Bonded leather is leather but not quite. It is made of leather but may not be called leather (in some countries not at all). But is it fake leather? No! Then What? How? Why? Let me explain
Bonded leather (also called reconstituted leather/coated leather/blended leather) is made by grinding waste pieces of leather from factories and then mixing them with adhesive/binder to create a layer which is then adhered to a backing surface and then at last given a polyurethane sealant coating; it is then stamped to make it look just like real leather.
This man-made synthetic leather substitute for the animal hide is very popular and in demand for upholstery purposes and making leather look-alike garments.
It is different from fake leather /artificial leather in that the leather component in bonded leather is more. In bonded leather, at least 20% constitutes of real leather scraps. The only advantage of bonded leather over fake leather is that it has that miniscule amount of leather, which is really no great advantage.
Bonded leather vs Real Leather – How to know
Leather has more strength, better flexibility, better elasticity, better breathability, softness, and better looks than bonded leather. That is a fact.
A major visual difference between real and bonded leather is the imperfections found on the surface of the original leather. Leather is animal hide and may have slight inconsistencies, scar marks, etc which is natural in a natural product. Bonded leather will look too perfect, too much like how a leather should look like but is not. (but then split leather which is leather with the top layer taken out and then stamped to copy the grain of leather can also look perfect, so this is not a sure fire way)
The natural leather will develop a patina finish with use, and may even fade a little or worse crack in places with gross misuse whereas the bonded leather will start to peel and flake off most horribly very easily.
The bonded leather surface will feel a little slippery because of the coating it has on the surface.
If you look at the label of the product, it will have the word bonded or blended or reconstituted somewhere. Or it may be marked 10% leather or something similar.
When you buy a bonded leather product expect to use it for the next 3 years maximum. Take care of it to make it last more, and it will if you are lucky. But a real leather product will last forever if it is well maintained.
Disadvantages of Bonded leather when compared to real leather
You may be tricked into thinking that the bonded leather is the real leather. It can look uncannily like original leather
It does not have the durability of leather.
It may peel after some use. The surface will start to flake off. And it is unrepairable.
It can release chemical fumes because there are a lot of chemicals involved in its manufacturing
It may feel uncomfortable against the skin because it not breathable and it is synthetic.
It can separate from the backing after sometime
Advantages of bonded leather
It is inexpensive
It can be easily cleaned. You can wipe with a wet cloth for a quick cleaning
It is more flexible and so better for upholstery purposes – even when it is thicker.
It is a recycled product; it recycles leather scraps that would otherwise go to waste
It is waterproof because of the polyurethane finish on top.
It can be long lasting – but with the right use and maintenance
How to care for bonded leather products
Careful use of bonded products is very important because once the top surface starts peeling, it can look really unattractive. And the worse thing is that you may never be able to repair/reverse this damage. The peeling will continue till the whole thing is an unholy mess.
If you check at shops they may recommend fillers to repair the peeled/flaked surface but they will still look unnatural and unattractive.
You should be careful that the product is not close to any heat source like direct sunlight, heat from any appliances, etc. And also take care that the surface is not stretched. Stretching the bonded leather can make the thing come apart – after all, it is all glued up bits.
Use a leather conditioner (labeled for use with bonded leather products) frequently to keep the surface intact.
If you spill something oily, dirty etc on the product, wipe away immediately – because oils and other impurities can disintegrate the bonded leather structure.
If you accidentally scratch the surface (or your pet or your kid) the surface can start peeling from there. The bonded leather will tear easily and once it is torn you have a dud on your hands.
Cleaning Bonded Leather
Dirt and oils can cause the bonded leather to disintegrate in the long run so it is better to clean it frequently.
Wipe with a damp cloth; After cleaning like this at every nook and corner, ensure that the surface is dry by wiping with a dry cloth. Use a soft cloth to ensure that there are no scratches. If you have to use soap (for stubborn dirt or stain), use mild non-alkaline, nondetergent soap.
Do not use any other cleaning solution on the bonded leather surface. The chemicals in them may cause the surface coating to dissolve and then it will start to peel.
Many people do not even know about the existence of bonded leather and they can be fooled into buying this synthetic leather instead of the original leather at the same price if they are not vigilant. But if you are into bonded leather, knowing all the advantages and disadvantages, enjoy the product while it lasts.