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What is Faux Leather?

Learn more about faux leather as we give you its different types, various uses, history, cost, and eco-friendly alternatives. We've also laid out their pros and cons to help you decide whether you should go for this material or not.

A variety of artificial leather with various shades.

Artificial leather, also known as synthetic leather and faux leather, is a material that is a great alternative to genuine leather.

  • Faux leather is made from several artificial materials treated with chemicals to give real leather’s feel, color, and texture.
  • The manufacturing of faux leather mainly falls into three categories: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC-Vinyl), Polyurethane (PU), and silicone.

Thousands of high-quality faux leather products are made every day. Faux leather has tons of advantages, the main one being that no animals have to be slaughtered in the process of making faux leather products.

Are you interested in faux leather? Stay with us as we discuss everything about this wonderful invention!

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What is Faux Leather?

Faux leather is a material with the purpose of substituting leather in upholstery, clothing, and even footwear. Faux leather can be used anywhere where a leather-like finish is desired, but the actual material might be costly and unsuitable.

These are things like a sofa, chair, or headboard upholstery. Faux leather can be referred to by many names, including leatherette, imitation leather, vegan leather, PU leather, and pleather. It is important to take note of all names to avoid confusion.

A lot of faux leathers are as good as the “real” thing. This is for guaranteed satisfaction, as the choice simply comes down to the buyer’s personal preference and desire.

Dimensions

Once the plastic has bonded to the base fabric, it can be cut into the desired shape and size. In most common cases, faux leather is sold by the yard in long strips.

Is Faux Leather Popular Today?

Artificial leather samples against a cow leather background.

Faux leather is a trend that started to buzz at the start of 2020. Faux leather isn’t a new product and has been around for years, but it has rapidly gained popularity. It can be difficult to tell whether faux leather products have already reached their peak of popularity, but people shopping for faux leather products have gone up to 105% more in a year.

The main reason for faux leather popularity has to have something to do with the fact that any buyer can make the most inexpensive pieces look extremely expensive. Some of these faux products can pass for genuine leather, with little visual differences. Another reason could be because faux leather is soft and flexible, something that genuine leather definitely is not.

Materials Used To Produce Faux Leather

Silicone, polyurethane, and vinyl synthetic leathers are used when making clothing or for the use in upholstery services, but some are better for certain materials than others.

PU leather is softer and more breathable, and flexible. This means that PU leather is more commonly used for making high-wear products, like clothing and upholstery services. 

Vinyl leather is not as breathable as PU leather, which makes it often more ideal for cases for electronic devices, and book bindings.

Silicone leather is suitable for any product and can be used for just about anything since it possesses both PU and Vinyl advantages. 

Manufacturing companies use a very wide variety of different production methods to produce faux leather. Presstoff, for example, is made by treating paper pulp with a special type of resin that makes it more durable. However, this leather alternative will tear in humid or wet conditions and is not at all flexible.

Most faux leather types that are readily available consist of a base material covered with plastic material. The two plastics that are mostly used in faux leather production are polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The process used to manufacture these two plastics is different in a few ways, such as binding these plastics to their base material.

Most faux leather manufacturers use polyester or cotton as the base material for their fabrics. The types of cotton or polyester used as the base for faux leather are usually rough and porous, which means that they will need to be specially manufactured.

In many cases, the manufacturers of faux leather manufacture their own base materials as well, although some manufacturers still obtain their base materials from wholesale companies.

Faux leather manufacturers need to calculate the plastic materials that they will need to bind with their base fabrics. PVC, for example, is made by mixing petroleum and salt. They will produce chlorine by exposing the salt to electrodes, and then they combine the chlorine with ethylene. (Ethylene is derived from petroleum).

The result of doing this is getting a substance called ethylene dichloride, which can then be changed into a vinyl chloride monomer at dangerously high-temperature levels. These monomers are transformed into polymers with polyvinyl chloride resin.

The PVC that is used in the faux leather production industry is very flexible, so manufacturers will add plasticizers to the petroleum product in order to bind to the base fabric.

