I recently discovered leatherette while searching for upholstery hides. The lower price was enticing, so I decided to investigate further. Despite having “leather” in its name, I found that it is a completely synthetic material.
Leatherette is faux leather typically used in the automotive industry. It’s produced using polyvinyl chloride, flame retardant, ultraviolet protection, dye, and other polymers. This mixture is heat-pressed onto a fabric backing. Leatherette costs around 55¢ per square foot and is sold by the yard.
Leatherette is a popular choice in the automotive industry, so let’s look at how it compares to genuine leather.
What Is Leatherette?
Leatherette is a faux leather used in the automotive industry for upholstery. Leatherette is created using synthetic materials such as polyvinyl chloride and other polymers, mixed with dye, flame retardant, ultraviolet protection, and fragrance. The mixture is poured onto various fabrics and bonded together using a heated press.
The goal is to produce a convincing leather substitute that meets consumers’ needs. During production, leather fragrance and embossing patterns are added to simulate the grain found on animal hides. Since leatherette is a completely manufactured material, it is low-cost and offers excellent protection against spills and stains.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- History of Leatherette
- Leatherette Characteristics Quick Reference Table
- In-Depth Characteristics of Leatherette
- Pros of Leatherette
- Cons of Leatherette
- How Leatherette is Made
- Production Stats for Leatherette
- Cost of Leatherette
- When You Might Leathercraft with Leatherette
- Tips for Leathercrafting With Leatherette
- Examples of Goods Made from Leatherette
- My Personal Research on Leatherette
- Leatherette Care & Maintenance
- Helpful Insights on Leatherette
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
Despite its name, leatherette does not contain real leather. The term is solely a marketing strategy to promote a material by representing it as leather. In addition to its name, leatherette looks and smells like real leather. During production, an embossed grain and a fragrance are often added. However, when examined closely, the material is no more than plastic bonded to various fabrics.
When considering its characteristics, leatherette falls short of genuine leather in almost every way. The key features it lacks are durability and longevity. The material will inevitably begin peeling over time, with most leatherette only lasting a decade before being completely ruined. Leatherette is yet another example of manufacturers attempting to capitalize on the reputation of genuine leather by using its name without matching its quality.
History of Leatherette
Some of the earliest leatherette was invented in the 19th century. Germany was looking for an alternative material for their military equipment at this time. Presstoff, a paper pulp-based leather, replaced many animal leather products. These would not last over time, often peeling or falling apart with heavy use.
While some leatherette manufacturers still use paper, there has been a large switch to fabric backings. This creates a softer, more pliable material and helps with longevity. While leatherette has a long way to go to match animal leather’s durability, it has greatly improved since the invention of Presstoff.
Leatherette Characteristics Quick Reference Table
|Natural or Synthetic||Synthetic|
|Available Thickness (oz/mm)||1–9 ounces (0.4mm–3.6mm)|
|Largest Workable Size||Around 10 yards or 180 square feet|
|Ease of Maintenance (1–10)||8|
|How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)||Decade or less|
|Cost per Square Foot ($)||55¢ per square foot|
|Ease of Crafting (1–10)||6|
|Rarity (Common or Exotic)||Common|
|Annual Production Volume||40 billion square feet per year|
|Biggest Exporting Country||China|
|Biggest Importing Country||Vietnam|
In-Depth Characteristics of Leatherette
Natural or Synthetic
Leatherette is a completely synthetic material that contains no real leather. It is similar to other faux leathers that use vinyl or other polymer-based materials on top of various clothes. The look and smell of genuine leather are added during leatherette manufacturing to mimic the material it is copying further.
Since leatherette is completely artificial, there is no limit to the surface texture that can be produced. After the vinyl is added to the backing fabric, heat is used to bond the materials. At this stage, manufacturers choose to add embossing that mimics the grain of leather. If no embossing is added, the surface of leatherette will be completely smooth.
With leatherette being completely synthetic, the thicknesses available are entirely up to the manufacturer. While most leatherette falls between the 1–4 ounce range (0.4mm to 1.6mm), it can be purchased as thick as 9 ounces (3.6mm). However, this could easily change if a manufacturer of leatherette wanted to make an even thicker material, potentially thicker than genuine leather hides.
