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The Journal

What is Faux Leather?

For hundreds of years, buffalo leather and cow leather became the staple materials for producing furniture, accessories, and clothing products. Until the Great Depression affected the world’s economy, these materials were being rationed during the production of military goods for World War II. Due to the lack of leather production, faux leather became the cheaper and substitute material that kept the supplies in stock.

After the war, it grew to be very popular with its qualities being similar to genuine leather and the unique patterns that left impressions on furniture craftsmen and fashion designers alike. Because faux leather can be made out of plant fibers or synthetic fibers, it became more available than actual leather.

While it’s not popular with environmentalists for the fibers and plastics they used, manufacturers are currently finding more environmentally friendly materials to create less waste for the planet. To understand why we will need to go over the uses of faux leather, how it was made to be a substitute for leather, and finally, discuss the advantages and disadvantages it has.

What is Faux Leather?


Faux leather or pleather is a synthetic cloth material made of fibers that can mimic the characteristics of real leather. The nickname pleather is a shortened term for plastic-coated leather. It’s also known as vegan leather for replacing animal leather with either plant or synthetic fibers. Without needing any preparation process, the fabric is easier to work with where real leather is tougher and requires a rigorous cleaning process before use. 

Faux leather is very easy to clean which makes it great for vehicle seating and residential and commercial furniture, automobiles, boats, and RVs. It is resistant to stains, liquids, dust, dirt, and extreme climate conditions to last for a long time. And instead of shades of brown, faux leather comes in various colors and appealing patterns for different decorating styles.

Types of Faux Leather Construction

The two pleather types you need to know for upholstery are vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU).

Vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC)


Vinyl is the most commercially faux leather used in furniture. However, its laminated PVC coating is a type of plastic. Inside of it carries phthalates, a group of chemicals that gives plastic better durability. They are mostly harmful to younger children and pregnant women for they are known to cause brain development issues and asthma. Researchers have found that phthalates can produce dioxin, a group of pollutants that can cause cancer that appears during plastic manufacturing and disposal.

In addition, vinyl leather also carries a bad reputation for its synthetic fibers being made with harmful chemicals which caused an uproar in the environmentalist community. Faux leather manufacturers developed a less dangerous version with the leather labeled as non-phthalates meaning the plastic coating won’t produce any dioxins. And then they can choose to keep the synthetic fibers or replace them with plant fibers. Since it’s a cheaper material, it can be cracked and torn more easily than actual leather.

Polyurethane (PU)


Polyurethane upholstery has a coating that can be made with a combination of wood plant resins and polyol with similar plastic characteristics. The resin formula coating is very flexible to stretch making it comfortable for relaxation. It’s also stronger than vinyl to prevent cracking and tearing. The fibers underneath the coating are all plant-based to avoid any harmful contact with the human body. And because polyurethane is more organic, it’s safe for decomposition and is safe to incinerate.

What both of these pleather types have in common is that they will need an additional layer of microporous foam below the fibers to help them breathe and be less stiff while in use. Their coatings are safe to be kept under sunlight for a longer amount of time. They both can wrinkle over time which can ruin their glossy surface. And they don’t last very long. Both pleathers have a short life span of 3-5 years compared to real leather which can last up to 10 years.

How Faux Leather was Created

Faux leather was first invented in Germany around the 1920s when it was first known as Prestoff, a cloth material out of plant fibers. It was first put to use during the production of military goods while leather supply was rationed. The concept of faux leather didn’t become popular until the U.S. Rubber Company invented Naugahyde, a cloth material made out of synthetic fibers and was first used in handbags. 

Until the 1970s, the environmental movement spread awareness about the dangers of synthetic fibers containing harmful chemicals including polyester which contains petroleum. The other problem they brought up about faux leather was the plastic coating. During this time, plastic became the leading cause of ocean pollution and caused many manufacturers to be divided in what materials to use to keep their faux leather industry afloat.

Some of the companies decided to use plant fibers with a non-vinyl coat while most continued on to use synthetic fibers and plant fibers with a PVC coat. The companies that have succeeded created a solution by coating plant fibers in polyurethane resins instead of regular plastic to be more environmentally friendly. Today, manufacturers are experimenting to search for materials to create plastic-free faux leather and implementing recyclable fiber materials to create less waste.

Pros & Cons of Faux Leather

Advantages of Faux Leather

  • Faux leather makes a great alternative for animal-free leather. It’s a cheaper material making it affordable for everyone.
  • Faux leather’s outer coating can protect against stains, liquids, dust, and dirt making it easier to clean and withstand extreme temperatures.
  • Their fabrics are readily available as they can be either made from either synthetic or plant fibers.
  • It can come in bright and darker colors with its uniformed and unique patterned surface for any type of style whether for vehicle seating or furniture.
  • Faux leather doesn’t require a tanning and crusting process to be manufactured.
  • It can last longer under sunlight where real leather will peel over time from UV exposure.
  • Polyurethane pleather is eco-friendly as it is safe to decompose and incinerate thanks to the material made with organic resins.
  • Polyurethane pleather is stronger and more flexible than vinyl faux leather.
  • Vinyl faux leather can be clean and disinfected with a soap and water solution, harsh cleaners, and bleach.
  • Faux leather is a lighter material than genuine leather.

Disadvantages of Faux Leather

  • Faux leather’s lifespan is shorter than real leather. It can only last up to 3-5 years while genuine leather can last up to 10 years.
  • Vinyl pleather is not very eco-friendly due to the PVC coating produces plastic waste and dioxins.
  • Vinyl pleather is more stiff making it uncomfortable to sit on.
  • Vinyl pleather cracks and tears during its use and will need more time for repairs.
  • Polyurethane pleather can only be clean and disinfected with soap and water.
  • Because of its low durability, cracks and tears will form in a shorter time than real leather.
  • Due to being made out of plants and synthetic fibers, faux leather isn’t hypoallergenic.
  • Faux leather will need additional microporous foam to help the fibers breathe.

Maintaining Faux Leather

How to Repair Faux Leather

Faux leather can crack, tear and wrinkle during its 3-5 year lifespan. You can treat the damages by using fabric paint. You can also order yourself a pleather repair kit if you want an all-in-one package with tools and leather dye you need. For the wrinkles, you will need a steam cleaner to iron them out.

Starting with the cracks and tears, you want to clean the area you want to paint on with sandpaper or soap and water. Then, wipe the area with pure alcohol and allow it to dry. Next, apply the color dye to the damage you want to repair. Finally, once the dye is dried, spray it with vinyl leather polish.

Now to treat the wrinkles. First, you want to use the same cleaning method we used for the cracks and tears. Then, use a brush attachment on the steam hose to prevent the hot iron from touching the plastic. Finally, gently smooth the wrinkles out and allow the pleather to dry.

How to Clean Faux Leather

Easy to clean furniture doesn’t mean all faux leather will be clean in the same way. Depending on if you have vinyl or polyurethane upholstery, these materials will need to be clean differently.

Both faux leather types are resistant to food stains, liquids, dust, and dirt which is a great start. 

However, the laminated PVC coating on the vinyl is more durable against harsh cleaners and bleach. Compared to the polyurethane leather, it needs to be cleaned and disinfected with a soap and water solution.


To start, use a non-abrasive pad or a soft damp cloth to avoid further damage to the faux leather. First, apply the cleaner on the spot you want to clean. If you are using bleach or a harsh cleaner, please wear rubber gloves for protection to prevent skin damage. Then, gently wipe the area in a circular motion. Once the area is dry, apply vinyl leather conditioner allowing the leather to restore its color.