Faux Leather vs Real Leather

Take a close look at faux leather and real leather to determine which is which, their similarities and differences, their impact on environment and society and what are their uses.

These are pieces of leather material with a darker shade above.
  • Both faux and genuine leather comes in a variety of quality standards
  • They age differently and react better or worse to certain conditions
  • Each has pros and cons that should be considered before deciding on which to buy

They can often look the same and easily be confused with one another, so what distinguishes faux leather from natural leather? Primarily, what they’re made from. While faux leather is made from a plastic base and then treated, real leather is made from genuine animal hide.

We’ll have a look at these and other distinctions and when it may be better to have one over the other.

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How does faux leather compare to real leather?

Faux leather

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Faux leather is artificial or synthetic leather that is often known by different names, depending on the end-use of the product. It goes by leatherette, pleather, PU (polyurethane) leather, vegan leather, or imitation leather, but these names all refer to a similar product, the only distinction being its use, or sometimes the way it has been treated.

Faux leather looks very similar to genuine leather.

In the past, faux leather has typically been made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), polyurethane or polyamide microfiber. PVC is being used less these days, as it leaks harmful chemicals and is particularly toxic when burnt. These days not all faux leather is made from plastic though these days, and there are more natural vegan materials that can be used, such as cork, for example.

The faux leather, whatever its base material is, is often then treated with dye, wax, or polyurethane to get the desired color and texture.

There are many good-quality faux kinds of leather these days that can look just like the real deal. One of the significant advantages of faux leather is its price! Because it can be manufactured, it is much more affordable than real leather.

For those worried about the use of animal products, faux leather weighs less on their conscience; however, it is often not environmentally friendly due to the process of its production. It is highly flammable, which is more of a risk sometimes, depending on the end product, and it is also less durable than genuine leather.

Real leather

These are genuine real leather pieces with two brown tones.

Real or genuine leather is made from the hide of animals. Which animal doesn’t affect whether it is called leather, but rather the characteristics of the leather which it yields. Crocodiles, pigs, or cows will all have different textures and patterns, but the most common type of leather comes from cows, which is a by-product of the meat and dairy industries.

Often the hair is removed from the leather, but this depends on its end-use and may be desirable to keep intact for some products.

Genuine leather can also be dyed to produce different colored products.

Depending on how the leather is used, it might be kept in its original form or else split and then sanded down to remove imperfections. It can be used like this or imprinted with an artificial pattern. The top of the split leather is usually thicker and of higher quality, while the bottom layer is thinner and used for products that don’t require as high quality.

One of the major advantages of real leather is that it is unique, and no two hides will be the same. This allows for stretch marks, pores, and other unique characteristics of the animal to be reflected on the hide, creating unique patterns and individual pieces.

There’s definitely something special about owning an item of which there isn’t another quite like it. Its durability is another considerable pro, and a good quality genuine leather product can last for many years. The character of the leather will change over the years, as will the color (even if natural), but real leather is a strong natural fiber.

Is faux leather high quality?

This is a close look at various faux leather samples in various colors.

Faux leather can be used from jackets, bags, and shoes to couches and other homeware products. The durability and luxury of genuine leather have made it a desirable product, but it is not accessible to many because of its price, or necessarily even appealing, because it comes from animals. Due to the fact that faux leather is cheaper, it is often used as a substitute by manufacturers to appeal to a broader market.

There are as many varieties of faux leather as there are of real leather and just as much variation in quality too. Depending on what it is made from and how it is treated, as well as how it is looked after, it will age differently. Faux leather can be very high quality and can also last longer than real leather under some conditions.

For example, faux leather will not warp with moisture the way real leather can. It doesn’t require care as genuine leather does, so it won’t peel or crack if it dries out. It can be punctured or torn easier, though, and once again, quality is critical.

The imprints on faux leather can be of a very high standard, mimicking genuine leather very well and looking natural. It can also be resistant to stains and fading, which can be advantageous if you will have, for example, a couch in the sun. In such a case, artificial leather may be a better option and more resistant to the type of wear and tear that it will likely receive.

Overall, there are some very high-quality artificial leathers, and it shouldn’t necessarily be ruled out as an inferior product. It depends very much on its use.

When is it better to use: faux or real leather?

So there are some products for which artificial leather may be better than real leather, and vice versa? You’ll find all of these items in both synthetic and genuine leather, and it is a personal choice as to which type you purchase an item in, but these are our preferences!

Better in faux

This is a sofa with brown leather upholstery to match the herringbone flooring.
  • Couch or tabletop – particularly if you have kids, this is likely to get stains and spills on it, be exposed to moisture, and likely to fade as well, so having pleather, which can handle this type of weathering, is possibly a stronger contender than genuine leather.
  • Outside furniture – this can get wet, withstand sun damage and not need the same degree of care or protection from polishes and treatments that genuine leather would to maintain it over time.

Better in genuine

This is a close look at a pair of brown leather shoes with tie.
  • Shoes – a much more breathable material, genuine leather will mold to your feet and be much more forgiving with scrapes and general wear and tear than pleather would be. Particularly if you treat the leather with waterproof protection, genuine leather shoes can last you for years.
  • Bags – these are items where having something unique is a good thing. A bag that ages differently, that has a unique pattern or texture is a treasured item and one that can last years and still look good. Bags get thrown onto all sorts of surfaces, and scuffs or tears in pleather could ruin the look of the bag and expose the underlayers.

If you’re considering whether to buy other products in faux or genuine leather, just think about the following factors before deciding which to go with:

  • the time horizon of the product, or how long you want it to last
  • its exposure to the sun, moisture, dry and stains
  • its durability, so how much wear and tear the item will be exposed to, or how tough it needs to be, including scruffs and scratches
  • how much the item will stretch (faux leather stretches more than real leather)

Conclusion

Faux leather has been known as a lower-cost alternative to leather for many years, and leather products are still very sought after and my personal preference, but there has been a rise in popularity of vegan leather in recent years, as veganism has gained traction as a lifestyle that is friendlier to the planet.

Hopefully, you will have a sense of the characteristics of both faux and real leather and will be able to make an informed decision on which will be most beneficial in your circumstances to suit your budget and the purpose that the item will serve.

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