PU leather: advantages and disadvantages of artificial leather

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PU leather, also known as polyurethane leather or foil-coated split leather, is a man-made material that imitates the look and texture of real leather. It consists of a base material, usually polyester, which is coated with a layer of polyurethane. It offers certain advantages, such as consistent quality and greater resistance to moisture. The disadvantage: Unlike real leather, PU leather can peel or tear over time. You can find out what else is important to know about the man-made material in the following article.

What is PU leather made of and how does it differ from conventional synthetic leather?

PU leather and synthetic leather are terms that are often used interchangeably . Both materials are manufactured using artificial methods and are designed to mimic the look and feel of real leather. However, there are some differences between the two materials that you should know about.

What is meant by artificial leather?

Faux leather is a general term for all leather substitutes made from synthetic materials . There are several types of faux leather, including PU leather and PVC (vinyl) leather. The main goal of faux leather is to replicate the properties of real leather at a fraction of the price and without the use of animal hides.

What is PU leather?

PU leather stands for polyurethane leather . As the name suggests, it is made by coating a fabric such as polyester with a layer of polyurethane. This coating can be modified to resemble and feel like real leather.

PU leather & synthetic leather: 6 differences that are not only visually noticeable

In direct comparison with PU leather, PVC leather is made from polyvinyl chloride. On top of that, PVC leather is somewhat more robust and less breathable than film-coated split leather. Visually, it also stands out due to its shiny surface, which looks far less natural than that of PU leather . Although both materials are classified under the category of "artificial leather", the following criteria make it clear how different they are.

  1. Breathability: PU leather is more breathable than PVC leather. This means that PU leather products are more comfortable to wear , especially for clothing or shoes.
  1. Environmental Impact: PU leather is often considered to be more environmentally friendly than PVC leather because fewer harmful chemicals are used in its production.
  1. Durability & care: Both materials are easy to care for. However, PVC leather has a longer lifespan because it is more resistant to UV light and external influences.

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  1. Look and feel: PU leather has a softer and more natural feel than PVC-based synthetic leather. This fact guarantees better wearability.
  1. Environmental impact: The production of PU leather is less harmful to the environment than that of PVC leather . This is because harmful chlorides are released during the production process and during disposal of the latter leather alternative . If these are released into the outside world, they can cause lasting damage to the environment.
  1. The price: PVC leather is cheaper to produce, which affects the final price.

In summary, both PU leather and other types of synthetic leather have their own advantages and disadvantages. Which material is ultimately better depends mainly on the specific purpose and the individual preferences of the consumer .

PU leather vs. real leather: these are the differences

There are a number of differences between PU leather and real leather that are noticeable in use. The fact is: Both have their own advantages and disadvantages . So that you can form your own opinion, we have taken a closer look at both materials. Of course, we don't want to withhold the result, which reflects the advantages and disadvantages of PU leather compared to real leather, from you.

Advantages of PU leather over genuine leather

  • Cost: Products made of PU leather are cheaper than those made of genuine leather.
  • Easy to care for: PU leather is less sensitive to stains and moisture. It is also easier to clean than the natural material.

Person standing in a puddle with brown leather shoes

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  • Visual appearance: Because it is machine-made, PU leather products have a uniform color and texture . For natural leather products, color differences and differences in texture in the form of grain tissue are normal.
  • Animal welfare: No animals are killed to produce PU leather, making it attractive to people who follow a vegan lifestyle or do not want to buy real leather for ethical reasons.
  • Water resistance: PU leather is more water-repellent than untreated genuine leather. It is therefore considered less sensitive.

Disadvantages of PU leather compared to real leather

  • Durability: Artificial leather is less durable. It can peel or crack over time due to external influences, whereas real leather can last for many years if well cared for.
  • Breathability: PU leather is less breathable than real leather. This affects comfort. This fact is particularly noticeable in the warm season or when there is direct skin contact, when it is anything but pleasant to get comfortable on your sofa.
  • Look and feel: Although PU leather looks similar to real leather, it lacks the depth, natural patina and unique texture. Properties that make real leather so special.
  • Environmental impact: The production of plastics, including polyurethane, has a negative impact on the environment. Another disadvantage is that PU leather is not biodegradable and therefore has to be disposed of at great expense.
  • Heat and fire resistance: PU leather is less heat and fire resistant than real leather. Therefore, it is more sensitive to external influences and can be damaged more quickly.

