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What is Faux Leather?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 21, 2024
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Faux leather is a fabric that looks like leather, but is actually made out of other materials. It's commonly used to make a wide range of products, including garments and shoes, furniture and vehicle seats, and electronics accessories. Also known as leatherette, pleather, or Naugahyde®, this material is often cheaper and more versatile than real leather, but may not be as high-quality.

Types

There are two main types of man-made leather: polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). The first is made by adding plasticizers and dye to PVC, which make it more flexible and give it a natural color. The second is made by coating a fabric like cotton or polyester with a flexible polymer and then treating it to look more like animal hide.

Both types are used in making clothing, upholstery, and product covers, but each is better for certain applications than others. Since PVC leather isn't as breathable as PU leather, it's less commonly used for clothing or for surfaces that come into direct contact with skin. Not being breathable is good for other things though, like bound books or cases for electronic devices. Also, PU fabric is softer, more flexible, and stronger, so it's more commonly used for making high-wear products, like luggage.

As Compared to Real Leather

Faux leather looks different from real leather in several ways, and also feels and smells different. While real leather usually has visible, irregular pores; rough edges; and forms a pattern of crisscrossing lines when folded, faux leather generally won't. It may have pores printed onto it, but they generally look like a repeating pattern, and the edges are usually plastic-like and smooth. Also, real leather feels smooth and buttery, while the fake version feels like plastic or vinyl. The smell between the two differs as well, since real leather has a very distinctive smell, and faux leather doesn't smell like anything or smells like plastic.

Pros and Cons

Artificial leather has a number of advantages: it can be made into any different type of color or texture, which can be more fashion forward and allow people more freedom when decorating, and it generally costs less. It is also easy to clean, and usually only needs an occasional wipe with a damp cloth, while real leather needs regular conditioning. Additionally, it can be very durable, won't fade as easily in ultra violet (UV) light, and doesn't involve the death of any animals.

Despite this, it may not feel as nice as real leather, is easier to tear or puncture, and doesn't age as well. Some people also find it to be wasteful, since the hides used to make real leather usually come from cows that were going to be killed for meat anyway. Also, many people like the smell of leather, and the luster that it develops but faux leather does not.

History

Synthetic leather was created early in the 20th century, but most early forms were very stiff and not breathable. These qualities meant that the material was not a good choice for products that were likely to be in contact with the skin, like clothing or upholstery. American company DuPont® addressed these issues early in the 1960s with a porous imitation leather, which was gradually improved on, resulting in a fabric that circulates air well and is comfortable to use.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon958688 — On Jun 29, 2014

Isn't choice wonderful? One can analyze till the cows come home but it solves very little. People go for the 'look' of something first, then the touch or quality, then into deeper issues like durability, etc. You can only test a material's strengths or weaknesses by owning it and wearing it for a length of time.

By anon949715 — On May 06, 2014

The chemicals used to treat leather are nasty. You want to talk about bad for your health. You don't want to be in a so-called luxury car with new leather seating, exposing yourself to the off gassing of those chemicals while you're sitting in an enclosed area.

I buy no leather products because the meat industry is horrible on so many levels--not only to animals but to the workers, the environment. When I smell leather, I smell chemicals and decay. Yuck. Nasty stuff.

By anon940562 — On Mar 19, 2014

My brown leather riding boots have lasted for years compared to any faux leather shoes I've recently owned. They only get better with age, too. I'll buy faux leather for trendy stuff that will go out of style quickly, but the real leather products I have have stood the test of time. I eat steak and burgers so I am all for real leather goods.

By anon356987 — On Nov 30, 2013

I use to wear a leather coat when I had an off road trail motorcycle. The branches on the trees would whip you and if you wear leather you do not feel it. Wear any other material and it hurts when you get hit with the branches.

By anon355322 — On Nov 15, 2013

I personally like the smell of real leather. I'm not saying killing animals is good nor bad, but in all honesty, it's kind of hard to change the industries, and seven million buyers' opinions on it.

By anon354049 — On Nov 05, 2013

It's not as simple as saying, "Stop killing animals; use fake leather instead." A lot of these alternative, "pleather" products contain lead that is known to be harmful, especially to pregnant women and young children. Lead is used in certain types of plastic products as a stabiliser, but it easily leaches to the surface where it can come into human contact and be transferred from hand to mouth.

A lawsuit has already been brought against sixteen fashion brands for producing clothing containing dangerous levels of lead. Lead has been strongly linked to autism, Altzheimer's and cancer. I wear leather, but I bought pleather products until I learned about all this. My own strategy is to not buy leather frivolously. I appreciate that an animal died to make my clothing, so I will take care of it and try to make it last as long as possible.