Largest Workable Size
Since leatherette is synthetic, its size is not limited by a hide size. Like most other fabrics, it is sold by the yard and can easily be found up to 10 yards or 180 square feet. Each retailer will have different limitations and widths for their yards, so 10 yards of two different leatherette rolls can be different sizes overall.
Due to its thinness and fabric backing, leatherette is fairly flexible. As seen in automotive upholstery, it can wrap around seats and other pieces without cracking. The protective coating used for leatherette prevents it from being as flexible as other fabrics.
Leatherette’s softness is hard to compare with that of genuine leather. While the material is soft in its own way, it feels closer to fabric than to leather. Leatherette does not produce the same velvety feel that extremely soft animal leathers can have. In addition, since the material is made of multiple layers, it loses the plush feeling of fibers compacting and expanding.
Sewing with leatherette is extremely simple, especially for those with a sewing machine. Since the material is not as dense as leather, higher-powered home machines can treat it like any other fabric. When hand sewing, the leatherette has little trouble, the only issue being the potential surface damage. Unsharp tools can make jagged holes that may cause peeling in the area.
One area leatherette lacks is durability. Unlike genuine leather, the material will inevitably crack and peel. Leatherette’s unique highlight is that it is spill- and stain-resistant, but otherwise, the material is lacking, offering a fraction of the lifetime compared to genuine animal leather.
Ease of Maintenance
Caring for leatherette is simple, and the material does a great job of resisting stains. Periodically, the material will require cleaning and conditioning. You can use water without damaging the surface, making the process much faster and avoiding needing specialty products unless desired.
Lifespan with Daily Use
The single biggest drawback of leatherette is its limited lifespan. At best, the material will last around 10 years but will most likely see wear, such as cracking or peeling beforehand. Leatherette falls extremely short compared to genuine leather, which can last a lifetime.
Leatherette is an artificial material with a natural tone when mixed. Currently, manufacturers typically use brown earth tones to resemble genuine leather. However, they could add dyes to create wild colors or patterns. There are seemingly limitless possibilities when coloring leatherette.
Due to its nonporous surface, leatherette is quite water resistant. Spills will quickly slide off the surface, leaving no stains behind. However, if a pool of liquid is left to sit, the material will absorb it over time, making leatherette water-resistant and not waterproof.
The cost of leatherette is fairly low compared to genuine leather. The material can be purchased for only ¢55 per square foot. However, Leatherette is sold by the yard, making the upfront cost higher at around $30.
Ease of Crafting
Crafting with leatherette is fairly straightforward but has some quirks to work around. The biggest is the leatherette’s surface. As crafters, we often mark our material by scratching it. Leatherette does not allow that. Any gouge from marks or dull tools may begin pulling up the surface, encouraging leatherette to begin peeling in the surrounding area.
Rarity (Common or Exotic)
Leatherette is a common material used in various products and industries. The automotive industry uses the material most extensively, upholstering cars in large quantities. Leatherette is a popular upgrade to standard fabrics and is becoming the standard for higher-end vehicles. As the material continues to improve, we will most likely see it become the market leader.
Pros of Leatherette
With leatherette being a synthetic material, a few additions help it compete with genuine leather. Manufacturers can tailor the material to the needs of the industry it is used for. Some other benefits of leatherette can include:
- Highly spill and stain-resistant
- Can be produced in much larger sizes than real leather
- Much lower cost when compared to genuine leather
Kusol Pimapunsri, Teeradej Wuttipornpun, and Darawan Veeranant, from the Department of Industrial Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, in Bangkok, Thailand, have researched the separation focus in leatherette. They found adjustments to heat, pressure, and take-off temperature all affect how well the material bonds together, potentially creating a stronger bond for a longer-lasting leatherette.
