Insider's Guide to Furniture & the Home Furnishings Industry

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Why is the leather on my sofa peeling?

Welcome to the wonderful world of “bonded leather.”

If your "leather" sofa is peeling you do not have genuine leather made from animal hides.

What you do have is "Bonded leather". This is an inferior material whose primary purpose is to fool uneducated consumers into thinking they are purchasing real leather at greatly reduced prices.

There are other faux leather materials, such as polyurethanes (PU) and polyvinylchlorides (Vinyl) that are far more durable, do not disintegrate and cost the same or even less.

Bonded leather is typically made with 10% to 20% “real” leather. The problem is that this “real” leather is made up of left-over scraps which have been swept off the floor, chopped into tiny particles, mixed with adhesives and other chemicals and then used as the backing for a vinyl or other type of faux (synthetic) leather.

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Everything you see and touch is synthetic. All of the highly processed genuine leather is in the backing which cannot be seen or touched.

Chopped up leather particles are a terrible backing material.

The problem is compounded because this "leather" backing is thicker (and more expensive) than a normal backing.

To compensate, the synthetic face material is often thinner than what would normally be used with a cheaper (and stronger) woven cloth backing.

Compressed leather backings do not breathe and they tend to delaminate “peel” from the vinyl. Sometimes this occurs after a very short period of time.

It is not unusual to read reviews complaining about bonded leather delaminating in less than one year.

There is only one reason to use crushed reconstituted leather as a backing material. That is to fool people into thinking they are buying “real” leather furniture at greatly discounted prices.

Retailers will usually do absolutely nothing for you if your bonded leather delaminates. Do not expect this type of problem to be covered by your warranty or by any extended warranty you may have purchased.

Although the bold print on a warranty may seem to cover fabric defects during the first 12 months, they almost always have a fine print disclaimer further down expressly excluding liability for any fabric-related problems.

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At that point all you can do is sue the retailer. There are many lawsuits currently in litigation about bonded leathers that began to peel after a short period of time.

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 customer complaints .

At one point, when the CEO is asked if customers are to blame for mistreating their bonded leather furniture, he replies, “I’m not saying they did something wrong, what I’m saying is that it’s delicate.”

Most consumers purchase “leather” furniture because they think it will be extremely durable. I can guarantee that none of these consumers were told by their salespeople that “bonded leather” was a “delicate” material.

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

Extended warranties may even invalidate the manufacturer or retailer's warranty.

The customer whose complaint initiated this article stated that he “paid extra for an extended warranty” but was told that “the warranty does not cover peeling leather.”

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

These included numerous lawsuits. The editor proposed that maybe it was time for bonded leather to be dropped by retailers and manufacturers throughout the industry.

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