The SENREVE woman is a knowledgeable shopper with a keen eye in finding products that are as good for the environment as they are for her wallet. But, when shopping for leather handbags, it can be difficult to decide between choosing real leather or faux leather. PU leather is a common type of faux leather that is versatile and timeless. But, what exactly is PU leather and how can you identify it?
PU leather, or polyurethane leather, is an artificial leather made of thermoplastic polymer. 100% PU leather is completely artificial and is considered vegan. There are a few specific types of PU leather, called bi-cast or double-cast leather, that incorporate genuine leather scraps and apply a PU coating on top.
PU leather also goes by a few different names, which are great to know if you are trying to avoid this artificial leather. When looking at the tags of handbags, PU leather can also be called:
- Bicast Leather
- Doublecast Leather
- Split Leather
- Bonded Leather
- Reconstituted Leather
- Corrected Grain Leather
Pros and Cons of PU Leather
You may be on the fence when it comes to deciding if you should purchase artificial leather, especially because each does come with its own pros and cons. Here is a quick list of the pros and cons of PU Leather.
PU Leather Pros:
- Unlike real leather, PU leather does not absorb water, making it more durable over time and easier to clean.
- Technically, PU leather is 100% Vegan.
- Overall, PU leather is easier to work with than real leather, making needle marks less noticeable.
- Because it’s a synthetic material, faux leather can take on a wider variety of colors and decoration.
PU Leather Cons:
- PU leather has a plastic shine that can cause it to appear fake and cheap.
- Due to the chemical nature of the material, it can smell strongly of plastic.
- It doesn’t develop a patina like real leather.
- It does not stretch or breathe.
- It is not as puncture-resistant or tear-resistant like real leather is.
How is PU Leather Made?
PU leather is made by applying a layer of plastic polyurethane over a fiber base, such as cotton or polyester. It does generally have a texture that is similar to, but not exactly the same as, real leather. Depending on the quality of the manufacturing process, faux leather is able to mimic the appearance of genuine leather to a point. However, it is usually lighter in nature and does have a tendency to tear and shred more easily.
Because it’s synthetic, it can more easily take on a variety of colors, making it more flexible and diverse than genuine leather. It can also be resistant to fading over time. Since bonded leather is mixed with PU and attached to a cloth backing, it can more easily scratch, peel or flake over time. Bonded leather also fades very quickly when exposed to sunlight.
PU vs. PVC Leather
PVC leather is similar to PU, but instead PVC is made by combining polyvinylchloride with stabilizers, plasticizers, and lubricants, and then applying to a base material. Again, the base materials are typically polyester or cotton.
PVC is more durable as it has more layers underneath the plastic top coat. PVC also has a foam layer, which makes it more breathable than PU. Because of its durability, PVC leather is more often found in products like upholstery and footwear.
Both PVC and PU leather are considered vegan as they are completely free of all animal products unless it uses a process called “double-case.”
How to Spot PU Leather
Whether you are looking specifically for PU leather, or want to avoid it, it’s important to be able to tell the difference. Some products will not always have a tag, but PU leather is still fairly easy to identify. If you have a keen eye, you will be able to readily spot the difference between the two by simply looking at the product. Real leather will always have a few imperfections combined with a genuine grain, while faux leather will have a pattern that looks so perfect, it appears unreal.
Smell: While this quality can be highly subjective, the smell of PU leather is very distinct from real leather. PU leather will smell like plastic or chemicals, while real leather will have a more natural, almost undetectable smell.
Texture: Finally, it is often much shinier and does not have as much texture as real leather. This comes through in its inability to develop a patina, as well.
Water Test: Typically genuine animal leather is not water resistant unless specifically noted like this Italian genuine leather belt bag.PU leather, on the other hand, is always very water resistant and will not absorb anything.
PU Leather vs. Genuine Leather: Which One is Better?
Typically, PU leather lasts about 1-2 years before it will start showing signs of tearing and breakdown. Real leather can last a lifetime or more with proper care. If durability and longevity are a big concern for you, then real leather is most likely a better option.
If you do find yourself having to choose between PU leather or genuine leather, we recommend asking yourself if the cost tradeoff now is worth the quality sacrifice in the long run.
When it comes to cleaning and overall maintenance, PU leather is overall easier. Genuine leather requires special care with a microfiber cloth and leather lotion. Because PU leather is not porous or breathable, dirt and dust will sit on top of it, making it easier to wipe off.
Ethical and Environmental Concerns
There are many people that might shy away from genuine leather due to the ethical concerns behind the way it's sourced. What most people don’t realize, however, is that genuine leather comes from cattle raised for beef, meaning that leather production is actually a byproduct of dairy and beef industries. This is a good thing, as it overall reduces waste.
Genuine leather, on the other hand, will decompose after a certain amount of years due to the fact that it’s made from organic material. Even then, there are clever ways to upcycle worn and torn leather that’s reached the end of its wearable life, such as using it to line flower pots or gardens.
Ultimately, choosing between faux and real leather comes down to a variety of considerations. You should consider if you care about how the product looks, how long it will last, and if it ultimately fits your budget. It’s not an easy decision, so be sure to think through all of the aspects that are most important to you and weigh your options before deciding between PU leather or real leather.