. However, it is not advisable to subject leather to water since it breeds microbes, causes moldy growth, and could lead to severe damage. Nevertheless, your chrome-tanned leather can withstand mild splashes.
Chrome tanning is widely used for treating leather hides and preventing rotting. It works similarly to vegetable tanning by effectively removing moisture from the skin collagen of the animal.
However, in chrome tanning, plant extracts (tannins) are not used; instead, chrome tanners employ a chemical solution that includes chromium sulfate. Chrome-tanned leathers are soft and pliable and valuable for producing varying items. Kindly read this piece to learn more about this leather type.