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What Is The Best Faux Leather? The Ultimate Guide

what is the best faux leather

Are you looking to buy a faux leather item and want the very best faux leather material there is. I have got you covered. In this article, I carried out research on which faux leather is best and I am happy to share with you all that I have found.

So, what is the best faux leather? If you want faux leather that mimics real leather perfectly, breathable, and comparatively safe for the environment, then polyurethane (PU) leather will be the best faux leather to go for but if you would want faux leather that is easier to maintain, durable, and cheap, then polyvinyl leather would be the best faux leather for you.

There’s obviously a lot to this topic than what has been summarized above. To learn more about the best faux leather, keep reading this article.

Let’s start by taking a look at what faux leather is in order to get a good background on this topic.

What Is Faux Leather?

Faux is the French word that means “fake” or artificial. The term fake or faux that is associated with synthetic leather has nothing to do with the quality of the material itself, except for the fact that faux leather is not real leather sourced or a by-product from the meat industry.

Faux leather is marketed under so many names to avoid using the term fake, artificial, or synthetic.

Some of the common names of faux leather are pleather, leatherette, vegan leather, bonded leather, leather gel, and a host of other fancy names.

Faux leather is the go-to for most manufacturers looking for a cruelty-free and animal-free alternative to leather.

Although not always the case, one interesting thing I found when it comes to the names used to describe a particular type of synthetic leather is its specific use.

Goods such sofas, chairs, and other upholsteries made from synthetic leather materials will usually be referred to as faux leather. For example faux leather sofa, faux leather chairs, etc.

Another one would be leatherette. Leatherette would commonly be used to describe auto upholstery, clothes, to mention a few.

Types of Faux leather

During World War II, leather was rationed in Germany, and Presstoff was sometimes used instead of leather to produce items that would normally be made from leather.

Since that time, the alternative leather industry has seen a lot of innovations as manufacturers have been producing many different types of faux leather from all sorts of sources.

While the most popular types of faux leather are made from plastic, there are a ton of other leather alternatives (not very common or as commercial as the plastic-based faux leather) that are from animal-free sources and are as well eco-friendly.

Some animal-free sources of faux leather include:

  • Apple fibers
  • Pineapples
  • Mushrooms
  • Teak leaves
  • Papers
  • Waxed cotton
  • Tree bark and cork

From the above, you can clearly see there are many different types of faux leather and even as you read this article, there are more being designed and developed.

But the two primary types of faux leather construction that have flooded the market today are Polyurethane leather (PU) and Polyvinyl leather (PVC or Vinyl).

Polyurethane leather and polyvinyl chloride are both plastic-based faux leather commonly known as pleather.

These two are going to be the main focus for this article since 9 out of 10 faux leathers on the market is going to be either of these two synthetic leathers.

The 2 Main Types of Faux Leather: PU vs PVC

If you have been reading this article up to this point you would have noticed the two main types of faux leather on the market today – which are PU and PVC leather.

For the remaining parts of this article, I’m going to help discuss which of the two are best to help you make a better decision in your quest to find the best faux leather out there.

But first, let me quickly run by you some important information and tips about these two popular types of faux leathers.

Let’s start with Polyvinyl chloride!

Faux Leather Type 1: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

Polyvinyl chloride, vinyl for short, is a type of faux leather that has been produced in the United States since the 1940s.

PVC is made using two separate synthetic materials. The fibers of PVC are constructed from very strong polyester fibers. These fibers are subsequently coated with vinyl, made from polyvinyl chloride and plasticizers (phthalic acid).

The vinyl is then melted onto the surface of the fibers causing it to seal it off and resulting in a waterproof surface that is flexible and tough at the same time.

In recent years, PVC has become very less popular due to the high level of pollution in the manufacturing processes. But it’s still quite common in a lot of industries like the automobile industry in terms of seat upholstery manufacturing.

Faux Leather Type 2: Polyurethane (PU)

In the late 1950s, chemical companies like DuPont began developing polyurethane products.

