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How Durable is PU Leather?

By Jeff Frank


There is tremendous confusion about the term “PU Leather” within the furniture industry.

There are two very different definitions. Both are widely used.

Salespeople and Interior designers who sell high end leather seating often apply the term “PU leather” to all synthetic faux leather fabrics.

Furniture manufacturers, who build popularly priced furniture are more careful to distinguish between 100% synthetic faux leathers (which are very durable) and bonded leathers (that peel.)

It is not always easy to tell the difference between bonded leather and 100% polyurethane faux leathers.

Many product descriptions on websites avoid the use of the term “bonded leather” by using alternative terminology. For example, Flexsteel’s Nuvo Leather is a bonded leather.

“Bonded leather” fabrics have a polyurethane (or vinyl) synthetic facing material, which is bonded (glued) to a backing made from granulated hide scraps.

Crushed leather is a terrible backing material. It is easily delaminated (separated) from the thin synthetic facing material – often within 1 to 3 years after purchase..

Peeling or flaking bonded leather is not repairable and is specifically excluded from furniture warranties.

The only reason to use crush leather particles for a backing is that it allows salespeople to tell customers that the fabric includes “real” leather

Bonded leather has generated hundreds of thousands of complaints since its introduction in 2010.

Prior to that time, leather furniture (especially large pieces) were too expensive for most shoppers.

Before bonded leather appeared, vinyls and other 100% synthetic faux leather fabrics could be found only on a very small percentage of reclining and stationary seating. “Fake leather” furniture was perceived as “cheap” and unfashionable.

Today, after 12 years of bonded leather and a lot of technological advances in synthetic leather design, shoppers appear very willing to accept 100% synthetic leathers.

100% polyurethane faux leathers are very durable.

They don’t peel or flake or have any of the problems associated with bonded leathers.

This confusion between PU Bonded and 100% synthetic faux leathers scares many potential customers away from high-quality Polyurethane faux leathers.

100% polyurethane faux leathers are very durable and easy to clean.

100% vinyl and 100% polyester faux leathers are also extremely durable and cleanable.

100% synthetic composite faux leathers made by combining polyurethane and polyester are only a few years old, but give every indication they will be just as durable and cleanable.

Retail salespeople who sell bonded leather furniture are often completely confused about what they are selling.

Many are under the impression that bonded leather is made from a combination of real and synthetic leather that has somehow been  “mixed together.”

The implication is that this makes the material “better than 100% synthetic faux leather.” This is not true! 

It is not true even when stated in articles published by reputable retailers or leather suppliers.

Many of these articles are written by professional bloggers with very little knowledge about either furniture or leather.

Frequently, these bloggers simply regurgitate information (true or not) from previous articles.

100% synthetic PU (Polyurethane) faux leather has a wide variety of product variations.

100% polyurethane faux leathers made with high-quality resins and woven backings are extremely durable.

Others, made with lower quality resins, are not.

The technology behind faux leathers is complex and not interesting to most people, including industry professionals. For example:

Polycarbonate PU based materials have a higher cost and are extremely durable with high resistance to humidity, heat and light.

They will withstand at least 7 years hydrolysis testing*.

This type of PU is excellent for commercial or residential upholstery use.

Polyether PU based materials have a mid-range cost and average resistance to humidity, heat and light.

These may be suitable for some commercial applications.

Typically, they will withstand 3-5 Years Hydrolysis testing*.

Polyester PU based materials have a relatively low cost with low resistance to humidity, heat and light.

This type of PU is not suitable for commercial upholstery but is sometimes used for residential upholstery, including bonded leather fabrics.

Typically, it will withstand 1-2 Years Hydrolysis testing.*

*Hydrolysis testing — In high traffic seating areas, and under hot and humid weather conditions, PUs that are formulated with inexpensive resin systems will prematurely break down.

The breakdown is a delaminating of the PU film layer from the backing substrate in the form of cracking and peeling, and is caused by heat and humidity.

This is often seen in the PU coatings used on “bonded leather” fabrics.

The cost of the material is directly correlated to the quality of the resin that is used, as well as the other performance additives that are required to consider a Polyurethane suitable for commercial or residential use.

There are significant performance differences between PUs made with lesser quality resins and higher quality ones.

These differences can’t always be seen or felt.

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