Cons of Leatherette
Leatherette is yet another type of faux leather. It has many similar flaws to other types of leather alternatives. While the material mimics the look of leather, the overall quality is much worse. Some other disadvantages of leatherette include:
- Prone to cracking and peeling over time
- Shorter lifespan, at only around 10 years
- Lack of breathability, making items stuffy
How Leatherette is Made
Leatherette starts by mixing a stabilizer with polyvinyl chloride or other polymer-based material. This will help promote bonding between the materials and when adding a protective coating to the final product. During this step, fragrance is often added to mimic the smell of natural leather. Next, flame retardant and ultraviolet protection are added. Since most leatherette will be exposed to sunlight, this is a great way to prevent the color from fading as much over time.
When this mixture has been fully blended, a dye mixture provides the color. This mixture is poured onto sheets of various cloths or other materials, quickly being heat pressed to cause the mixture to adhere to the backing fabric. During this step, texture may also be added to the leatherette to mimic real leather further.
In this video provided by How It’s Made, we see the process of creating leatherette, detailing each step and how it is crafted to mimic leather.
Production Statistics of Leatherette
- Volume per year – Estimated 40 billion square feet per year
- Key countries where it is produced – China, Taiwan, and Germany
- Biggest exporting country – China
- Biggest importing country – Vietnam
Cost of Leatherette
- Square Foot – Around 55¢ per square foot
- ½ Hide – $6–$10
- Full Hide – $12–$20
When You Might Leathercraft With Leatherette
Although most crafters will stick to genuine leather hides, there are opportunities when leatherette may be preferable. This largely depends on the item and budget. Some situations when you might leathercraft with leatherette include:
- When testing new leather designs to ensure they work
- When looking for a low-maintenance material that is spill, and stain-resistant
- When wanting an animal-free leather substitute
Since leatherette is a completely artificial material, it is both low-cost and offers great protection against spills and stains.
Tips for Leathercrafting With Leatherette
While working with leatherette will be familiar to crafters, there are a couple of nuances to be aware of. Leatherette is a synthetic material that will behave more like one than genuine leather. Here are some helpful tips when crafting with leatherette:
- Avoid marking the surface when possible to prevent scratches.
- Use edge paint or other edge finishing techniques to get a clean look.
- Always use sharp tools when working with leatherette to avoid damaging the surface.
Some Examples of Items Made From Leatherette
Leatherette can be found in various products, but the term is used mainly in the automotive industry. The lower cost of the material, combined with the natural leather look, allows this material to be a great substitute for various products, including:
My Personal Research on Leatherette
Leatherette is a popular choice in the automotive industry, so I examined why. I searched forums for various opinions, looking at what various manufacturers recommend.
While the industry seems split between genuine leather and leatherette, there are some notable qualities people like in the latter. That is the ease of maintenance of the material. Most car owners use their vehicles daily and often want to avoid any unnecessary trouble. With genuine leather seat spills are a big concern, and although they may feel nicer, this prevents them from being practical to most.
Regardless of how well one cares for their interior, a spill is inevitable over a car’s lifespan. This is much less of an issue with leatherette as it can be easily cleaned without specialty products.
Another significant benefit for those purchasing a car is the lower cost. Upgrading seats to genuine leather is no small charge, costing around $1500. This is a frivolous upgrade for many consumers, and their money is best spent elsewhere. Leatherette may come standard on models they are looking at or may be offered at a lower price than the genuine leather option.
The first manufacturer I took a look at was BMW. They are said to have the nicest leatherette interiors, called SensaTec, which is standard in their cars. According to them, the look and feel of the material is close enough to genuine leather that most can not tell. This seems to be the case when looking at forums, with many stating the material is fairly convincing.
The biggest selling point of BMW’s leatherette is its “durable performance in any weather. ” However, this seems to fall short, as customers who have purchased the material say the SensaTec lacks breathability, making the material feel stuffy or sticky in various weather conditions.
Ford is another popular car company that uses a lot of leatherette. They have their own version named ActiveX. Ford makes big claims, stating that their ActiveX leatherette surpasses leather in almost every way. They tout it as easy to clean, stain resistant, and more durable. While a few customers stated how their interior failed, ActiveX maintains these claims, with many owners reaffirming that the material is better than leather.
