What Is Bonded Leather Furniture?

Bonded leather -- it looks and feels like leather, and even contains bits and scraps of cowhide, but it is a man-made product. Bonded leather furniture such as couches, chairs and ottomans, is not as well-made as furniture covered with top-grain leather, and this is reflected in its price. If you want the look of leather without the high price tag, then bonded leather might work for you. Otherwise, save your money to buy a piece of leather furniture that has longevity.

Leather with buttons
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It can be tough to tell bonded leather from real leather unless you know what to look for.

Bonded Leather Manufacture

The scraps of leather shaved from hides used for top-grain leather are mixed with polyurethane, wood pulp or other chemicals to make bonded leather. The result is akin to pressed wood -- only it's pressed leather, embossed to look like the real thing. Yes, bonded leather does contain leather, but not enough to qualify as a real piece of leather furniture. If the upholstery is bonded leather, a label must be attached to the furniture that includes the percentage of leather used in its fabrication, along with listing the other materials.

Identifying Bonded Leather

An animal hide is relatively small, especially after it's been sized and cut. To cover a sofa with real leather requires several hides stitched together. Bonded leather is rolled like fabric and applied to a furniture frame in large fabric pieces, identifiable by a patterned repeated grain. Bonded leather ultimately sags because use stretches the fabric, especially since it is not seamed in smaller portions. To identify a bonded leather sofa, examine its surface for regular repeated patterns, look at the manufacturer tag or speak with the salesperson, as they must honestly disclose the couch's materials. Ask the salesperson to tell you how much of the couch is top-grain, full-grain, genuine or bonded leather.

The Appearance of Leather

Strides have been made to create a bonded leather that appears to be top grain leather. It feels similar and even smells a bit like leather. But one marked difference between bonded leather and real leather is the price. A bonded leather sofa for example, at the time of publication, ranges from $300 to $600 or a bit more, whereas a real leather couch in the same size can cost four to five times that amount or higher. A bonded leather sofa may look good in a family room for a while, but daily use, bouncing children and drooling pets cut its lifespan short. Upholstered sofas made from durable fabrics offer a more prudent purchase if a real leather sofa is not in the budget.

Bonded Leather Lifespan

Bonded leather behaves more like plastic and does not adjust in temperature to the body as real leather does. It is also more taut and less giving than leather. Once a piece of bonded leather furniture is damaged, it must be recovered, which is basically double the price and double the work. Color matching is expensive and nearly impossible. Stitching damaged bonded leather is difficult, with gluing the better alternative, but the damage will always be evident. Bonded leather furniture lasts a few years with good care and careful use, but does not have the lifespan of a real leather couch, which can last as long as several decades with regular maintenance, making it the less costly purchase over the long haul.

The Greening of Bonded Leather

As bonded leather is man-made with low levels of formaldehyde, environmentalists and those who prefer green furniture enjoy the semblance of leather without using furniture made from the hides of animals. And those with sensitive leather allergies benefit from using bonded leather furniture. Bonded leather, made from recycled animal hides, is considered environmentally friendly by many.