At the end of the day, whether you choose PU leather or real leather depends on your individual preferences, the intended use and your budget . However, you should also consider environmental aspects when making your purchase decision. In this regard and in other criteria such as feel and durability, furnishings and everyday items as well as clothing made of real leather clearly perform better.

Because it is cheaper to produce and does not contain any animal products, foil-coated split leather is often used as an alternative to real leather. The material is used for a variety of products such as bags, shoes, furniture and accessories, where real leather is normally used.

Because it is synthetic, PU leather also offers some resistance to water and stains, which can make it more practical than real leather in certain applications. However, it lacks the natural breathability and some of the long-lasting properties of real leather.

Is PU leather toxic?

The question of whether PU leather is toxic cannot be answered in one sentence. This depends on the specific chemicals used in its production , as well as how the material is used and disposed of at the end of its life. If we take a closer look at the following facts, one should always question the origin of leather products made from synthetic leather.

  1. Chemicals: Chemicals, solvents and other compounds are used in the production of PU leather to formulate the polyurethane and apply it to the substrate. Some of these substances can be potentially harmful, especially when released into the environment or when humans come into direct contact with them.
  1. Off-gassing: Newly produced PU leather can off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs), resulting in a characteristic "new" smell. While many of these compounds are considered harmless in small amounts , they can cause irritation or allergic reactions in sensitive individuals .
  1. Plasticizers: Some PU leather products may contain plasticizers. These are used to make the material more flexible. Some plasticizers, particularly phthalates, are controversial and have been linked to health concerns.
  1. Skin Contact and Allergies : While most people can use PU leather without any problems, others may be allergic to certain chemicals contained in PU leather.

trees, forest

Image source: Unsplash

  1. Environmental impact: The production and disposal of PU leather has environmental impacts, especially if the chemicals used in production are not properly managed.
  1. Comparison with other materials: PU leather is considered a more environmentally friendly and less toxic alternative to PVC (polyvinyl chloride) leather, as PVC can release harmful chlorides during its production and disposal.

It's important to note that not all PU leather products are the same quality. Manufacturers may use different formulations and manufacturing processes, so some may be safer and more environmentally friendly than others. If you have concerns about PU leather , it's worth looking for products that meet current safety and environmental standards or contacting the manufacturer directly to obtain the necessary information.


PU leather, also known as polyurethane leather, is a man-made material that mimics the properties and appearance of real leather. It is made by applying a layer of polyurethane to a base fabric.

The advantages of PU leather are many: it is often more cost-effective than real leather, less sensitive to stains and moisture, and guarantees consistent quality and texture. For those who are against the use of animal products for ethical reasons, PU leather offers an attractive alternative. It is also often easier to care for and clean than real leather.

However, PU leather does have disadvantages. It is less breathable than genuine leather and tends to have a shorter lifespan, and may crack or peel over time. Environmental concerns, particularly in the context of the production and disposal of plastics, must also be considered.

Compared to other types of artificial leather, PU leather has the advantage of being more breathable and softer. In addition, fewer environmentally harmful chemicals are used in production than with other types of artificial leather.

Overall, PU leather offers a practical alternative to genuine leather. However, as with any material, consumers should consider the specific characteristics, advantages and disadvantages to make an informed decision.

FAQ: Questions & Answers

How is PU leather different from genuine leather?

Real leather comes from animal hides, while PU leather is man-made. In addition, synthetic leather is less breathable than real leather, which affects comfort. However, it is easier to care for and less susceptible to stains and moisture.

Is PU leather vegan?

Yes, PU leather does not contain any animal products. That is why it is often considered a vegan alternative to real leather.

How durable is PU leather compared to real leather?

Genuine leather often lasts longer and can change more beautifully over time. PU leather may be prone to cracking or peeling over time, but is generally resistant to everyday wear and tear.

Is PU leather environmentally friendly?

While PU leather is less harmful to the environment than PVC leather, there are still concerns about the chemicals used in its production. The environmental impact can vary depending on the manufacturing process.


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