What Is Faux Leather?

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With a fabric or mesh foundation, faux leather is a man-made product that has both the appearance and initial touch of real leather. The word faux is a French word that means false, artificial, fake or imitation. The process in making faux leather involves chemicals, waxes and dyes that simulate the look of real leather.

Faux Leather Manufacture

  • Sometimes called pleather or p-leather, synthetic leather, vinyl or a variety of proprietary names, faux leather generally consists of plastics, polyurethanes, waxes and dyes formed into a leather-like appearance. As a lighter and more pliable fabric, it can be dyed most any color, unlike real leather, and comes in multiple forms, some of which are higher grades than others. Leatherette and vegan leather are other forms of faux leather. Some vegan leather includes cork or kelp in its manufacture, but most faux leather is made from polyvinyl chloride, textile-polymer composite microfibers or polyurethane with waxes or colorants added.

Recognizing the Differences

  • To recognize the differences in faux and real leather, look carefully at the surface of the item. Real leather has a random and original look to it. But since the pore and hide marks imprinted on faux leather are man-made, they appear in a consistent, repeated pattern. Real leather does not have an imprinted surface; full- and top-grain leathers may have scars or markings that occurred to the animal while it had its hide. Inspect the edges of the fabric, as real leather won’t have a foamy, plastic look to it.

Touch and Smell

  • Real leather has a distinctive, earthy smell as opposed to faux leather that often reeks of plastics or petrochemicals, depending on how it is made. The surface or real leather can be both coarse and smooth, depending on its final finish. If you visit a fabric store, sample how faux leather feels and examine its edges; you will note that it doesn’t look like real leather. Faux leather generally has a smooth plastic or vinyl feel to it and stretches more than real leather, though it does have pore and wrinkles imprinted into its surface.

Real Leather

  • Real leather comes in four types: full- and top-grain, taken from the top layers of the hide; genuine leather, made from the hide that’s left, and finally, bonded leather, at the bottom of the leather scale, as scraps of leather are ground up and mixed with glue. Bonded leather, though it contains real leather, is similar to faux leather in that it has an imprinted surface and a fabric or mesh base. Leather hides generally average a total of a 35- to 60-square-foot area, so it takes multiple hides sewn together to create a couch or a chair.

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