Leather vs Leatherette: Which One Should You Pick?

Consumers have many options when it comes to chair upholstery. Leather is one such material that is beloved by all. However, not everyone can afford chairs made out of this material. This is where leatherette comes in. It is an alternative for leather that comes at an economical price. 

But, which material should you choose for your upholstery?

Is one better than the other?

To put an end to these questions, here is a detailed comparison between leather and leatherette materials. Before we get to the comparisons of leatherette vs. leather, let us understand these two fabrics

What is Leather?

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Leather refers to a fabric that comes from the rawhide of animals. Although most leather products come from cattle hide, they can also be made of exotic animals. Leather is widely used in the fashion industry and in making sofa and chair coverings.

There are four types of leather. In descending order of quality, these are:

  1. Full-grain leather – Comes with the natural grain and top layer of hiding
  2. Top-grain leather – Top layer is sanded, giving it a smooth feel
  3. Corrected grain leather – Layers are split, painted, and embossed
  4. Bonded leather – Made of leftovers of the above layers

Leather is made using a long and labor-intensive process. Research says, in this procedure, one metric ton of raw material is processed to convert just 200kg of usable product. An enormous amount of toxic waste is emitted during the entire process, which is hazardous to the environment.

It involves the following sub-processes.

  • Preserving and storing animal skin
  • Preparation through soaking and liming
  • Tanning using chemicals (primary leather processing units)
  • Neutralizing the acids left by these chemicals
  • Squeezing any remaining liquids
  • Sorting, shaving, and softening
  • Finishing processes

What is Leatherette?

Source: Yarwood Leather

Leatherette is otherwise called faux leather, pleather, vegan leather, fake leather, and synthetic leather. It does not contain any animal product and is marketed as a vegan and cruelty-free option instead of leather. Usually, the material comprises vinyl or PVC. Further, faux leather replicates the look and feel of natural leather as much as possible.

PVC and vinyl have different usages of their own. For instance, PVC is a soft and breathable material that is perfect for upholstery and clothing. On the other hand, vinyl is much more resistant to natural elements, making it suitable for electrical components.

As you already know, plastics are very harmful to the environment. Hence, a lot of companies use eco-friendly and animal-friendly options to make leatherettes. These include:

  • Paper
  • Tree barks and corks
  • Pineapple
  • Teak leaves
  • Apple fibers

Now that we know what these two materials are let us compare them.

Leather vs. Leatherette

It can be hard to differentiate between leather and leatherette. They might even look like the same material to our eyes. So, to put things into perspective, we will compare leather and leatherette based on some essential factors. Here are the characteristics of both fabrics.

1. Durability

Source: echopurse.com

Natural leather is highly durable. The material itself lasts up to 100 years before it starts to biodegrade. Also, with proper care and upkeep, leather maintains its qualities for at least two decades. It resists tears and punctures and often becomes softer with age. Again, full-grain leather lasts the longest due to its raw qualities.

On the other hand, leatherette is less durable than real leather. Very often, the top layer of leatherettes can crack open, resulting in a worn-out appearance. However, it can last you ten years, and it does not require much upkeep.

2. Maintenance

Source: CNET

Maintaining leather couches is a long and tedious process as it needs specific materials for its upkeep and must be kept in controlled conditions for long-lasting use. Further, leather requires products such as leather conditioners and polishers to work with stains and blemishes.

Different leather products go through different cleaning processes. Incorrect products can dull leather and remove its natural oils. Also, leather fades quickly under the sun and easily absorbs liquids and gases.

On the other hand, faux leather is effortless to maintain. Users can wash it regularly without a problem. In addition to this, you can easily clean stains off of leatherettes. It is also scratch-resistant and does not need specific products for upkeep. However, as mentioned before, the top layer of leatherettes peel off easily, revealing the cloth underneath.

3. Comfort

Leather is breathable, porous, and soft, which makes it comfortable to wear in any weather. Also, leather is comfortable in hot conditions.

Unfortunately, leatherette is not breathable. People do not find it soft or cozy either to sit on a leatherette sofa or to wear a leatherette jacket. So, you might start feeling hot, sweat, and rubbery while wearing leatherettes.

4. Colors

Source: Makro

Leather is not very versatile when it comes to colors. One can find leather in shades of brown and black. Usually, leather is left in its natural dyes to retain its qualities.

On the other hand, leatherettes have more options. They come in different colors as they are synthetically manufactured. So, they are easier to dye and paint.

5. Cost

Source: indianhandoart.com

Leather is a costly fabric because it is an animal by-product. Further, leather goes through a long and tiring manufacturing process. Unsurprisingly, it is considered a luxury product. You can find chairs, sofas, leather bags, or shoe prices way higher than other products. Hence, some people might be unable to afford leather due to this factor. However, leather sofas range from $800-$3000 in the market, wherein the price variations depending on the leather quality used.

Faux leather or leatherette is much cheaper than leather. Users who want the look and feel of leather at cheap rates can go for faux leather.

6. Environmental and Ethical Concerns

Leather is made out of animal hides, which raises many ethical concerns for people who want to go vegan or use cruelty-free products. Further, the process requires a lot of chemicals that are harmful to the environment. However, leather is biodegradable in nature.

hromium and arsenic are the most tanned waste product in leather manufacturing which is dangerous to human race. Study says 20-50% of leather tannery workers suffer from lungs cancer in Italy and Sweden.

On the other hand, leatherettes do not contain animal products. This is perfect for people who are vegan and cruelty-free. But, leatherettes can do more harm than good. They are non-biodegradable as they contain plastics. Specifically, PVC does not decompose and releases toxic chemicals into water and soil.

So, in this matter, it boils down to individual values and priorities. If you are an eco-friendly individual, leather might be a better option if you prioritize animal rights. Then leatherettes are better for you.

7. Uses

Both leather and leatherettes have common uses.  They are used for automobile interiors, furniture, handbags, and shoes.

8. Child/Animal Friendliness

Real leather is prone to scratches and tears. So, it might not really be the best material to have around a pet. Further, it absorbs stains and spills very easily. This means that your clumsy toddler can easily stain these products. However, leather does not trap any allergens such as pollen, dust, or fur. So, your child is less likely to catch any allergies from these particles.

Leatherettes are animal and child-friendly to an extent. They are scratch-resistant and can be cleaned easily. However, leatherettes may or may not trap allergens. It purely depends on the type of leatherette that you own.


It might be hard to choose between leather and leatherettes. Both come with specific qualities, pros, and cons. If you have an eye for detail and adore luxury, there is no replacement for leather products. As much as leatherettes try, they cannot replicate the feel of real leather.

But, with leather, you need to sign yourself up for a lot of extra costs. This includes cleaning materials, storage spaces, and more. Plus, leather is very costly.

So, if you want all the good leather qualities at a lower price, then go for faux leather. It is vegan, cruelty-free, and easy to maintain. But, fake leather is just as harmful as plastic.

In conclusion, you need to look at your budget, needs, and intentions when buying leather products. Consider where and how often you will use it before making the purchase.

As a furniture enthusiast, I love making furniture that's both aesthetically pleasing and ergonomic. My master's degree is in ergonomics, and I have worked in the field for over 5 years. Email me: [email protected]

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