Faux leather, also known as artificial or synthetic leather, is increasingly popular. As manufacturing methods improve, the differences between real and synthetic leather become less apparent. However, the price differential can be significant, meaning homeowners can save a lot of money opting for faux over real hides. Faux leather can be incorporated into many kinds of home goods, including furniture upholstery, headboards, accent pieces and more.

luxury brown leather sofa background texture
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What Is Faux Leather?

How Faux Leather Is Made

Generally speaking, faux leather is made through one of two primary methods. Polyurethane – or "PU" – faux leather is made up of a mixture of different kinds of synthetic materials, which is then coated with a layer of polyurethane. The finished version of PU leather can be quite glossy in appearance with a noticeable sheen.

You may also find faux leathers manufactured with polyvinyl chloride. These types of faux leather may also be referred to as PVC or vinyl leather. It's manufactured through a combination of PVC with protective stabilizers, softening plasticizers and lubricants. These substances are then applied to a base material, which is usually polyester, rayon or nylon.

Although there is a lot of variation between and among these two types of faux leather, PVC material will be less "breathable" than PU leather, generally speaking. It can also be more difficult to clean safely and effectively, so be sure to check care instructions before you make a purchase.

Using Faux Leather in Your Home

Many celebrities and interior designers have popularized the use of faux leather in home furnishings. You can find faux leather furniture, such as sofas, sectionals, upholstered headboards, armchairs and ottomans, offered by many major manufacturers and retailers.

Faux leather is also frequently utilized for smaller accent pieces, such as pillows, artwork, decorative bookends and more. For decorative pieces in particular that don't see a lot of heavy use, faux leather can mean thavt the piece remains in great condition for many years.

Of course, clothing and accessories, such as shoes and handbags, incorporate faux leather as well. The durability and condition of these items will depend on how well they're cared for, how they're stored and cleaned and the frequency and intensity of use.

Differences Between Real and Faux Leather

Manufacturers of faux leather have made great strides in improving the look and feel of their products to more closely mimic that of real leather. However, you can distinguish the real thing from faux leather by using sensory input and by analyzing the price.

Faux leather tends to retain its shape and level of stiffness longer than real leather, which tends to soften with age and use. Faux leathers may also produce the same tactile sensations over a longer period of time, as they don't break down and soften with age.

Faux leather fabrics will often give off a slightly chemical or vinyl odor. Real leather emits a more natural scent.

Many faux leathers are made by applying one material to another fabric or substance used as a backing. When this is the case, you can usually tell a significant difference in texture and feel between a faux leather and the real deal. In addition, sometimes a more cheaply-produced faux leather develops crackling on the surface with extensive use.

Finally, faux leather tends to be less expensive – sometimes dramatically so – than genuine leather.