Leather furniture can be a durable, beautiful enhancement to any room. Today's furniture choices, however, include several different kinds of leather and leather-like products. Bonded leather is one of the newest on the market. If you are considering leather furniture, understanding bonded leather will help you make a more informed purchase.
According to the American Home Furnishings Alliance, bonded leather is created when leather scraps and fibres are mixed together, and then formed into a roll using adhesives or other bonding materials. In fact, the manufacturing process is very similar to making paper. After the roll is formed, it goes under drying equipment to reduce the moisture content. While this results in a durable product, it is different than real leather. The Leather Research Laboratory describes bonded leather as "polyurethane embossed to look like leather." In some cases, manufacturers glue leather fibres on the material to further enhance the leather look.
There is some controversy among furniture experts concerning whether bonded leather is considered leather, since it usually contains only 10 to 17 per cent leather fibres. The American Home Furnishings Alliance believes that if leather is disintegrated into small particles, mixed with other materials and then made into sheets or rolls, it should not be marketed as leather. Furniture Today, an industry publication, claims the term "bonded leather" is misleading, since consumers may simply hear the word "leather" and assume the furniture is made with real leather.
Because it doesn't undergo chemical tanning, bonded leather furniture contains low levels of environmentally unsafe formaldehyde. As a result, it may be better for people with environmental allergies or for those who are looking for "green" furniture. In addition, the manufacturing process for bonded leather is almost waste free. Bonded leather is highly durable and comes in many colours and finishes. It also is less expensive than leather; in 2009, bonded leather sofas start at £454 and real leather retails around £779 for a similar piece.
Chemicals such as lead and cadmium that are used to create the shiny, bonded leather finish may be harmful to consumers. When looking for leather furniture, unscrupulous retailers could mislead consumers into paying higher prices for bonded leather furniture by promoting it as higher-grade leather. It can be difficult to tell the difference visually in a furniture showroom.
Furniture sellers often display bonded leather furniture together with real leather furniture. Before you go furniture shopping, research different types of leathers and carefully read furniture tags. The Federal Trade Commission requires that bonded leather products be labelled with the leather fibre content and the amount of non-leather material. This will help you determine what type of leather furniture you are purchasing.