The first leather item I ever owned was a wallet I won in school. I carried it for a few years, but it began to fall apart. At the time, I didn’t know anything about leather, but looking back, I realized the peeling was characteristic of bonded leather. This memory resurfaced my interest in bonded leather and why it always fails.
Bonded leather is a man-made material created using powder leather scraps and a stabilizer. This results in a material that looks like leather but does not offer the same properties as an animal hide. Bonded leather starts at $2–$4 per square foot and can be purchased by the yard.
Bonded leather may not be the best option for those looking for a long-lasting product. This article will cover the qualities of bonded leather compared to other leather types.
What Is Bonded Leather?
Bonded leather is a man-made material created to offer leather-like qualities at a lower price. Leather scraps generated when producing other hides are ground into a fine powder and mixed with a stabilizing material. Most bonded leathers will be less than 30% real leather, with the majority of the material made from artificial supplies.
Since bonded leather is created using a recycled material, it can be much cheaper and still offers a few features many look for. Bonded leather both looks like leather and can have a faint smell of leather, making it appear more genuine than it is.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- History of Bonded Leather
- Bonded Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
- In-depth Characteristics of Bonded Leather
- Pros of Bonded Leather
- Cons of Bonded Leather
- How Bonded Leather is Made
- Production Stats for Bonded Leather
- Cost of Bonded Leather
- When You Might Leathercraft With Bonded Leather
- Tips for Leathercrafting With Bonded Leather
- Examples of Goods Made from Bonded Leather
- My Personal Research on Bonded Leather
- Bonded Leather Care & Maintenance
- Helpful Insights on Bonded Leather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
Bonded leather is often said to be the same product as “genuine leather.” This is because many items sold as “genuine” use the term to obscure the materials used. With bonded leather being the cheapest form of leather, lower-cost “genuine leather” items will most likely be this material. These are not the same types of leather, however.
Bonded leather specifically refers to leather made from recycled scraps and a bonding agent. Genuine leather, on the other hand, is a marketing term encompassing all animal leather items. This includes high-quality full grain leathers. The term “genuine leather” does not automatically mean the material is bonded leather.
History of Bonded Leather
Bonded leather is said to have been invented in Germany in the 19th century. During the Second World War, the demand for products increased the need for additional materials. As a result, many war goods at the time were made from this material. It began to take off once bonded leather hit a more international market.
Today, bonded leather is one of the most popular options available, seen in everything from wallets to bags. Its popularity comes from its lower price point compared to other leather types. Bonded leather sits in the middle between faux leather and genuine leather hides. Offering a somewhat authentic product as it utilizes leather scraps.
Bonded Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
|Natural or Synthetic||Combination|
|Available Thickness (oz/mm)||Under 1 ounce (0.4mm) to 15 ounces (6.0mm)|
|Largest Workable Size||Varied with an average width of 56 inches, sold by the yard|
|Ease of Maintenance (1–10)||8|
|How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)||2–5 years|
|Cost per Square Foot ($)||$2–$4 per square foot|
|Ease of Crafting (1–10)||7|
|Rarity (Common or Exotic)||Common|
|Annual Production Volume||Estimated 10 billion square feet|
|Biggest Exporting Country||China|
|Biggest Importing Country||U.S.|
In-depth Characteristics of Bonded Leather
Natural or Synthetic
Bonded leather is a mixture of natural and synthetic material. It uses grounded scraps of other types of leather and mixes them with an artificial stabilizer. In addition, this mixture is added to a paper-like material. Overall, bonded leather is only 20%–30% of real leather, making most of the material synthetic.
The surface texture of bonded leather is varied, as it can be added to any textured backing. Since bonded leather is poured, it would create a completely smooth surface. Manufacturers use various textured backings to imitate leather. While this mostly mimics the grain of cow leather, it would be possible for bonded leather to have any texture, including other animals and patterns.
A great part of bonded leather is the wide variety of sizes available. The leather can be under 1 ounce (0.4mm) up to 15 ounces (6mm). This is due to the manufactured nature of the leather. The backing material can add a lot of thickness to the leather without using more genuine leather.
