"Bonded leather" may sound like a manufacturing term for top-quality upholstery, but in reality, it's quite the opposite. Genuine leather -- commonly found stamped on home goods and personal accessories -- indicates the material is made from sheets of real, though low-quality, leather. Bonded leather contains just a small amount of actual leather, bonded to synthetic materials.
Bonded Leather Basics
The word "bonded" in the term "bonded leather" reveals a key clue about this upholstery. A thin layer of fabric makes up the bottom layer, with bits of leather scraps and fibers bonded onto it. The top layer -- the portion that looks like leather -- is actually a man-made material such as polyurethane, that's dyed and textured to look like real leather. Bonded leather is sometimes called reconstituted leather, leather blend or blended leather. By any name, the material is not the same as genuine leather.
Genuine Leather Terminology
Genuine leather may sound like a catch-all term for every type of real leather, but it typically refers to leather made from the lowest quality portion of a hide, leftover after the highest quality portions have been removed. Full-grain leather is the top layer of hide and is the highest quality of all leathers. Top-grain leather is split from the top hide, then sanded to remove blemishes. It's the second best grade of leather. Genuine leather is the third best type of leather and may be either smooth or rough, like suede.
While neither genuine nor bonded leather are as good as full-grain leather, genuine leather generally holds up better than bonded leather. It's still a solid piece of hide, although it is sometimes fused to another layer of genuine leather for added thickness. Bonded leather tends to peel, flake or tear in ways that genuine leather does not, so it may fall apart far faster than a similar genuine leather item.
Both genuine and bonded leather cost a good deal less than full-grain leather because they're not the best of the best. Genuine leather is relatively inexpensive compared to full-grain or top-grain varieties. Bonded leather tends to cost less than any type of "true" leather, because it is mostly synthetic and less costly to manufacture.