If you've purchased a relatively cheap leather sofa, leather-bound books or an inexpensive belt, you might own a bonded-leather item. But what is bonded leather?
Bonded leather consists of scraps from real leather hides that are mixed with polyurethane, a type of plastic. The material should include from 60 to 100 percent real, natural leather such as cowhide, according to manufacturing standards. The actual proportion depends on the quality level maintained by the manufacturer.
To make bonded leather, manufacturers use the scraps and fibers left over during the production of real leather items. Blended with plastics, these scraps are attached to a hard-fiber backing. Manufacturers also frequently add coats and polishes to make the material look more leatherlike. Real leather items, by contrast, use the whole skin of an animal, not scraps.
The advantages of bonded leather include its lower cost and environmental friendliness, since it makes use of reclaimed or recycled materials.
Furniture, office supplies and books often use bonded leather. It can be difficult to tell a bonded-leather item apart from the real McCoy because the two materials look and smell similar. The difference usually comes in durability. Bonded-leather furniture, for example, tears more quickly. Consumer Affairs, a consumer advocacy group, reports frequent complaints about bonded-leather furniture wearing down.