Largest Workable Size
Another great quality of bonded leather is the extremely large sizes that it can be purchased in. Instead of being sold in sides like other leather hides, it is sold as a fabric by the yard. Most bonded leather will have a width of around 56 inches and can be as long as needed.
The majority of bonded leather will be fairly flexible. Since the leather fibers have been ground, there is less structure. In addition, since the leather can be purchased extremely thin, it can be very supple. This is why bonded leather is a popular choice for bookbinding, as the leather wraps itself around objects easily.
Bonded leather is not soft compared to other leathers. While the surface is smooth, it has an artificial feeling to it that makes the surface feel hard. This is most likely due to the stabilizer used when creating bonded leather, as the surface has a distinct plastic feeling.
When sewing bonded leather, much of the process will feel familiar. However, the leather’s backside tends to ruffle when hand sewing. This is not much of an issue but may cause heavily waxed threads to become dirty by catching loose fibers. In addition, a dull sewing chisel may damage the surface of the bonded leather rather than make a clean hole.
One of the biggest drawbacks of using bonded leather is the lack of durability. While the leather is fairly scratch-resistant, the damage that does occur may often start a chain reaction. Cracks and a peeling surface are common for bonded leather. With no good way to repair the material, items are often destroyed.
Ease of Maintenance
Maintaining bonded leather is similar to other leathers, with the added benefit of a less sensitive material. Bonded leather will not discolor as easily nor dry out as quickly; however, it will still need to be periodically conditioned to prevent the leather from cracking from dryness.
Lifespan with Daily Use
The lifespan of bonded leather is often argued as some items last decades. The problem with the leather is that damage will often cause a chain reaction. If an area of the leather peels or cracks, the surrounding area will also suffer. It is not uncommon for this damage to occur within five years, and for many, this marks the end of the product’s lifespan.
Since bonded leather is manufactured, it can be made in any color and pattern. Most bonded leathers will try to replicate natural leather by sticking to earth tones. Although, depending on the manufacturer, there are endless possibilities of what can be purchased.
When it comes to water resistance, bonded leather performs fairly well. The material often has an added finishing coat that works excellently to repel common spills or drops. The leather is not waterproof, however, and can be damaged if the water is left to soak into the fibers of the leather.
Bonded leather is much cheaper than other leather types as it mixes recycled leather scraps with a bonding chemical. Most bonded leather can be purchased for $2–$4 per square foot, allowing this leather-like material to be used for prototyping or low-cost projects.
Ease of Crafting
Working with bonded leather has its quirks, but overall, it is a solid leather to work with. The material is easy to cut and does not scratch easily. It is also very flexible, making it great for wrapping items. The hard surface may make it difficult to mark guiding lines, and the backside can be extremely fibrous, making the thread dirty.
Rarity (Common or Exotic)
Bonded leather is a recycled material, so it is very common. If you take a trip to any store with leather items, you will see that much of what is sold as “genuine leather” is bonded leather.
Pros of Bonded Leather
Although bonded leather is the lowest quality of leather available, it is still a fairly common material. Bonded leather goods can be purchased at a much lower cost while still offering some leather qualities.
- Retains the look and some of the smell of other leather types
- Offers a uniform surface with no blemishes
- Can be purchased by the yard, much larger than hides
- Much lower cost than other types of leather
Cons of Bonded Leather
Bonded leather is easily the lowest quality leather available. Compared to other leathers, it is handily outmatched, missing many traits that make leather so desirable. This largely comes from the manufacturing process that resembles faux leather.
- Lacks durability and has a much shorter lifespan
- Only comprised of 20%–30% of real leather
- The surface peels, cracks, and separates from the leather easily
- Offers little to no repairability when damaged
This video by Leather Expressions compares bonded leather to other leather types, detailing how bonded leather is made and the problems it may face.
