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What is Bonded Leather?

If you’ve ever shopped to furnish your living room or office, you’ve likely encountered the phrase ‘bonded leather’ at some point. Leather handbags, leather jackets, leather sofas, office chairs, or anything else can be made of bonded leather—so be aware.

You may not have had reason to stop and ask exactly what that means, or how it differs from other types of leather. The term “fake leather” may be a tad harsh, but it’s important to understand what you’re looking at.

We’re here to explain the key distinctions and help you make the most informed decision before you invest your hard-earned money in purchasing leather and to explain your restoration options with bonded leather products.

a massive factory where they are manufacturing bonded leather

For many of us, purchasing leather furniture is about durability, quality, and even gaining a bit of luxury. After all, the smell and feel of real leather have a bit more sophistication than your old polyester-covered futon from dorm days. The natural imperfections in real leather alone are characteristics that add to the elegance.

However, not all leather is equal–in fact, there’s a huge difference in the grades of leather and different types of leather available for furniture.

At a glance, the comparatively lower price tag on a bonded leather lounger may make a pretty compelling case for buying it. The manufacturer will even boast a variety of benefits: “The feel of real leather, but so much easier to clean!” or “The look of leather, at a fraction of the cost!”. Well, if you think that all sounds a little too good to be true, you’d be right.

What is bonded leather?

It can basically be referred to as the ‘Bologna of Leather.’

Other than its hard-to-beat price point, a key reason why bonded leather enjoys commercial success is the fact that it does contain some actual leather (*ahem* scraps of leather).  It may even smell like real leather. The fact is, it’s composed of small amounts of shredded, leftover leather–sometimes as little as 15%.

These discarded scraps get combined with other fibers, and glued together with a polyurethane coating and binding agents, onto a backing piece of cloth, or even paper. The less common, not-so-savvy term for this product is ‘reconstituted leather.’

Sure, this material can make for a fashionable, affordable belt, but there are plenty of reasons why you don’t want it on the new sectional you’ve been sizing up.

The bonded leather manufacturing process

The manufacturing process of bonded leather involves several steps to create a composite material using leather scraps or fibers.

Here’s an overview of the typical process:

  1. Collection of Leather Scraps: The process begins with the collection of leftover scraps from various sources, including tanneries, leather goods manufacturers, and leather processing facilities. These scraps can vary in size, shape, and quality.
  2. Grinding: The collected leather scraps are then ground into small particles or fibers using specialized machinery. This grinding process helps break down the leather into smaller pieces to facilitate bonding.
  3. Mixing with Adhesive: The ground leather particles are mixed with adhesive substances, such as polyurethane or latex, along with other binding agents. These adhesives help bind the leather fibers together during the bonding process.
  4. Blending and Pressing: The mixture of ground leather and adhesive is blended thoroughly to ensure uniform distribution of the adhesive throughout the material. It is then pressed into sheets or rolls using hydraulic presses or rollers. The pressure applied during this step helps compact the material and ensures proper bonding.
  5. Drying and Curing: After pressing, the bonded leather sheets are dried in ovens or through air-drying processes. This step allows the adhesive to cure and harden, forming a solid composite material.
  6. Finishing: Once dried, the bonded leather sheets may undergo additional finishing processes to enhance their appearance and texture. This can include sanding, embossing, or applying surface coatings to achieve the desired look and feel.
  7. Quality Control: Throughout the manufacturing process, quality control measures are implemented to ensure that the bonded leather meets specific standards for strength, durability, and appearance. Samples may be tested for tensile strength, tear resistance, and other properties to verify product quality.
  8. Cutting and Packaging: Finally, the bonded leather sheets are cut into various shapes and sizes according to the intended use, whether for furniture upholstery, fashion accessories, or other applications. The finished products are then packaged and prepared for distribution and sale.

Overall, the bonded leather manufacturing process involves transforming leather scraps into a composite material using adhesive bonding, resulting in a cost-effective alternative to genuine leather for various applications.

Why does bonded leather fall apart?

We hear from customers every day, who are understandably frustrated that their bonded leather goods are falling apart. It peels. It rips. It cracks. it flakes.

Suddenly, your investment intended to last years is an unsightly mess in mere months. Unfortunately, once the coating on bonded leather furniture is gone, it’s left unrepairable. Heat causes layers of the material in bonded leather to separate and that’s when it begins to peel and fall apart. Typically within 12-60 months.

Your upfront cost savings are a tradeoff. While you’re saving money at purchase, you’re sacrificing the durability and flexibility of real leather upholstery. Once the bonded leather fibers have stretched as far as they can go, that’s the end.

Instead of footing the bill for fully re-upholstering, we recommend investing in real leather, even if it costs a bit more at the beginning. You’ll be rewarded with much longer-lasting and repairable furniture. Plus, as anyone who owns high quality, real leather furniture will tell you, it even gets better with age.

