Insider's Guide to Furniture & the Home Furnishings Industry

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What is the difference between faux leather and bonded leather?

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[The Insider's Guide to Furniture blog contains over 500 articles, including new articles published after March, 2022 and updates of articles in this blog.]

Faux leathers are synthetic materials that mimic the look and feel of genuine leather at far lower prices.

The most common faux leathers currently are polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride (better known as vinyl.) There are also some polyester microfibers available which mimic the look and feel of leather.

All three of these types of faux leathers are extremely durable and stain-resistant.

  • 100% polyurethanes are generally softer and closer to the actual look and feel of real leather than the vinyls. As a result polyurethane faux leathers are growing in popularity for residential furniture buyers.
  • Vinyl fabrics have become far less popular for residential furniture. Higher cost vinyls are still widely used for commercial and institutional use where durability is the most important factor.
  • Microfiber faux leathers are far back in popularity, primarily because they do not mimic the look and feel of real leather as closely as the other two.
  • Recently, a new classification of faux leather, combining polyurethane, vinyl and polyester has become available.
    • This new type of faux leather is less costly, but it is still to early to tell whether its durability will hold up over the long term.

"Bonded leather" is generally classified as a type of faux leather. It is an inferior flimsy product.

Bonded leather's primary purpose is to fool uneducated consumers into believing they are buying genuine leather furniture (or something similar) at a cheap price.

  • Bonded leather has no advantages for consumers.
  • Bonded leather is not even significantly less expensive than the alternative (more durable) faux leathers.

The term "bonded leather" is still widely used for office furniture.

  • Residential furniture companies often try to hide its existence by substituting brand names such as Nuvo Leather, Renew Leather, LeatherSoft etc. to disguise its use.
  • Sellers of small personal items such as purses, belts, wallets etc. are even more deceptive.
  • The term "genuine leather" is almost universally used as a substitute for "bonded leather" for accessory items. (This is why the "leather" on lower cost accessories now peels after a few months.)
    • So far, the furniture industry still uses the term "genuine leather" to describe "real" leather made from hides. This may change in the future.

My company sells both genuine top grain leather and 100% polyurethane faux leathers.

Our experience is that 50% of the customers who contact us looking for leather furniture do not know the difference between genuine leather made from hides and “bonded leather.”

Nobody should buy "leather" furniture unless they understand the difference.

  • “Bonded leathers” are typically made of thin layers of vinyls or polyurethanes that are "bonded" (glued) to a backing consisting of anywhere from 10% to 20% "genuine" recycled leather hide scraps. These scraps have been chopped into tiny pieces, mixed with adhesives and rolled flat.
  • The face of the bonded leather fabric is 100% vinyl or polyurethane. You do not see or feel any of the “genuine” leather part of a bonded leather fabric.
  • The biggest problem is that chopped up leather particles make a very poor backing material. The surface material frequently begins to "peel" away from the backing after only a few years or even a few months.

If you purchase bonded leather furniture which begins to peel, retailers will usually do absolutely nothing for you.

  • This type of problem is specifically excluded from both retailer and manufacturer warranties, unless you are fortunate enough to have your furniture begin to peel in less than one year.
  • Extended warranties never cover damage from peeling bonded leather (or almost any other fabric related problems.) Click on this article for more information about extended warranties.

At that point all you can do is sue the retailer. There have been many lawsuits regarding bonded leathers that began to peel after a short period of time. Consumers rarely win these cases.

For example take a look at this NBC video and article. This is an interview with the CEO of a major (and highly reputable) furniture retail chain who is asked about bonded leather in response to multiple customer complaints .

At one point, when the CEO is asked about whether the peeling may be caused by customer abuse of the furniture he replies, “I’m not saying they [the customers] did something wrong, what I’m saying is that it’s delicate.”

Most consumers purchase leather furniture because they believe it will be extremely durable.

I can virtually guarantee that none of these consumers were ever warned by their salespeople that “bonded" leather was a “delicate” material.

Another important note was also brought up in this interview — Extended warranties that customers think are protecting them for “everything” do not.

A recent editorial in Furniture Today, the leading trade publication for the furniture industry, discussed the many problems associated with bonded leather.

The author of the article proposed that maybe it was time for bonded leather to be voluntarily banned by retailers and manufacturers throughout the furniture industry.

The use of the term "leather" to describe bonded leather products is already banned by law in some other nations.

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  1. Michele McCaulley Michele McCaulley Approximately, four to five years ago, I purchased two, 'bonded' leather sectionals; one for my family room and the other for my livingroom. After a relatively short period of time, ( several months), the finish began to flake off the sofas. The dark gray sofa in the family room started first. Deposits of gray residue or flakes were EVERYWHERE!! Unsightly trails of nuisance flakes found their way on our clothing, on the furniture, on our hardwood floors, in the bathrooms, on the toilet seats,, simply plagued with them everywhere! Their frequent amd profuse deposits required DAILY vacuuming! Not to mention how disappointed we were with the unsightly appearance of our sofas! In summary,,Bonded leather, never again!! Tuesday, February 6, 2018
  2. The author Unfortunately this is all too common. There are dozens of lawsuits on this topic. I am not sure who wins these lawsuits. Furniture warranties are usually very specific about fabric not being covered under warranty. Wednesday, February 7, 2018
  3. joan charles joan charles Bonded leather has a very short life span in tropical climate. I had the experience of my bonded leather furniture peeling after a few months from purchase. It should be looked at by the relevant authorities and banned. It is definitely a misrepresentation by manufacturers and retailers to label it as "leather". Monday, February 19, 2018
  4. The author As long as bonded leather remains such a profitable selling item, and as long as retailers can protect themselves legally through the use of limited warranties that absolve them of responsibility, and as long as most customers do not do any research before purchasing furniture, I do not see this changing.
    A few months ago there was an editorial in Furniture Today, the primary trade publication for the furniture industry, suggesting that it might be time for manufacturers and retailers to voluntarily ban these products. Since that time I have not seen any movement on the part of manufacturers (or major retailers) to act upon this suggestion.
    Monday, February 19, 2018
  5. Geoff Harrop Geoff Harrop It all depends who makes the chairs. Our Club has some made in China which are real leather coated in polyurethane and possibly due to production variations[humidity?] after 10 years some have peeled quite a bit and some almost nothing. Sunday, February 3, 2019
  6. The author If 100% of bonded leathers were defective they wouldn't exist.

    Even if only a small percentage of bonded leather peels over time it is still possibly the single biggest source of complaints for upholstered furniture, particularly reclining furniture.

    Good quality 100% polyurethane fabrics are more durable. They feel better. They look better. They cost less.

    There is only one excuse for bonding polyurethane or vinyl to leather. People who know nothing about fabrics or leathers think that synthetic faux leathers must be inferior to genuine leather because of the big price difference. Manufacturers and retailers try to take advantage of that lack of knowledge.

    The primary purpose of bonded leather is to fool consumers into thinking they are buying expensive real leather at cheap prices. There is no other advantage to making and selling bonded leather furniture. Sunday, February 3, 2019