The polyurethane material is made by backing or coating a piece of fabric like polyester, woven textiles, nylon, cotton, or leather shavings with a flexible polymer and then finishing it to look more like natural leather.

In some instances, PU leather is going to be made of the top grain of natural leather with its top layer covered with a layer of polyurethane.

The polymer used for PU leather resins is softer and because of this, there is no need for additional plasticizers.

Due to the kind of treatment given during the making of PU leather, it’s the faux leather that’s going to have the most deceptive resemblance to real leather when it comes to touch, feel, and overall appearance.

There are a couple of things that are going to determine the quality of polyurethane leather. Some of these will be the different quality grades and thickness of the resin used, and various different production processes it undergoes.

A good example is, polyurethane leathers are supposed to be made using long fibers that are tangled together to form a tough and durable bond. However, when manufacturers use calcium stretchers (in an attempt to maximize profit) the long fibers become short fibers. This then causes the PU leather to crack and wear pretty badly.

What Is The Best Faux Leather: PU or PVC?

There are a couple of factors that are going to help determine which of the above faux leathers is best. These factors are especially going to help you personally determine which combining factors makes a particular one not only the overall best but also good and suitable for your specific needs.

In light of this, I’m going to do a comparision based on the look and feel, comfortability, usage, and host of other very important factors. Let’s get to it!

1. Look And Feel

Based on look and feel, polyurethane faux leathers (PU) have a more natural and realistic look and feel that perfectly imitate real leather than polyvinyl faux leathers (vinyl).

In terms of feel, PU leather will have the exact feel of real leather and in most cases, it will be hard to differentiate when you touch them.

This is because PU leather is softer and will not develop cracks and peels with time.

Unlike vinyl, when it comes to looks, PU Leather will come with engraving on its grain surface just like real leather.

The Verdict: It’s a Win for PU Leather!

Since one of the primary reasons for using faux leather is getting an animal material that looks and feels like leather as much as possible, I would say PU leather won this one.

2. Structure And Durability

Vinyl will generally come with a lot more layers beneath its surface coating. And because of this, vinyl will be tougher and more durable when compared to PU faux leather.

PU leather, on the other hand, has fewer layers and because of this, PU leather is more pliable and flexible to work with.

The Verdict: Draw!

This will absolutely come down to personal choice. If you would want your faux leather to be tougher and a lot more durable then vinyl leather is going to be the way to go. On the other hand, if you would want to have faux leather that’s very workable, then PU is what you would want to get.

3. Breathability

Generally, faux leather is not very breathable but what you would notice is certain specific types would be slightly better than others.

When you take a look at PU leather and vinyl side by side, vinyl will be less breathable than PU.

Because of how unbreathable vinyl-based faux leathers are they are usually not used for clothing as they tend to become uncomfortably hot when used outdoors during sunny times.

Even when it’s used for things like furniture, and car seats, they often cause our skin to stick to its surface, creating an uncomfortable sitting experience.

Polyurethane-based faux leather does a better job when it comes to breathability due to how it’s made. It’s typically made by coating natural fabrics like cotton with polymer-based substances and then giving it final treatments that make it look like real leather.

Due to this kind of production process, PU faux leathers are more breathable than vinyl-based faux leathers. This is why you would see a lot of clothing and items that are usually in direct contact with the skin being made from PU leather.

The Verdict: In terms of breathability, PU leather Wins.

4. Workability

This is for crafters and DIYers who make faux leather projects. Usually, you would want the faux leather material you choose to be very easy to work with.

However, the kind of projects you make will generally determine which of these two types of faux leather (PU or PVC) to go for.

Both PU and vinyl faux leathers can be used to make everything from clothing to upholstery and everything in-between but each of the two is great for certain specific applications than the other. 

For example, vinyl will be ideal for products that you might want some water-resistance or water-repellency like bookbinding, phone and other electronic device cases.