The process used when creating PU is a bit more complex, as it involves materials such as isocyanates, polyols, and several additives. All of the polymers used in PU production react with one another, and then they are processed. PU used in the fake leather industry is exposed to plasticizing additives to create a flexible end product.

Although the manufacturing process of faux leather will differ from company to company, the binding process to the underlying base materials mainly involves melting the plastic and overlaying it directly onto the base material.

Different Types of Faux Leather

Faux leather needs to undergo quite a lot of processes before the result can be achieved. By using different methods, different types of faux leather can be produced, each one having its own properties. Let’s take a look at the different types of faux leather:

Plastic leather (PVC leather)

Orange PVC leather with swirls and folds.

Faux leather made from plastic is one of the most widely produced and most commonly used types. When preparing this type of faux leather, a fabric is completely covered with a thin coat of plastic. This makes the product appear like glossy leather.

Plastic leather is a very durable type of faux leather, and unlike genuine leather, it will not fade. However, plastic leather cannot be dry-cleaned or washed easily, and it is not skin-friendly, making it unsuitable for use in fashion. It is not as durable or comfortable as other types of faux leather products.

Poromeric Leather

Poromeric leather in navy blue shade.

When it comes to poromeric leather, the preparation process is extremely similar to the preparation process of plastic leather. Poromeric leather is an amalgamation of many different artificial fabrics in order to achieve the end result of a fabric that looks and feels like genuine leather.

Usually, the preparation process consists of a layer of polyurethane which is coated over a layer of polyester fabric. The end product has a glossy sheen to it while still being porous. It is much more durable than plastic leather and is produced in larger quantities.

Leatherette

Zipped pocket on brown leatherette.

The term “leatherette” refers to any type of faux leather consisting out of a fabric base and material covering. Leatherette is another type of faux leather product where manufacturers make use of plastic and fabric.

Although, in this case, the base fabric can either be natural or artificial, making no difference to the end result. Leatherette is one of the most durable faux fabrics and requires little to no upholstery.

It is generally used for the inside of cars, although it was used as bookbinding in earlier years. Leatherette is not a breathable material at all, which means no air can go through it. This property makes leatherette unsuitable for clothing, as it can cause severe harm to the skin.

Vegetable oil leather

Piles of vegetable oil leather in various shades.

In recent years, manufacturers have started to experiment with vegetable oil leather. Vegetable oil leather is not only more environmentally friendly but has also been shown to be more durable than PU leather, as well as PVC leather.

However, faux leather made from vegetable oil is significantly more expensive than any other type of faux leather. Vegetable oil leather can be described as a luxurious type of faux leather for vegans who don’t want to harm or pollute the environment.

Alternatives to Faux Leather

If you have decided not to use faux leather for your DIY or upholstery needs, there are quite a few alternatives to faux leather you can make use of. The list below consists of a few eco-friendly and cost-efficient materials readily available on the market.

Cork

Close-up of a cork oak tree against blue sky.

If you are searching for a quirky, sturdy, and waterproof alternative for faux leather, you might have found your match! Recently, cork has gained tons of attention and popularity as a creative and innovative material to use inside your home. Cork has been used as a water-resistant, organic material for years, and many people even use it for tiling purposes.

Cork is completely recyclable, natural, and renewable. Not only is cork extremely durable. It is also light and easy-peasy to keep looking as good as new as time passes. Cork is mainly harvested from Southern Europe and comes from natural fiber obtained from oak trees.

These trees simply keep growing after being harvested for their bark, and they can live for up to 3000 years! Along with the cork’s waterproof qualities, you also receive an organic texture in your home while helping our earth.

Recycled rubber

If you enjoy sturdy but tasteful faux leather products but would like to expand your horizon, recycled rubber products are definitely up your alley! Some rubber, such as the type of rubber used in inner tubes, can have a texture very similar to faux leather, along with density.

However, while recycled rubber is durable and easy to maintain and care for, it is crucial for you, as the buyer, to understand that this material takes a very long time to break down. This means that you will need to know that you will be using the material forever.