How Bonded Leather is Made
Bonded leather starts by obtaining the raw material used to create it. This material is recycled leather shavings that often come when a leather has been split. These fibrous splits are ground and mixed with a bonding agent. The agent chosen will be dependent on the manufacturer, but are often rubber or plastic.
Once the material has been mixed with the bonding agent, vinyl, flame retardant, and ultraviolet protection may also be added, at the manufacturer’s discretion. At this point, the bonded leather is ready to have dye added to it, giving the leather its color. This mixture is poured onto textured paper-like material and hot pressed to create an adhesion, completing the manufacturing process.
Most bonded leathers will be less than 30% real leather, with most of the material made from artificial supplies.
Production Statistics of Bonded Leather
- Volume per year – Estimated 10 billion square feet
- Key country or countries where it is produced – China, India, Vietnam
- Biggest exporting country – China
- Biggest importing country – U.S.
Cost of Bonded Leather
- Square Foot – $2–$4 per square foot
- ½ Hide – $20–$25
- Full Hide – $35–$45
When You Might Leathercraft With Bonded Leather
Leather crafting with bonded leather can be a fun and creative activity, and there are various occasions when you might want to give it a try:
- When looking for a budget-friendly leather material
- When creating leather goods requiring a uniform surface
- When trying to restore or patch lower-quality leather items
Professor Salah-Eldien Omer, from Zagreb, Croatia, discusses Leather used in Furniture Upholstery, finding that bonded leather is not as good as other leathers but remains beneficial. Not only does bonded leather offer a lower price, but it can also be a good option for those with a leather allergy who still want the look of leather. The allergy typically comes from dimethyl fumarate, a chemical used in the tanning process. Bonded leather does not include this chemical, making it a better choice for those potentially allergic.
Tips for Leathercrafting With Bonded Leather
Crafting with bonded leather can be a rewarding experience. Some tips for crafting with bonded leather include:
- Avoid adding any markings to the surface to prevent early peeling
- Roll the exposed edges to help protect the ends of the leather
- Use razor sharp cutting tools to avoid peeling the leather’s surface
Some Examples of Items Made From Bonded Leather
Bonded leather is commonly used to create a wide range of items due to its affordability and versatility. Here are some examples of items that are often made from bonded leather:
- Watch straps
- Journal covers
My Personal Research on Bonded Leather
The quality of bonded leather is often questioned as those who have owned low-cost leather items have most likely had their item fail. With faux leather becoming better over time, I decided to compare them, looking at their wear resistance, water resistance, and other notable qualities.
For all my tests, I used a bonded leather sheet about 3 ounces (1.2mm) thick and faux leather at 4 ounces (1.6mm). While the extra thickness helps create durability, I was focused on the surface damage rather than tearing.
When testing their wear resistance, I used #500 grit sandpaper, making light pass along the surface. Both materials held up well at this grit, with vinyl hiding any marks slightly better. As I progressed lower to #240, their surfaces began to wear down. At this point, neither material had excessive damage, but the fibers surrounding the bonded leather began to ruffle.
The bonded leather began developing a hole when using #120 grit sandpaper, while the vinyl had lost its colored surface to reveal the white material underneath. Finishing the test at #60 grit, both materials developed holes. Their surroundings continued to peel slightly but held onto the surface overall.
Since both bonded and faux leather have a heavy amount of plastic or other bonding materials, they both prevent damage fairly well when exposed to light amounts of water. When placing a drop on both surfaces, the water would quickly roll off with no trace of damage. To test this further, I placed water on both surfaces and allowed it to dry.
Once dried, the bonded leather has a darker spot where the water was. I assume this is caused by the water soaking into the grounded leather fibers. On the other hand, the faux leather had a slightly discolored area from the water. However, it was easily wiped away, showing no lasting damage to the material.
Not everything about a material can be tested, but the information is still important. To help provide a better comparison about the products, I looked at various key characteristics and how they may impact purchasing decisions. Bonded leather still retains some qualities that many enjoy with leather products. The feel of the material is less artificial, and the leather retains the smell many enjoy. The artificial grain pattern added had much more depth than the faux leather.