On the other hand, polyurethane faux leathers are more pliable, flexible, and a lot more workable. This is why they are commonly used for upholstery or furniture, clothing or garments, etc.

The Verdict: Draw! Basically depends on what you would want to achieve with the faux leather product you’re making or want to purchase.

5. Impact On The Environment

Generally, faux leather is less biodegradable when compared to real leather. But again certain types of faux leathers will be slightly more forgiving than others.

In simple terms, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is actually plastic. Essentially the kind of plastic that is very bad for our environment.

Vinyl is one of the most dangerous faux leather because of the toxins that gets released into the atmosphere as it’s used and not properly disposing it (burning).

Compare to vinyl, PU leather is a much much better alternative to real leather when it comes to how it impacts the environment. PU faux leather is sustainable and a lot more greener than vinyl because it does not create dioxins.

The Verdict: It’s an absolute win for PU faux leather!

6. Maintenance

For most people, the way faux leather requires no babying is what attracts them to go for faux leather. But the fact is, some faux leather will be easier to care for and maintain than others.

Vinyl faux leather is easier to clean and maintain than PU faux leather. So if you’re making a choice for faux leather goods for a place where you would want to maintain a high level of cleanliness such as restaurants, hotels, hospitals, etc, then vinyl is going to be a great material choice.

The Verdict: It’s quite clear Vinyl wins this one.

7. Ageing

When it comes to how both of these types of faux leathers age, PU leather will generally not only age better than PVC but will also age very similar to how real leather does.

The reason why PU faux leather is going to age better when compared to vinyl is that there are no plasticizers used during its making.

Due to this, PU leather will not crack or peel like how the vinyl will. PU faux leather will continue to remain soft and supple throughout its lifespan.

One interesting thing that will amaze you when it comes to PU leather is how it also imitates the way natural leather takes on wear in terms of wrinkles and stains.

PU faux leather will even wrinkle and stain just like the way natural leather would. Vinyl or PVC, in general, will be able to withstand extreme wear and extreme weather conditions.

The Verdict: It’s a draw! I also think this will basically depend on how you would expect your faux leather items to age.

If you would want your faux leather to age somewhat similar to how real leather does, then PU is what you should go for.

If you want your faux leather to be able to withstand extreme conditions then you might what to go for vinyl.

But be mindful of how much crack your faux leather item is going to see during its last stages.

8. Price

On the level of price, while PU leather will cost substantially less that natural leather, it’s going to be generally a lot more expensive than vinyl.

The Verdict: Vinyl wins on this one!

PU Leather vs Vinyl: Which Is Best – Summary

FactorsPolyurethane Leather (PU)Polyvinyl (PVA/Vinyl)
1.Look And FeelLooks a lot like real leatherFake looking
2. Structure And DurabilityPliable and flexibleMore durable and tougher
3.BreathabilityMore breathableCompletely non-breathable but highly water-resistant
4.WorkabilityCommonly used for upholstery, clothing or garmentsDue to its water-resistance, it’s suitable for bookbinding, phone, and other electronic device cases.
5.Environment ImpactsSustainable and a lot more greener than vinylMost dangerous faux leather
6.MaintenanceA little bit of care goes a long wayNo care and maintenance required
7.AgeingWill not crack or peelIt will crack
8.PricePricey compare to vinylCheap

Final Thoughts

At this point, I’m sure the final verdict on which faux leather is best is absolutely. By reading this article, not only will you be able to choose the overall best faux leather but you will also be able to choose which one is going be perfect for your needs.

If you’re still struggling at this point to choose between these two materials, then let me make the answer to this question simple.

If I simply have to choose which faux leather is best, then I will just choose the one that looks and feels just like real leather – for which in this case it’s going to be PU leather.

But if I for some special reasons would want faux leather that’s super durable and wouldn’t mind whether it look or feel like real leather, then I might go for vinyl. (Very very unlikely though!)

Macwilliam K. Appianing

Hi! I’m Macwilliam, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leatherwork enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day!

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