When shopping for leather goods, you'll probably encounter a few contrary terms and some confusing marketing. Fake leather made of plastic has been around for decades, but it has recently been rebranded as PU leather or even vegan leather.
Here's a look at precisely what is PU leather, how it is made, and so of its pros and cons.
What Is PU Leather Made Of? What Material Is PU Leather?
PU leather is another term for artificial leather. It is a synthetic fabric made from plastic, constructed with a patterned texture to look like real animal skin. Unlike genuine leather, however, it comes in a huge assortment of colours and textures.
PU leather is different than vinyl. Vinyl is made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic and is common in industrial furniture, outdoor seating, and awnings. It is usually smooth and easy to clean. Some high-end examples have a texture that mimics leather, but it is very plastic-like in appearance.
PU material, on the other hand, is a plastic coating developed specifically to mimic many of leather's best qualities. The feel and texture of the material are much closer to real leather than vinyl. It is made from polyurethane plastic and is more breathable and less plastic-like. It's used more for indoor furniture, leather bags, auto upholstery, and clothing.
Here are some of the names that artificial leather goes by.
- PU leather
- Polyurethane leather
- Faux leather
- Fake leather
- Synthetic leather
- Bonded leather
- Bicast leather
- Reconstituted leather
- Corrected grain leather
- Vegan leather
- PVC (vinyl) leather
- Silicone leather or sileather
In addition to these descriptors, there are dozens of tradenames for patented faux leather products. For example, Naugahyde is a popular PVC leather with furniture manufacturers, while Ultraleather makes high-quality PU leather.
Why so many names for the same or similar products? It's all marketing. More confusion works to the advantage of the company selling a new product. It's usually called rebranding.
What Is PU Leather Fabric, What Does PU Stand For, And What Does PU Leather Mean?
Many modern fabrics are made from plastics. For example, polyester and nylon are textiles created with plastic fibers. In some cases, they are superior to natural fibers like cotton; but in other ways, they fall short.
Just as fabrics have artificial replacements, so do natural leathers. PU leather is made from polyurethane plastic, hence the name "PU." It's a thermoplastic polymer, just one of the several synthetic materials that faux leather is made from.
PU fabrics are composite fabrics, meaning they are made of two or more layers. They have an upper layer that is dyed and treated to look like animal hides, while the base layer is a woven or non-woven textile backing. The backing can be made in several ways, and sometimes real animal leather is used for it.
Is PU Leather Vegan?
Vegan leather is PU leather, but not all PU leather is vegan. Totally vegan leathers are 100 percent PU, so both the face and backing are made from synthetic plastics.
A few PU leathers are bonded or bi-cast leathers. This means that the backing material is made from a natural animal product. Usually, it's made with leftover genuine leather. A polyurethane coating is then added to this backing material to make a composite fabric with the flexibility of real leather but the waterproofness and color qualities of PU leather.
How Does PU Fabric (Synthetic Leather) Compare to Genuine Leather?
Here are some other names you might hear genuine leather referred to by.
- Traditional leather
- Animal leather
- Authentic leather
- Full grain leather
- Top grain leather
- Genuine grain leather
- Pure leather
- Split leather, like suede
If you're trying to determine if your product is made with PU leather or genuine animal hide, a simple water test is the easiest way to tell. Take a damp rag and press it into the material. If any water is absorbed, even slightly, it is natural leather. PU will not absorb any water.
Additionally, you can analyze the texture. No matter how good it is, PU leather's texture comes from a manufacturing process. Therefore, it will be even and uniform, often showing a repeating pattern. On the other hand, animal leather is never uniform and always has natural imperfections that lend more character to the product.
At this point, you might be wondering which product is better—actual leather or PU leathers. There's no right or wrong answer, of course. The right product always depends on the customer's desires and what they will do with the final product.
On the plus side, here are some PU leather pros.
- PU leather costs less than real leather
- It comes in more colours and textures than real leather
- Is truly waterproof
- Easy to clean and doesn't dry out over time
- It can be vegan and free of animal products
- Does not use harsh polluting tanning agents and chemicals that some leathers do
But, on the downside, there are some PU leather cons.
- It does not breathe as well as real leather
- Harder to clean than vinyl
- Often has an unpleasant plastic or chemical smell when new
- May crack and chip with age
- It looks fake, with a repeating grain pattern that lacks natural character unlike real leather
- It does not age or build a patina like real leather does
- A plastic derived from petroleum chemicals that will not decompose or decompose over several hundred years, so it's not eco friendly
Well, there you have it! Moonster's products are handmade from full-grain buffalo leather. Of course, there's a time and place for high-quality PU leather, but you won't find it in our products. We believe that there's no substitute for the real thing, and nothing beats genuine leather's higher quality look, feel, and longevity.
Polyurethane Leather FAQs
Is PU leather as good as real leather?
It depends on the use case. Some PU leather is very well made and may be suitable. It is often easier to clean and much cheaper than real leather. For commercial furniture, for example, PU leather is a good substitute for the real thing. Nothing compares with the beauty and longevity of real leather, however.
Is PU leather a good quality?
PU faux leather can be quite good quality for the price, but it is never as robust or as beautiful as natural full grain leather. In addition, many PU leather products will peel or chip over time, and they are more prone to fading and cracking. Ultimately, the right material depends on what the buyer wants and what they will use it for.
Does PU mean fake leather?
Yes, PU (polyurethane) leather is a faux artificial leather-like fabric dyed and textured to simulate animal skin. It is commonly used for bags, clothing, and furniture.
What's the difference between faux leather and PU leather?
They are two different terms for the same thing. PU leather is one type of "faux" or artificial leather made from polyurethane plastic. There are other types of faux leather besides PU, including PVC and silicone.