Why does new leather smell bad? (How to Fix it)

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new leather jacket, a bag, or an expensive couch; most people find new leather smell off-putting. Fortunately, the bad smell doesn’t last forever as it eventually fades away as the leather ages.

But what causes the awful odor on new leather items and why does it disappear after a while?

In this article, I am going to talk about what makes new leather smell bad and how to get rid of the smell quickly.

why does new leather smell?

What does new leather smell like?

New leather smells like ammonia or chemicals that are used in the production process. However, some people dislike the smell and associate it with stale fish or poop. There is no denying that new leather has a strong, distinct odor.

So what exactly is this peculiar smell?

1. Chemical smell

To turn animal skin into durable, long-lasting leather, it is often treated with various chemicals and substances.

These can include materials like tannic acid, alum, sodium sulfate, and formaldehyde.

Tannins usually react with oxygen in the air and produce a distinctive chemical odor.

So it’s no surprise that new leather often smells like chemicals.

Luckily, the smell will usually fade within a month or two, depending on how much your leather item is exposed to oxygen.

2. Fish smell

Does your new leather accessory smell like stale fish? That’s because unfiltered fish oil is sometimes used in the tanning process to help preserve leather.

“This can occur when inferior fish oils or other foul-smelling substances were used in the manufacturing process”. Says Leather Dictionary 

Since the oil usually gets deep into the leather pores, your jacket, shoes, boots, bag, or couch may have a distinct fishy smell in the early days. It isn’t much you can do to get rid of the fish odor.

But as the leather ages, the oils start to break down and the unpleasant smell eventually goes away.

However, it is important to point out that the fishy odor in leather products is a sign of low-quality leather that has been treated with cheap oils. So avoid buying such leather products in the future.

3. Ammonia smell

As earlier stated, leather undergoes a chemical process called tanning. This process uses lots of different chemicals including ammonium salts.

Ammonium salts are often used in the deliming of animal skin and result in the production of ammonia. Often, traces of ammonia remain on the leather which is why firsthand leather has that signature ammonia odor.

Some people argue that the ammonia smell is actually a sign that the leather has been properly tanned and that it’s good quality.

Unfortunately, your leather products might also smell like urine due to the presence of ammonia residue. This is an indication of poorly tanned leather.

4. Poop smell

Some people might relate the smell of new leather to that of poop.

Although this might be on the extreme end, there are a couple of different reasons why leather might have such an odor.

One reason as explained earlier is that ammonia-based compounds along with other chemicals are used in the tanning process and tend to give off an unpleasant odor.

It’s also possible that bacteria might be responsible for the smell.

Leather is a porous material, and it can be a great place for bacteria or mold to grow and thrive.

Bacteria can produce all sorts of smelly molecules, including amines, sulfides, and mercaptans.

How to get rid of leather smell quickly

The smell of newly bought leather often dissipates over time as leather ages. However, if you want to get rid of the bad odor quickly, try the following;

  • Air the items out

Letting your leather item air out in a well-ventilated room or outside in the fresh air can help to dissipate the smell more quickly. This could take a day or two but should help to remove that strong odor.

  • Use baking soda

Sprinkling baking soda on the surface of the leather and letting it sit for 24 hours can help absorb some of the odor.

  • Wipe down with vinegar

Another option is to wipe down the surface of the leather with a cloth dampened with white vinegar, which helps to neutralize some of the smell. You can also try spraying it with a mixture of water and vinegar. However, avoid Clorox wipes on the leather since they can strip off the protective finish.

  • Use rubbing alcohol

Another method is to apply a small amount of rubbing alcohol to a cloth and wipe down the surface of the leather item. This will help to remove any lingering smell from your leather item.

  • Dry cleaning specialist

You can also take your leather item to a dry cleaning specialist and have them clean it for you. This however should be your last option as dry cleaning tends to strip off leather color and natural oils; hence, it is not recommended.

Are leather jackets supposed to smell?

Leather jackets are made from the skin of animals, so they naturally have a smell especially when newly made.

Some people like the smell, while others find it murky and unpleasant. If you don’t like the smell, you can lessen it by treating the jacket with a leather conditioner.

What do you do if a leather couch stinks of chemicals?

If you have a leather couch that smells like chemicals, there’s a good chance it’s releasing fumes from the bonding agents used in the manufacturing process.

There are a few things you can do to try and get rid of the smell.

First, try airing out the couch in a well-ventilated area. This will help to dissipate the fumes from the chemicals. If you can’t put the couch in a well-ventilated area, you can try using a fan to help circulate air around it.

You might also want to try placing towels soaked in vinegar or baking soda on or under the couch or cleaning with dove soap. These substances can help to absorb some of the smells.

If none of these seems to work, consider leaving the couch for a few days and the smell should dissipate on its own.

How long does the new leather smell last?

How long the smell lingers on leather depends on several factors.

For instance, if you keep your leather products stored in an enclosed place the scent will likely stick around for a long time. However, if you air them out and keep them in a well-ventilated area, the odor will dissipate quite quickly.

So, depending on how well the leather is cared for, that intoxicating scent can linger for weeks, months, or even years.


Leather is made from the skin of animals, and just like any other skin, it has a natural scent.

This scent varies depending on certain factors such as the animal’s diet, environment, and the manufacturing process.

However, the chemicals used in the tanning process tend to have the biggest role in determining how leather items and accessories smell after production.

Some people love the smell of new leather while others feel that it stinks of fish, chemicals, ammonia, and even poop; hence, very unpleasant.

The good thing is that the awful odor goes away over time. But if you’re really bothered by the smell, you can always clean the leather using baking soda, vinegar, or rubbing alcohol or consult a dry cleaning specialist.


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