By anon353348 — On Oct 29, 2013

I have a full length pleather trench coat and to me it is far superior to leather; it feels and looks amazing. It doesn't have the unique markings of leather, but I prefer my coat more uniform anyhow. I got it completely drenched in the rain one day, took it home and just wiped it down with an absorbent cloth and it's in perfect condition. It doesn't get moldy or stinky like real leather. Do that with a leather coat and it will be trashed if you don't tend to it very carefully, adding leather conditioners etc.

By anon324490 — On Mar 11, 2013

Unfortunately, most of our leather comes from India not from our dairy and slaughter industries. Only 8 percent of India eats meat. North America buys a lot of leather.

By Fa5t3r — On Dec 17, 2012

The thing is, the use of leather is more complicated than "I love animals, so I think that all leather should be banned".

You'd have to be a strict vegan to not be a hypocrite with that statement, since leather is a byproduct of the meat industry, the same as many other products like, for example, gelatine, which you'll find in most desserts.

Yes, the meat industry in general is currently a cruel and polluting enterprise and I don't condone the use of products from that.

But I'm not against ethical and self sustaining farming practices that happen to include the slaughter of properly raised cattle.

And in that case, leather is a traditional craft material that comes from using the whole animal. Looked at through that lens, faux leather is a byproduct of digging into the earth for oil and using massive amounts of energy and pollution to shape plastic out of it. Personally, I'd rather the natural alternative.

By MrsPramm — On Dec 16, 2012

@anon71548 - I imagine it depends on the type of faux leather fabric that is used. Some of it seems fairly water tight and I can't imagine it would be able to hold dust mites or dander if it was treated properly.

Unfortunately, some kinds of faux leathers crack easily and in that case I think it probably would provide a place for those allergens. I think if you're planning on getting faux leather furniture, you should aim to get some that is specifically marketed as being hypoallergenic.

With that said, I don't think even leather is a guard against having a cat in the house if someone is allergic. The allergens in the cat hair might not stick to the fabric, but the cat hair itself will stick to everything, including leather.

By anon302481 — On Nov 09, 2012

I am starting a fashion line and faux leather will be the main material. It is cheaper, flexible and looks great.

By anon267930 — On May 11, 2012

Have a heart, people. Use the faux as a substitute leather. Why not? Save an animal. Think how you would feel with someone sitting their butt on you if you became a couch.

By anon261116 — On Apr 14, 2012

I like the way faux leather is used. I think that they need to make it more breathable because I hate real leather and do we even need real leather badly? I am 100 percent against animal cruelty and I hope there is a breathable faux leather.

By anon231381 — On Nov 24, 2011

Lambskin is amazing, compared to pleather. I have one of each and I definitely like the comfort and feel of real leather compared to pleather. Pleather suffocates me, and I'm specifically talking about jackets, not any other articles or accessories.

I bought the pleather jacket for a cheap Halloween costume, which worked out great, but I never wear it besides that because of the discomfort. I need to get my lambskin leather jacket fixed though, the stitching is coming out at the wrists.

By moxiegrad — On Sep 27, 2011

I recommend the great smelling imitation leathers over dead corpse skins anytime. Whoever said, "real leathers smell better," has a sensing problem. Because I don't like the ugly smell of animal skins, but freshly smells of imitation leathers as: faux leather, pleather leather, and naugahyde leathers.

Real animal leather gets moldy fast, feels uncomfortable, and suffocates your feet. Ah, no air! While unreal leather feels expensive and air friendly. It's almost like playing in air-conditioning. Also to mention unreal leather looks and last longer. I wish everyone knew about imitation leathers. --Monica G.

By anon160558 — On Mar 16, 2011

I always distinguish the genuine leather from faux by the smell. Genuine leather always seems to trigger a feeling of sensuality. It's a feeling of attraction if you know what I mean.

Because real leather comes from an animal there is a natural musk smell within the fibers that have a lasting effect!

I prefer the genuine leather for it's quality, comfort and natural musky scent. Brings out the animal in me. lol.

By anon97319 — On Jul 19, 2010

would like to know if it holds up as good as real leather.

By anon92914 — On Jun 30, 2010

I just bought some faux leather michael jackson pants,you know the ones he wore on the bad tour with all the buckles on it. the pants are perfect, ans strong. The faux leather is good quality.

By anon71548 — On Mar 18, 2010

Leather prevents absorption of pet dander and dust mites. does anyone know if faux leather does the same?

By dobrinj — On Oct 01, 2009

Modern faux leather is surprisingly realistic, both in look and feel. I visited a friend who got a new couch, and couldn't believe the quality of it. About a week after I first saw it, he told me it was actually faux leather - I couldn't believe it.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
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