Faux Leather: What It Is and When to Use – Avoid It

Faux leather has increased in popularity over the past several decades for a variety of reasons (which will be discussed later in this article). If you want to learn more about faux leather in home décor, what it is, and when it makes sense (or no sense at all) to use it, read on. We’re going to cover all the basics of faux leather to let you figure out for yourself how you feel about the material.

Faux leather armchairsView in gallery

Faux leather bar chairView in gallery

Faux Leather Armchair DesignView in gallery

Definition of Faux Leather: Faux leather is exactly what it sounds like – fake, artificial, or syntheticleather. Faux leather is the term commonly used in its application on furniture (e.g., sofas, chairs, headboards), but the material is by other names as well: leatherette is used in clothing and auto upholstery, and koskin is used in consumer goods.

Reasons to Use Faux Leather:

Small faux leather couchView in gallery

Use Reason 1: Cost.

Faux leather is less expensive – often significantly so – than real animal hide.

Ottoman from faux leatherView in gallery

Use Reason 2:Ethics.

For obvious reasons, faux leather is more animal-friendly than real leather. Because it’s not the actual hide of animals, clearly. Many people have, for personal ethics reason, an aversion to real leather. For these, faux leather is an excellent alternative.

Different Faux Leather TypesView in gallery

Use Reason 3: Different Faux Leather Types.

Faux leather isn’t one-and-the-same across the board. Rather, a gradation of quality and qualities certainly exists among faux leather types. The two primary versions of faux leather include PVC (hard to clean, not breathable) and types that begin with poly- (e.g., polyamide microfiber, polyurethane). Poly- types of synthetic leather are generally preferable to the PVC types because they are more environmentally friendly, breathable, and cleanable than PVC.

Brown Faux Leather SofaView in gallery

Use Reason 4: Increased Technology = Even More Options.

Other non-traditional types of faux leather are becoming more popular and used than PVC and poly- types. These include, but are not limited to, natural products such as ocean leather from kelp and cork leather from trees (specifically, oak).

Variety of faux leather - deep brown and blackView in gallery

Use Reason 5: Variety.

Because faux leather is a synthetic (or at least an altered natural) material, the stuff can be manufactured in a variety of colors, styles, sheens, and patterns. This is useful when working with a specific and/or tight color palette or design scheme.

Faux leather round seatingView in gallery

Use Reason 6: Durability.

Poly- faux leather is highly durable, without the natural constraints and weaknesses of real animal hide. Furthermore, faux leather’s synthetic-ness allows it to resist cracking over time, unlike real leather, which must be conditioned regularly to keep supple.

Easy to clean faux leatherView in gallery

Use Reason 7: Low Maintenance.

Typically, faux leather is very easy to clean with simply the wipe of a damp cloth. There are generally no pores to soak up stains, which keeps things cleaner as a whole. Faux leather also fades less than its natural counterpart.

Reasons to Avoid Faux Leather:

Reason to avoid faux leatherView in gallery

Avoid Reason 1: Ages Gracelessly.

Natural leather ages beautifully. Imperfections that come with age and wear only enhance the soft, luxe, expensive look and feel of real leather. Faux leather does not have this luxury; it will never look better than it looks at its brand-newest state.

PVC faux leatherView in gallery

Avoid Reason 2: Non-Breathability.

Faux leather is not breathable. Of course, certain versions are even less breathable than others; if this is a concern, avoid PVC faux leather at all costs, because it is the least forgiving in the breathability department.

Not Environmentally FriendlyView in gallery

Avoid Reason 3: Not Environmentally Friendly.

Arguably, real leather is more environmentally friendly than faux leather because it is a natural byproduct of cows used for beef. In other words, faux leather is often an entirely new substance rather than the repurposing or recycling of something that would otherwise be wasted.

Faux leather lacks the natural elasticityView in gallery

Avoid Reason 4: High(er) Puncture Factor.

Faux leather lacks the natural elasticity or structural forgiveness that real leather has, which means faux leather can be punctured or torn more easily than real animal hide.

Faux leather - Non-HypoallergenicView in gallery

Avoid Reason 5: Non-Hypoallergenic.

Some real leather possesses hypoallergenic traits, which is beneficial. Faux leather lacks any such qualities, making it a material more prone to allergen-inducing.

Note: The photos contained in this article include both faux leather and real leather examples.