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March 15, 2021 8 min read

Real vs. Faux Leather Furniture Upholstery: What is The Best Option for Me?

Updated 03/15/2021

If you are in the process of looking for a new piece of furniture, you might feel a bit confused by the leather choices available. If you are looking into leather coverings, there are a surprising number of types to choose from.

Furniture Fair carries dozens of products in both natural and faux leather, and we have more than 50 years of experience selling upholstered furniture! Our sales team will help you find the cover you need for your sofa, loveseat, sectional, or side chair.

With that in mind, this article will be comparing real and faux leather types and the pros and cons of each. We will break down the different kinds of natural leather and their furniture applications, and the types and uses for faux leather.

After reading this article, you will better understand what type of upholstery you should go with if the leather look is for you.

Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery
Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery
Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery

Natural Leather Furniture Upholstery

Alright, first things first, you can’t have the imitation without the original, so let’s take a look at animal-based leathers.

The definition of animal-based leather is an animal hide, with the hair removed, prepared for use by tanning, or a similar process. Tanning is designed to preserve leather against decay and make the material pliable or supple when properly dried.

Manufacturers make leather from multiple types of animals, but the most common type is cow leather due to the size and amount of leather that cows produce. Other popular types of leather come from pigs, sheep, alligators, snakes, and even stingrays!

Leather tanning is a process where the animal skin, or hide, gets stripped, tanned, and softened to make it a workable material. The tanning process involves one of two methods, chromium or vegetable tanning. Both leather tanning methods create leather upholstery materials.

The chrome tanning process uses chromium salts to soften and treat the leather and make it ready for industrial applications. The most common form of leather tanning for furniture upholstery, chrome tanning is the more affordable alternative to vegetable tanning, a more costly alternative.

Vegetable tanning is the traditional method used to treat leather products and uses natural dyes like woods and nuts. Since chromium salts react negatively to live animals and steel, saddles, bridles, and leather products that contact steel use vegetable tanning.

At Furniture Fair, we use leather primarily to upholster living room furniture. Sofas, chairs, sectionals, and recliners are great options for leather upholstery. Leather provides a beautiful covering for the furniture of your dreams.

Types of Natural Leather

Animal leather used in upholstery can be divided into four basic categories. The category used can affect the price and quality of your furniture piece.

Full-grain Leather

The best leather in the industry is full-grain leather (also known as top grain leather). High-quality full-grain leather is sought after by leather enthusiasts for durability and finish.

Full-grain leather is made with the cow’s top hide and comes with the textures and blemishes gathered throughout the cow’s life from brush, trees, and fences. While unpopular among some people, there are a lot of customers who prefer this natural look.

Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery
Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery

Aniline Dyed Leather

Full-grain leather that is aniline dyed emphasizes natural patterns and abnormalities in the leather while using minimal dyes. The leather of this type reacts to its surroundings and will shift over time in patina. Aniline dying is what gives many sofas and chairs a vintage look and feel while adding a lot of character to the piece.

Embossed Grain Leather

Some people prefer leather without blemishes and imperfections. Embossed grain leather is leather that has a pattern stamped into it to create the leather look without the defects that
full-grain leather has.

Most leather products on the market today use embossed leather, due to the uniform nature of the material. Embossed leather helps create more consistent repeatable products and makes creating large batch products easier.

Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery
Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery

Bonded/Genuine Leather

When leather manufacturers are making and treating leather for commercial use, they do a lot of trimming and cutting down the hide in the process.

Rather than let this material go to waste, companies have figured out a way to utilize these leftover materials as bonded or “genuine” leather. The leather scraps are broken down into small pieces and bonded together to create a leather material.

Most cheaper commercial leather products utilize bonded leather, often referred to in advertising as “genuine leather”. This type of leather costs less, saves resources, and is a lot softer than regular leather.

However, bonded leather tends to break down over time, which is why the edges of lower-priced leather sofas will flake off in pieces. Your decision to buy bonded leather depends on how long you want a product to last.

Pros of Natural Leather Upholstery

Here are the pros of using natural animal leathers for your furniture upholstery.

Longevity & Durability

Leather will last a long time if properly maintained. Also, real leather is durable and will hold up to repeated use, especially when the leather is of a higher quality. If you want a piece of furniture that will last for a really long time, top quality natural leather is your best bet.

Classic Look

Natural Leather creates a classic look for your furniture that will last through various style trends. If you have a sofa with
aniline-dyed leather, the natural wear over the years will also add
a worn patina that will give your piece character and history.

Durability

Leather will last a long time if properly maintained. Also, real leather is durable and will hold up to repeated use, especially when the leather is of a higher quality. If you want a piece of furniture that will last for a really long time, top quality natural leather is your best bet.

Character & Style

Real leather has a timeless style that will keep your furniture relevant throughout the cycling style trends. Leather gives your piece of furniture a feeling of history after years of use, and if maintained properly, will be an item you can even pass on to future generations.

Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery
Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery

Cons of Natural Leather Upholstery

Here are a few potential downsides to using animal leather for your upholstery.

High Maintenance

One downside of using real leather upholstery is that leather requires regular maintenance. Leather is animal skin, and skin will dry and crack if not properly maintained. If you own a
high-quality leather piece, you will want to use a
leather oil to
treat and protect your investment. Be sure to do your own research and find out which leather care product is best for your upholstery.

Easy to Stain

Another downside to leather furniture is that it can stain easily, and leather is a bit more challenging to keep clean. Many companies offer leather cleaning and stain removing products that you can use in case your furniture falls victim to an accidental spill.

Costs More Than Faux Leather

Leather upholstery that is made from animal hides is much more difficult to manufacture than faux leather, and due to that fact, animal leather is higher in cost than faux leather. An exception to this is bonded leather, which will be cheaper due to the recycled elements and lower quality materials.

Uses Animal Products

While real leather is high quality and durable, the process uses animal hides. If you are wanting to avoid using animal products then faux leather or another type of upholstery entirely should be the direction for you.

Is Natural Leather Upholstery Right For Me?

When shopping for a leather look on a sofa, animal leather is right for you if you like durable material, classic styling, and if you want your piece to wear gracefully with time.

Animal leather may not be for you if you want your upholstery to be low-maintenance or if you want to stray away from using upholstery that involves animal products.

Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery
Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery
Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery

Faux or Vegan Leather Furniture Upholstery

The second type of leather material most commonly used in furniture upholstery is faux leather or “vegan” leather. These terms apply to two primary types of leather-like materials that are not made from animal skin, and both have unique benefits.

Types of Faux Leather

There are two types of faux leathers that are primarily used in furniture upholstery. The two types are PU leather and PVC leather.

PU Leather

PU leather makers apply a polyurethane finish to an upholstery fabric such aspolyester, cotton, nylon, or rayon. Once the polyurethane finish is applied, a leather pattern is stamped over the top to create a leather finish look.
PU leather patterns are typically very uniform, but from a distance will look very much like leather.

PVC Leather

PVC Leather combines polyvinyl chloride with stabilizers, plasticizers, and lubricants to create a substance that applies to the base materials like polyester, cotton, nylon, or rayon. This leather look is also very uniform but will be perfect for low-cost leather upholstery.

Pros of Faux Leather

Here are the pros of using faux leathers for your furniture upholstery.

No Animal Products Used in Manufacturing

Faux Leathers do not use animal hides as the base material, so if you are someone who enjoys the aesthetic of leather, but would like to avoid harming animals, faux, or vegan leather is a viable option.

Faux Leather is Low Maintenance

In addition to avoiding using animal hides, faux leathers are also less sensitive to chemicals and can clean much easier than real leather products. If you have larger families, faux leather will be much less maintenance to keep clean.

Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery
Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery

Cons of Faux Leather

Here are a few drawbacks to using faux or vegan leather for your upholstery.

Faux Leather Upholstery Does Not Last as Long as Animal Leather

Unfortunately, faux leather does not last as long as real leather, and will eventually break down.

Splits will occur in seam and edge areas, and the furniture piece will eventually need reupholstering. This is something you will need to consider when purchasing this type of material.

Faux Leather Can Often Have A Plastic Feel

Faux leather also feels less organic than animal leather and has an almost plastic feeling to it, which may cause some people to be less likely to purchase this covering.

If a plastic feel makes you feel uncomfortable then faux leather may not be for you. The best way to tell if faux leather is right for you is to sit on it in person and feel it for yourself.

Is Faux or Vegan Leather Upholstery Right For Me?

Faux leather upholstery is right for you if you want a
low-maintenance material that doesn’t use animal products.

Faux leather may not be for you if you want your piece to last for a long time, as faux leather will not last as long as real leather.

So What Type of Leather Furniture is Best for You?

Now that you know what types of leather are out there, you know what you need to make informed leather upholstery decisions. If you seek longevity, classic look, durability, and heirloom quality and feel, then an animal leather upholstery is right for you.

If you are looking for cruelty-free, easy-to-clean, or more affordable leather upholstery, faux leather is your best option. Take that knowledge with you when you shop for leather furniture, and you will know what to look for to best suit your needs.

If you have any concerns about leather care products, leather cleaners, and the cleaning process of upholstery leather hides and faux leather furniture, check out our article on the best ways to clean and maintain leather furniture, using a damp cloth, a leather care kit, and a leather conditioner.

If you are looking for a leather couch, leather sectional, or leather chair in the Cincinnati, Dayton, or Louisville area, consider stopping by Furniture Fair to see what types of leather we offer.

Whether you need living room or dining room furniture, we have both in a wide variety of leathers and styles.Visit today, browse our selection, or create a 100% custom leather sofa with one of our design experts!

Real Leather vs. Faux Leather Upholstery



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