Prolong the lifespan of bonded leather

While we’re advocating that real leather furniture is an investment worth making, we understand how common bonded leather is, and you might need to save up before making the upgrade.

Here are a few simple things you can do to get a little more mileage out of your existing faux-leather furniture right now:

  • Get it out of high-traffic areas – if that sofa is in the playroom because it’s easy to wipe down after a juice-spill, it might need to be relocated to your home office (or at least somewhere it’s less likely to encounter spilled liquids and jumping kids).
  • Move it away from direct sunlight or heat – avoid radiators, skylights, and nearby windows.
  • Condition it regularly – using only specially designated products for bonded leather (not detergents or oils).

The real leather difference

When you select real leather furniture, it’s constructed using whole animal hides. Being a natural, animal product, you can expect to see variations in the grain, and pores that aren’t completely evenly distributed (synthetic leather is usually stamped with a pattern that’s exact).

Real leather tends to have the occasional small scar or wrinkle. To an inexperienced buyer, these markings may be perceived as flaws, but in fact, indicate that the leather has never been sanded down. As a result, the hide retains all of its original strength and will resist puncturing or tearing better than any other grade of leather.

We suggest thinking of your real leather couch like an original work of art – no two pieces are exactly alike. What it lacks in upfront affordability, it makes up for by being repairable. Yes, you can get great results when you repair real leather. Not only does this longer lifespan mean less environmental impact, but it’s also a lot easier on your wallet to repair, rather than replace damaged furniture.

Selecting Top-Grain or Full-Grain
There are two main options you’ll encounter when buying real leather: top grain leather, and full-grain leather.

Full-grain is widely considered the best that money can buy.  It’s the strongest leather. Depending on the finish applied at the tannery, it should wear well and even develop a nice patina (sheen) over time. The grain in this type of leather is very tight, which gives it a property of being moisture and mildew resistant.

Top-grain has a great look and feel but comes in second to full-grain in terms of strength and durability. During processing, the top layer of the hide is removed by buffing and sanding. This creates a more uniform appearance, removing the unique markings we mentioned earlier. While still a quality, repairable product, it’s durability won’t match that of full-grain leather. It will break down faster.

Consult the leather experts for anything you need

We hope you found this guide informative. Do you have concerns about selecting or repairing your leather furniture that we didn’t cover? One of our specialists will be happy to help you!

Contact your nearest Fibrenew location today!



Bonded leather vs genuine leather FAQ

What is Bonded Leather?

Bonded leather is a type of material made from leather scraps or fibers that are bonded together using adhesive or other binding materials. It’s often used as a cost-effective alternative to genuine leather.

What is Genuine Leather?

Genuine leather is made from the hide of an animal, typically cattle. It’s considered a high-quality material prized for its durability, flexibility, and natural beauty.

How do Bonded Leather and Genuine Leather Differ in Composition?

Bonded leather is composed of leather scraps or fibers that are combined with synthetic materials and adhesive. Genuine leather, on the other hand, is made entirely from animal hide, with minimal processing.

Which One is More Durable?

Genuine leather is generally more durable than bonded leather. While bonded leather can wear out and peel over time, genuine leather develops a desirable patina with age, becoming even more supple and attractive.

Is Bonded Leather Real Leather?

Yes, bonded leather contains real leather fibers. However, it’s important to note that bonded leather is not 100% genuine leather. It’s a composite material that includes other substances, such as polyurethane.

What about Environmental Impact?

Genuine leather, being a natural material, has a significant environmental impact due to the resources required for animal husbandry and tanning processes. Bonded leather, while still having some environmental impact due to adhesive use, can make use of leather scraps that might otherwise go to waste.

How Do They Differ in Appearance and Texture?

Genuine leather has a more natural appearance and texture, with variations in grain, texture, and color, reflecting the uniqueness of each hide. Bonded leather may have a more uniform appearance but lacks the richness and authenticity of genuine leather.

Which One is More Expensive?

Generally, genuine leather tends to be more expensive than bonded leather due to its higher quality and natural sourcing. Bonded leather is often used as a more affordable alternative to genuine leather.

Can Bonded Leather Be Repaired Like Genuine Leather?

Repairs to bonded leather can be more challenging and less effective compared to genuine leather. Genuine leather can often be repaired, reconditioned, and restored to its original state by professionals.

Which One Should I Choose?

The choice between bonded leather and genuine leather depends on your priorities. If durability, authenticity, and long-term value are important to you, genuine leather is the better option. However, if budget constraints are a concern and you’re willing to compromise on longevity and quality, bonded leather may be a suitable choice. Ultimately, it’s essential to consider your preferences, needs, and budget when making a decision.

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Meet the author

Jesse Johnstone

As the President of Fibrenew, I have the privilege of working with an exceptionally talented team at Head Office and in the field with our franchisees. Witnessing the achievements of our Franchise Partners in their businesses is a source of deep fulfillment and gratification.

See other posts by Jesse Johnstone