Not everything sold as leather really is leather!
Some products which look and feel like leather of various sorts aren’t really leather at all. Reputable retailers like Aldiss clearly label leather look products as such. Some of the most common products which are mistaken for leather are described below.
Suede and Nubuck
Suede and Nubuck are leathers where the surface has been sanded or abraded, giving a felt like finish. This is very rarely used on upholstery as it is too delicate to withstand the rigors of this type of use, although it is not completely unknown. Extremely expensive, it is rare to find a whole suite covered in suede, it is more often found on dining chairs, single armchairs or very occasionally sofas.
By far the most absorbent type of leather, real suede and nubuck soils very easily and the surface flattens and matts. It is very difficult to clean, as anyone who has ever owned a suede jacket will know.
Cleaners and protectors suitable for other types of leather must not be used on real suede and nubuck as they will cause stains and damage the nap. Only products specially formulated for these types of leather should be used.
Most people who think they have a suede 3 piece suite actually have a type of fabric called a “flock”. These are bonded fabrics, where the pile or nap is glued to a backing fabric to mimic the look and feel of suede. They are often given a trade name such as “Buffalo” and “Alcantara”, and can be very convincing imitations. Sometimes the only way to tell is to open a cushion and look at the back.
Bonded leather is made from the scraps and offcuts of leather which are ground to loose fibres. This is reconstituted in to a sheet by mixing the leather with latex and finished to look like pigmented leather.
Bonded leathers can be soft and feel like finished split. They are easily cleaned, like pigments and are very cheap to produce. It should not be sold as real leather.
In recent years, some bonded leathers have shown a tendency for the finish to crack and peel off after only a few years of normal use and this is very difficult to repair.
This is Engineered Leather. Similar to bonded leather, it uses leather ground to a powder so there is no fibre structure to the product. Very much like a sheet of plastic or rubber, it is often used in aircraft seating as it is much lighter than real leather. Not always a cheaper alternative to leather, it should, of course, not be sold as real leather.
PU / Polyurethane / Vinyl
These are imitation leathers made from various types of plastic. Very cheap, easy to look after and sometimes difficult to tell from the real thing, there is nothing “wrong” with any of these products. Unfortunately some unscrupulous retailers try to pass them off as real leather, so look for the “real leather” symbol.
If you are thinking of buying leather upholstery, choose a leather type which will suit your home and pocket.
Anilines are expensive and more difficult to look after, but are the best quality leather and have the most natural look and feel. If you like the natural look and feel of real leather including its imperfections and are prepared to look after it, this is the premium product of choice.
Pigmented leathers suit most peoples’ lifestyle and budget, come in a huge range of colours styles and patterns, are hard wearing and relatively easy to look after. Mid-range in price and relatively easy to maintain, this is great choice for upholstery which may not get looked after too often, but won’t be neglected.
Bicast, bonded and fake leathers are all finished with plastic so are cheap, very hard wearing and easy to clean, so suit a more “rugged” home environment, but if you like the natural look and feel of leather are probably not for you.