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A guide to faux leather: what is vegan leather?

What is faux leather?

Faux leather is artificial imitation leather. It’s a synthetic fabric that has been specially designed to replicate the look and feel of genuine leather, but without using any animal by-products. Faux leather is used to produce all sorts of everyday products, like shoes, bags, clothing, and even vegan sofas — in fact, it can be used to upholster almost any item of furniture in exactly the same way as real leather.

There are lots of different names for faux leather, including artificial, synthetic or vegan leather, and occasionally you’ll also come across the terms pleather and leatherette. However, all of these mean much the same thing: an artificially simulated version of leather, made without animal products.

To the untrained eye, faux and real leather can look remarkably similar. But, if you look very closely, you’ll see that there are subtle differences in the texture and markings on the material. Real leather retains the uneven grain and slight surface imperfections that come with a natural animal hide, while faux leather looks more even and consistent because the grain is an artificial imitation.

What is faux leather made from?

Faux leather is made from a layer of synthetic plastic coating, layered onto a fabric backing and treated to create an authentically leathery texture. This plastic coating can be made from a number of different chemical compounds, but the most common types are wax, dye, polyamide microfibre, polyvinyl chloride (more commonly known as PVC), or polyurethane (sometimes called PU leather).

Faux leather is made in the following way:

Step 1

A synthetic coating — usually a plastic — is applied to a fibrous base layer, typically made from polyester.

Step 2

Dye is laid over the synthetic coating to achieve the desired colour.

Step 3

A textured finish is added to give the material the pore markings and grain of authentic leather, often using chemical treatments and embossing machines. This gives it the surface texture and look of real leather. Because faux leather is made by a machine, it can be cut by the metre like any other synthetic fabric, unlike natural hides, from which the best sections must be selected and cut.

Is faux leather always vegan?

By definition, faux leather is made without any animal products, which means that all artificial leather is vegan leather. The two terms are often used interchangeably.

What are the benefits of faux leather?

For many people, the most appealing thing about faux leather is that it looks and feels similar to genuine leather but isn’t made using animal products. This means that vegans and vegetarians can still enjoy the luxurious feel and look of leather, without concerns about animal welfare or the impact it has had on the natural world.

In addition to this, faux leather also has plenty of other benefits:

It’s increasingly realistic: Advances in the way that synthetic leathers are produced mean that modern faux leather is increasingly realistic. Many manufacturers can now create faux leathers with convincing variations in grain, colour and texture that look and feel almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
It offers a huge choice of colours: Synthetic leathers hold dye better than real versions, which means that you can buy faux leather in a wider variety of colours and styles. This means it’s a great choice if you have something very specific in mind for your interiors.
It’s incredibly durable: Unlike some low-quality genuine leathers, it does not crack, fade, or scratch easily. It’s resistance to scratches makes it a good choice of upholstery for pet-owners.
• It’s low maintenance: Faux leather is easy to clean and care for, and you don’t need to use a specialist leather cleaner to keep it in good condition. For this reason, you’ll often find faux leather on public areas or medical environments.

There are also several reasons that faux leather might not be the right choice for you:

It’s doesn’t age like real leather: While high quality faux leather can be very durable, it doesn’t age in the same way as real leather. Genuine leather develops a distinctive patina and soft sheen over the years, which many people feel lends it a rustic charm and sense of character. But, while synthetic types might come with an intentionally aged ‘vintage’ look, it doesn’t age as gracefully, and once cracks or wear appear, you’ll need to replace or repair them.
It’s less breathable: Because most synthetic leathers use a plastic coating, they aren’t porous or breathable. This means that clothing made from artificial leather can often be uncomfortable to wear, as they trap moisture next to the skin. But, this is less of a concern if you’re looking for synthetic leather upholstery for a sofa or chair.
It doesn’t last as long: While faux leather will often last for many years if cared for properly, it’s still unlikely to last as long as genuine leather.

There are pros and cons to both kinds of leather. Ultimately, the best kind for you will depend on your values and your intentions for the piece of furniture or clothing you want to buy.

How to clean faux leather

One of the best things about faux leather is how easy it is to clean and care for. The surface is non-porous, which means it’s quite resistant to staining and can easily be wiped clean and sanitised, which is why you’ll normally find faux leathering coverings on furniture in public spaces, or on medical furniture and beds. All you need to clean it is some mild soap and a few clean cloths.

However, when cleaning your faux leather, we would always recommend the following steps:

1. Blot any stains

First, blot any stains with a cloth or paper towel to remove any remaining liquid or dirt. Be gentle and don’t scrub, as this could damage the fabric.

2. Wipe it with soapy water

Fill a bowl with hot water and add a squirt of mild dish soap. Then, dampen a dish cloth use gentle circular motions to wipe the area clean. Never be tempted to use a sponge or scourer, as they will corrode the surface.

3. Dry and buff the surface

Once the stain has been removed and the area is totally clean, take a soft, dry microfibre cloth and gently buff the area dry using gentle circular motions. This will help to keep preserve the soft texture and sheen of your faux leather.

Lastly, try to ensure your faux leather doesn’t dry out, as this can cause the surface to peel and crack. Only clean the surface when needed and be careful not to let it get wet, being careful to dry the area with a soft cloth after cleaning. Try not to use harsh chemical cleaners on your upholstery, as alcohol and other abrasive chemicals will cause it to dry out faster. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can also dry or discolour the fabric, so if possible, make sure your furniture isn’t placed in front of a sunny, unshaded window.

Affordable, easy to care for, and often just as stunning as the real deal, faux leather is the perfect choice for upholstery. Plus, it doesn’t use animal hides, making it an ideal option for vegans who want to get the look and feel of luxurious leather coverings.

If you’re looking to invest in a piece of faux leather furniture, then the Sofas by Saxon bespoke team will be only too happy to help. We can make up any of our classic furniture using faux leather materials, so browse our collections of sofas, chairs, corner sofas, sofa beds, and footstools to find your ideal design.

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