Buying leather furniture can be daunting when trying to decipher the various types of leather and leather-look covers. The terminology that the manufacturer, the retailer and the salesperson use to describe the furniture may vary even for the same material. Choosing between bonded leather and genuine leather furniture is one step in the buying process.
Bonded leather is made of leather pieces joined together with adhesive, then covered with polyurethane (Reference 2). Only the back of the fabric is made of the leather. It differs from a similar material called "bycast leather," which is pieces of leather covered with polyurethane.
Bonded leather started showing up at furniture retailers in 2007. Both manufacturers and salespeople reported some uncertainty about how to market and sell bonded leather furniture to avoid customer misconceptions about quality (Reference 1). However, at 2/3 the price of genuine leather furniture, bonded leather has become a desirable alternative to genuine leather furniture when price is a main concern for the customer (Reference 1).
Aside from price as the main benefit of bonded leather, retailers may make a case for recycling; the bonded leather is made up of leather scraps that would otherwise not be used. Benefits of genuine leather include a much sturdier and longer-lasting finish. When genuine leather is scratched or worn, the leather becomes distressed, which adds to its style. When bonded leather gets scratched, the polyurethane surface gets worn off and an entirely different colour surface may appear underneath.
Bonded leather is not genuine leather. To make that point clear to consumers and to avoid misunderstandings about quality, some companies market their bonded leather under different names. Instead of looking for an indication of bonded leather in the names of certain covers, look for names from some major manufacturers like DuraHide Plus, Nupelle, UltraHide or polyvinyl PVC composite. Some retailers don't categorise their bonded leather furniture with the genuine leather furniture to avoid any confusion, terming it fabric-covered furniture instead (Reference 1).
Bonded leather has primarily been most successfully marketed as a promotional product (Reference 2). While its price has made it a useful alternative for some consumers, it cannot match the quality and durability of genuine leather. Bonded leather does not have the strength of a genuine leather hide (Reference 3). A better quality of leather is a "split grain" leather, which is the inner layer of a hide that has been split into two pieces. "Top grain" is the next level up in genuine leather; this refers to the outer layer of the hide. "Full grain" leather is not processed like "top grain," and is the top quality of genuine leather furniture (Reference 3).