Faux leather had a much stiffer and plastic feel to it. Bending the piece was more difficult but was not limiting. The color found on faux leather seemed more vibrant and deeper than the bonded leather. Faux leather had trouble with breathability. The material did not seem to let any air through, while bonded did.
While both materials fall short of other leathers, they still offer great usability for those looking for a lower cost. Faux leather seems to be a more durable option but does not feel as authentic as bonded leather. The grounded scraps used to create bonded leather have retained some of the leather’s characteristics, and this shows when taking a closer look at the materials.
Bonded Leather Care and Maintenance
How To Clean Bonded Leather
Since bonded leather requires multiple artificial chemicals to be mixed into it, the surface will be mostly plastic. Therefore the process for cleaning bonded leather is much easier than others. Bonded leather can be cleaned by using a clean cloth, damped with water to run along the surface. This is often enough to remove most dust, and debris, on the surface of the leather. If necessary, it is possible to use leather soaps on bonded leather. However, they should be tested before use to ensure they will not cause unwanted reactions.
How To Condition Bonded Leather
Although bonded leather is mostly plastic, dryness can still cause damage. Therefore, pieces of bonded leather should be conditioned periodically to keep the leather moisturized. To do so, a clean cloth with a tested leather cleaner can be used to apply conditioner throughout the surface. Once the conditioner has been applied, the excess should be wiped away before allowing the leather ample dry time.
How To Store Bonded Leather
To store bonded leather it is best to keep it away from sunlight, moisture, and heat, which can damage the material over time, causing discoloration, cracking, and/or disfigurement. The best way to store bonded leather is a dust bag in a controlled environment. By covering the leather, there is less dust buildup, and light exposure is cut to a minimum.
Helpful Insights on Bonded Leather
Is bonded leather real leather?
While bonded leather uses grounded real leather, it itself is not entirely real. This is because the leather must include a bonding agent and be added onto a paperlike material sheet. Bonded leather only includes an average of 20%–30% real leather.
Is bonded leather good quality?
No, bonded leather is one of the worst leather qualities available. This material does not offer any of the benefits leather is known for. The leather is fragile and has a much shorter lifespan. Bonded leather is a cheap alternative for those wanting a material that simply looks like leather.
Is bonded leather better than faux leather?
Bonded leather falls short in many areas when compared to faux leather. It is less durable, less stain resistant, and has a shorter lifespan. However, bonded leather is often more breathable and pliable and may be softer than faux leather. Therefore, one is not better than the other.
Does bonded leather peel or crack?
Yes, one of the biggest issues with bonded leather is the surface damage. Since bonded leather is a mixture applied to a paperlike material, the surface may begin to peel away from the sheet. This will happen over time as an item is used, bent, or scratched. Once the leather has begun peeling, it will often result in the surrounding area falling apart.
Can bonded leather get wet?
Bonded leather can get wet for short periods, such as cleaning, but must avoid becoming completely saturated. Water will not only cause discoloration but may also weaken the adhesive used on the material. That may cause the bonded leather to begin peeling or crack when dried.
Is bonded leather worth it?
The value of bonded leather is subjective and will depend entirely on what a person wants from the material. Compared to other leathers, it falls short and lacks many qualities that make leather great. However, the much lower price point is attractive, and bonded leather still provides the same look as real leather.
Is bonded leather poor quality?
Yes, the quality of bonded leather is best described as poor and unfavorable compared to other types. The leather is made from ground scraps of other hides mixed with a bonding agent, making it mostly artificial and causing issues such as peeling.
- Bonded leather is made from ground scraps from other hides.
- Peeling, cracking, and other surface damage can often not be repaired.
- The lifespan of bonded leather is estimated at five years.
Bonded leather may be a lower quality leather, but it can still be useful after understanding its qualities. Many of our favorite items will be made with bonded leather, showcasing how it has its place in the craft. Bonded leather can be used to make any leather product at a much lower cost while still offering some benefits of real leather.
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