The term “faux” means fake, or imitation. It’s a French word that crept into the English lexicon but is typically only used for fashion items.
Faux leather is a term used to describe an imitation of real leather, and that can encompass different forms of artificial leather, including PU leather or PVC leather.
If no animal materials are added to the mix, “vegan leather” is also an appropriate term and it’s particularly helpful for vegans that want to acquire fashion products, as it allows them to immediately grasp whether a given product is free from animal materials.
To sum it up, there’s no tangible difference between faux leather and PU leather given that PU leather is merely a form of faux leather. However, it’s not the only form of faux leather.
What Exactly Is Faux Leather?
Faux leather is one of several names given to artificial or synthetic leather, which can be used to describe specific end uses of synthetic leather products such as faux leather (sofa, chair, and headboard upholstery), leatherette (auto upholstery, clothing), and koskin (consumer goods).
There are three primary types of faux leather fabrics:
- Polyurethane (PU) leather
PU leather is made by coating a backing fabric such as cotton, polyester, or shredded leather with a flexible polymer and then treating it to look more like animal hide. It is the most realistic imitation of genuine leather, with the respect to hand, surface feel, and overall appearance.
When stitched, gathered, or tufted it also “wrinkles” just like real leather. PU leather is also a more green technology than PVC, particularly because it does not create dioxins, which are highly toxic substances that are associated with cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones.
PU leather is not as expensive as genuine leather, but it is slightly more expensive than PVC leather.
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) leather
Vinyl upholstery is made from two separate synthetic materials. The fibers of the upholstery are constructed from strong polyester fibers. The fibers are then coated with vinyl, made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and plasticizers (phthalic acid). This vinyl is melted onto the surface of the fibers, sealing them closed and making a virtually waterproof surface that is still flexible and tough.
This type of fabric is easy to clean and maintain, making it ideal for situations where cleanliness is a top priority, such as in hospitals and restaurants. However, because it contains polyvinyl chloride (PVC), it’s not the most eco-friendly fabric due to the unintentionally created dioxins, thus why it’s not as popular as it once was.
Silicone is the newest innovation in coated fabrics. Silicone is an organic polymer, unlike PU and PVC which are inorganic polymers. Simply put, organic polymers use cleaner building blocks, like Carbon, at the molecular level.
It is also environmentally friendly, unlike PU or PVC. Silicone is produced through a one-station casting process which uses far less energy than a traditional coated fabric manufacturing process. The process does not require the use of any solvents and very little water. Less water to re-cycle (which takes significant energy) or in some cases leads to pollution. There are no volatile organic compounds (VOC) released and no air pollution.
Is Faux Leather Vegan-Friendly?
While most faux leather is vegan-friendly, there are cases in which faux leather is crafted with real leather.
For instance, what most people call PU leather can essentially be any fabric coated with polyurethane (PU), which means the underlying fabric could be real leather.
Some sources claim that faux leather is always vegan, but upon further research, it’s possible to find out that it’s not really the case.
Therefore, before you purchase a product made with PU leather, I would advise you to contact the manufacturer (or look at the label) to check if it contains animal fabric.
Benefits of Faux Leather
Faux Leather does seem to offer a couple of advantages compared to real leather, but let me also preface that not all faux leather is made equally.
Faux leather seems to have the following advantages:
Price – Faux leather is typically much more affordable than real leather, however, it’s available at a variety of prices, which means the highest quality faux leather could be more expensive than genuine leather.
Durability – Faux leather is quite durable and might last a long time. It can withstand scratches and scrapes that would damage genuine leather. It is not prone to crack or peel like leather. It will not fade as easily in ultraviolet (UV) light and is stain resistant.
Low Maintenance – Faux leather materials can be wiped clean with a rag and warm water, and unlike genuine leather, it does not retain moisture, so faux leather items will not become warped or cracked. Some of the new performance faux leathers can remove ink, liquid, and food stains with only a dry cloth.
Looks realistic – Faux leather has been modified and improved with variations in grain, color, and textures to mimic realistic leather quality. For fans of real leather, the difference might be easy to perceive, but I’d say it’s quite a realistic imitation for most people.
Versatile/Variety – Faux leathers can also be printed providing an enormous variety of textures and patterns. In addition, because faux leather is a synthetic material, it can be dyed a rainbow of colors, giving people more freedom to be creative.
Easy to Work With – Faux leather is easier to cut and sew than real leather. In addition, needle marks are usually less noticeable and threads blend with the faux leather material more seamlessly.
Also, most faux leather is vegan-friendly, unlike real leather that is never vegan, which is definitely an advantage for those that want to spare animals from further cruelty.
Is Faux Leather More Durable Than Real Leather?
Faux leather varies in terms of durability because you can get your hands in faux leather that is really high quality and durable, but you can also get your hands on thin, cheap faux leather that is quite flimsy.
Compared to real leather, I would say that faux leather doesn’t retain its luster for a long time, and is more vulnerable to puncture and tear. However, it can withstand scratches and scrapes, and it’s not prone to crack or peel like genuine leather.
With that being said, faux leather comes in different qualities, so the durability may also vary.
Is Faux Leather Waterproof?
No, faux leather is not exactly waterproof.
For instance, PU leather is basically cotton, polyester, or leather coated with polyurethane, which exhibits plastic properties, making it water-resistant.
However, since the underlying construction might be made with cotton or leather, the entire material can’t be completely waterproof.
The difference between faux leather and PU leather is none. Faux leather is a term used to describe a category of artificial or synthetic fabrics such as PU leather, PVC leather, and silicone.
With that being said, some people might also refer to faux leather when bringing up natural fabrics such as pineapple leather (or Pinatex), a type of material made from a blend of natural pineapple leaf fibers, thermoplastic polyester, and petroleum-based resin.
Other natural materials might also include cork, leaf leather, mushroom leather, and others.
Therefore, I’d say that the term “faux leather” might evolve to include different types of fabric that are made to resemble genuine leather.