Lots of commercially available rubber aren’t even obtained from rubber trees anymore and are completely synthetic! This being kept in mind, it is best to use recycled rubber products, as you will be giving new life to objects, instead of purchasing brand new ones.

Waxed cotton

Close-up of black jacket with pocket in waxed cotton finish.

Waxed cotton, preferably it is organic, is a perfectly good alternative to faux leather. Wax cotton is pliable, waterproof, and it is easily washable. This means you will not only be cutting down on textile and carpet cleaning bills, but you will also be saving and caring for the environment by saving chemicals that come from the dry cleaning process.

Tree Bark Leather

Tree bark is similar to cork but is made from more sustainable timber. Wood leather is durable, and each piece is unique and different due to the varied natural grains of the product. It can even be ground as fine as thin leather. The best tree bark leather is made from fast-growing wood and is treated with non-toxic chemicals.

Apple leather

Pink belt and wallet made of apple leather.

In this case, the apple really does fall far from the tree. We bet you didn’t expect it to turn into a faux leather alternative! Apple leather is a brand new and innovative form of eco-friendly vegan leather.

Made from discarded skin and cores, apple leather will look similar in appearance to faux leather but will have a paper-like feel to it. The key to apple leather is for it to be durable, well-preserved, all while being flexible enough to sew.

 All these things can be seen as a bonus, as the texture of the material itself allows it to add to different backings, coatings, and effects, all depending on what you want to get out of it!

MuSkin Mushroom Leather

You may not believe this, but mushroom leather is not only a great alternative to faux leather, but it might just be the next big thing in sustainable materials. This organic textile, known as dubbed MuSkin, comes from a type of fungus.

This type of fungi can be grown to any desired size and shape for designs or projects. This material will need some waterproofing, but it is easy, quick, and can be done without the use of harmful chemicals.

Muskin mushroom leather is biodegradable and eco-friendly and is one of the smartest alternatives to faux leather.

The Pros of Faux Leather

Faux leather is very affordable.

It goes without saying that everyone knows that genuine leather can be as expensive as it can be, depending on the size and quality. This is why faux leather makes the best alternative to genuine leather at a much lower price tag. By making use of faux leather products, you will still be able to have that luxurious-looking furniture without it taking off an arm and a leg!

Faux leather is durable.

Faux leather is a sturdy material and can last a long time with the correct treatments and will withstand scrapes or scratches that could even cause damage to real leather. Unlike genuine leather, faux leather is not easy to crack or peel and doesn’t easily fade in the rays of the sun. This is because of the manufacturing process and the different dyes that are used on faux leather.

Quality control is a benefit when it comes to faux leather.

Because faux leather is 100% a synthetic product, it means that a few modifications and improvements have been made to its grain, color, and texture to make it mimic the look and feel of real leather as much as possible.

Faux leather is easy to maintain.

The fact that faux leather products have low maintenance needs is a big plus when it comes to upholstery fabric. This is one of the main reasons faux leather has gained popularity among homeowners and interior designers. Faux leather surfaces can simply be wiped off by using a cloth with lukewarm water. Faux leather cannot retain moisture for long periods and will not crack or warp.

Faux leather is versatile.

Faux leather is readily available and can be customized in endless different patterns with textures by simply being pated and dyed by the manufacturer. Many buyers choose faux leather because they can easily match the theme of their commercial or residential space.

The Bad Things About Faux Leather

Even though faux leather is an innovative and well-thought product, some disadvantages come with it. Below are some key disadvantages that every buyer has to know about before deciding to buy faux leather products:

Faux leather is completely unable to stretch.

As most faux leather products are made from non-stretch material, this material may easily be torn or crack when you attempt to stretch it.

Although faux leather is durable, it does not develop the same luster and patina over longer periods.

We all know that genuine leather develops a beautiful and rustic surface when it matures over time. This, however, is not the case when it comes to faux leather, which can make your new couch or wall backing look cheap, of low quality, and old before it’s time

Faux leather can be much more harmful to the environment.

