Leather tanning

Leather tanning

Leather is a natural material which has longevity and versatility. It makes a sustainable contribution to a society because of its reusability and recyclability.
Modern leather manufacturing upcycles over 270 million cow hides each year

These are a by-product of the food industry and without the ability of the leather industry to transform them into leather goods, over 7 million tonnes would go to landfill with huge environmental and biological impact.





of all leather globally is chrome tanned

Chrome tanning

Chromium (III) hydroxide sulphate, a chromium compound, is used to tan leather to make it supple and useable. Leather tanning products represent the main end-use of chrome chemicals.

Globally, around 80% of all leather is chrome tanned. Chromium is the most efficient and versatile tanning agent available with a track record of nearly 100 years of academic research on its safe use.

The benefits of chrome tanning

During the tanning process, the chromium tanning agents bind the collagen in the hides and skins and cross link the collagen subunits. This ensures the leather has greater dimensional stability, resistance to mechanical action and heat resistance.

In addition to its technical advantages, chromium enables leather to be produced in an infinite number of colours and ensures it is long-lasting, soft and supple.

Industry best practice

It is essential that leather is tanned according to state-of-the-art standards, using quality tanning agents. The process of chrome tanning is constantly being upgraded by improving processes through innovation, reduced water consumption and careful management of waste. Best practices of chrome tanning use half the chemicals required by other tanning methods and produce effluent content below legal requirements.

Chrome tanning produces consistent leathers that can be used or worn year after year without any loss of properties.

Safe leather tanning

Trivalent chromium (Cr III) used for tanning leather, is a safe substance. It actually forms a recommended part of our daily diet either through food or supplements. A common misconception is that chromium VI (Cr VI), which is carcinogenic, is used in leather tanning. Chromium VI is not used in the manufacture of leather, and should not be present in leather. There are clear and effective industry guidelines set out by the Leather Working Group to prevent its formation in leather post-tanning.

A responsible industry

ICDA has been a member of the Leather Working Group between 2019-2023, supporting responsible leather production through environmental and social audits of tanneries.

The Leather Working Group encourages the global implementation of best processing practices, workers’ adequate protection and responsible waste management. Today, many companies apply daily responsible manufacturing conditions to allow safe production of high-quality leathers.

The Leather Working Group acts as a vital link between brands and leather manufacturers, encouraging a positive and collaborative dialogue to achieve realistic sustainable outcomes, which encourages best practice across the industry.

Related Content

Chrome chemicals

Responsible chromium

About chrome

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