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What is Is PU Leather? How Durable is PU Faux Leather? Does it Peel?

By Jeff Frank

PU Leather is a synthetic faux leather material with a wide variety of product variations.

Fabric industry professionals use the term PU Leather to refer to Polyurethane, Polyether and Polyester resin-based materials. These PU leathers come in hundreds of different variations.

Most of these PU Leathers are used for commercial and institutional seating, but there is also a wide range of residential faux leathers. PU leather prices range from extremely low to high end versions that cost almost as much as real leather from animal hides.

Furniture shoppers rarely see this definition for PU Leather. That is reserved for fabric industry and manufacturing professionals. Interior designers and retail sales people are more likely to use the term as a substitute for “bonded leather.”

Over the past few years, an increasing number of consumers have become aware that “bonded leather” materials should be avoided. PU Leather is one (of many) descriptions used to hide the fact that bonded leather is being used.

Polyurethane based PU leather is made with high quality resins are extremely durable. Others made with lower quality resins (including many “bonded leathers”) are not.

There are three basic categories of resins:

1) 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 upholstery use.

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

Typically they will withstand 3-5 Years Hydrolysis testing*. These are suitable for some commercial and residential applications.

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

Typically it will withstand 1-2 Years Hydrolysis testing. This type of PU is not suitable for commercial upholstery but is sometimes used for residential upholstery, including bonded leather fabrics.

*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. Other performance additives determine whether a Polyurethane will be suitable for commercial or residential use.

It is important that both the base and skin layer be made of high grade resin. In bonded leathers the base material is made of granulated leather particles which are not as stable and durable as a good quality resin.

There are significant performance differences between PUs made with lesser quality resins and higher quality ones. These differences can’t be necessarily seen or felt.

The single most important factor in determining the quality of a PU is the type of resin that is used both in the skin and base.

An excellent overview of Polyurethane Faux Leather construction and history can be found on the Mitchell Faux Leather website.

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