Let’s face it. Cows will still be slaughtered for thousands of years to come. By buying faux leather, you are encouraging plastic waste and several other harmful materials that can land on the surface of our earth. Real leather is simply a by-product that comes with processing cows for their meat.

Faux leather is not breathable, especially the PVC type of faux leather.

Because of faux leather consisting mainly of vinyl and other plastics, this material is not breathable at all, which could result in issues.

Faux leather is more easily torn and punctured.

If you own faux leather, it is never a good idea to place hot or heavyweight objects on its surface. This could melt, warp, or tear your material, which can be a huge hassle to repair.

Faux leather is non-bio-degradable.

Faux leather cannot be recycled, not re-used, or re-purposed once it has exceeded its lifespan.

Where Can Faux Leather Be Used In The Home?

Close-up of a tufted sofa in brown faux leather.

Because faux leather is made to act as a direct replacement for genuine leather, it is used for the same applications for which genuine leather can be used. For example, upholstery is the main reason faux leather is being used in the home.

These are things like sofas, chairs, as well as coffee tables. Faux leather can also be used for faux leather coverings, wall hangings, wall backings, kitchen floors, and bathroom floors.

The History of Faux Leather

Faux leather was initially introduced as an alternative product for shoes, automobile interiors, and upholstery. One of the very first forms of faux leather was known as Presstoff. It is almost impossible to believe that this type of fabric is still manufactured to this day!

Presstoff was invented in Germany, and it was used mainly during the war. Since the use of genuine leather was rationed into very small portions. The production of Presstoff never gained great popularity outside of Germany, and the public soon came to prefer other types of leather alternatives with more desirable and beneficial properties.

Actual faux leather materials were commercially available in the fabric world with the invention of Naugahyde in 1920. This substance was produced by the U.S. Rubber Company, which was founded in 1892.

After a few years of dedicated and detailed research, the engineers at the U.S. Rubber Company developed this initiative alternative to leather, which was then only used for handbags.

For many years, the brand name “Naugahyde remained to be associated with faux leather. This material became seemingly more popular in the industrial world throughout the 1930s, and in the 1940s, the U.S. Armed Forces used Naugahyde in several aspects of the war effort.

How Much Does Faux Leather Cost?

Leatherette fabric samples in various shades.

Since the production of faux leather needs no weaving or sowing, the cost of this textile is almost always determined in price per yard. This makes faux leather different from other textiles and materials, as they are usually determined in price per pound.

While prices per yard of faux leather will vary based on the type and quality, faux leather usually costs about $10-$25 per yard.

While more established types of faux leather, known as PU and PVC leather, will usually cost you less, novel forms of this fabric, such as vegetable oil-based leather, will be significantly more expensive.

Where To Buy Faux Leather

Faux leather is readily available at your nearest hardware store, and remember, never buy online!

References:

LeatherCult: What is Faux Leather?

SwankyDen: How Long Will a Pu Leather Sofa Last?

Garrett Leather: How Do Faux Leather Fabrics Compare to Real Leather?

Mitchell Faux Leathers: What is Faux Leather?

Johnson’s Home Furnishing: Why You Should Never Buy Faux Leather

Sew Guide: What is Faux Leather: Different types & 15 important distinguishing properties

Bed SOS: Faux Leather VS Real Leather Pros and Cons

Home Arena: Pros And Cons Of Faux Leather Beds

Ergonomic Trends: Bonded vs Faux vs Genuine Leather – All You Need to Know

Good On You: Leaves, Mushrooms, Bark and More: 8 Innovative Eco-Friendly Leather Alternatives

HomeQuicks: Types of Synthetic Leather You Ought to Know About

Buffalo Jackson: WHAT IS FAUX LEATHER MADE OUT OF?

Sewport: What is Faux Leather Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where

Who What Wear: This Expensive-Looking Trend Is Selling Like Crazy Right Now

Apartment Therapy: Pros & Cons: Faux Leather Furniture

Liberty Leather Goods: Faux Leather – Artificial Leather That’s Wildly Popular