With the rise in popularity of leatherette as an interior, technology has also improved. BMW and Ford push their leatherette with customers finding it the best choice. Not only is the material cheaper, but it is also more spill and stain-resistant. While these materials seem to be off to a good start, only time will tell of their longevity and durability.
Leatherette Care and Maintenance
How To Clean Leatherette
Cleaning leatherette is much simpler than cleaning real leather. A soft rag can be dampened with water and used on leatherette to begin. This will remove most dust and debris that has built up on the material. A delicate soap can be used if there are stains. It is important to avoid scrubbing and abrasive supplies, as this can easily cause the leather to begin peeling. Once finished, the leatherette should be dried off using a new, clean cloth.
How To Condition Leatherette
After cleaning leatherette, it can be conditioned using a vinyl restorer or any other faux leather rejuvenator. Since leatherette is non-porous, these products will not absorb into the material but rather help produce a shine and add protection. To apply, follow the instructions on the product, using a clean, soft cloth to ensure no damage is done.
How To Store Leatherette
Although leatherette is not real leather, many of the same storing principles apply. It should be stored in a dry, ventilated area away from sunlight. Since leatherette will crack over time, it is key to reducing prolonged exposure to detrimental environments. It may be best to cover the leatherette when possible, as it prevents dust and debris from building up on the surface while protecting it from sunlight.
Helpful Insights on Leatherette
Is leatherette a good material?
Leatherette can be a good material for those who understand what they are purchasing. It has drawbacks, including look, feel, breathability, and durability. However, for many, an easy-to-maintain material that looks like leather is exactly what they are looking for.
What are the disadvantages of leatherette?
Leatherette attempts to be an alternative to genuine leather, but it falls short in comparison. The look and feel of the material will never match real leather. Leatherette is also non-porous, which prevents the material from breathing. The biggest drawback of leatherette, however, is the lack of durability. Over time, the material will begin cracking and peeling.
Are leatherette seats good?
The quality of leatherette seats is debatable, offering key characteristics but containing significant drawbacks. Leatherette is less expensive and provides spill and stain resistance. However, the material’s longevity is much worse than genuine leather, only lasting around 10 years. For their purpose, leatherette seats may be a good choice but should not be seen as a must-have.
What is leatherette made of?
Leatherette is made from various clothes, both natural and synthetic. They are then coated with plastics to provide scratch and create a spill-resistant surface. The texture and color of leatherette are added during production to mimic the look of real leather.
How long do leatherette seats last?
With proper care and routine maintenance, leatherette seats are expected to last around 10 years. However, depending on the amount of wear, this could be reduced. Like other faux leathers, leatherette suffers from peeling and cracking, potentially ruining the material much quicker than genuine leather.
Is leatherette better than leather?
Leatherette offers different properties than real leather. It is lower-cost and provides great surface protection. However, it does not have the same feel, durability, and longevity as real leather. For many, this will make the material worse, but it might be a good choice for those looking for a leather substitute.
What are the pros and cons of leatherette car seats?
Some of the pros of leatherette include spill protection, lower cost, and ease of maintenance. Cars are notorious for spills and stains, so having a nonporous material can help out. On the other hand, the material is not as durable nor breathable as genuine leather, leading to a stuffier feeling seat. Over time, leatherette will crack and peel, unlike real leather.
- Leatherette is an industry term for faux leather.
- Leatherette contains no real leather and is purely synthetic.
- While leatherette may cost less, it does not offer the same quality as genuine leather.
Learning the various terms used to refer to faux leather is key when making a purchase. While leatherette mimics qualities found in real leather, it should not be confused with animal-made material. However, for many, the appearance and value provided by leatherette will suit their needs wonderfully.
- Vegan Leather – An Animal Friendly Alternative
- Is Vegan Leather Real Leather? – Simple Answer With a Deeper Look
- Kombucha Leather – The Biomaterial-Based Vegan Leather
- Is Vegan Leather Durable? – Types and How Long They Last
- Artificial Leather – A Surprisingly Useful Alternative
- Faux Leather – Artificial Leather That’s Wildly Popular
- Mushroom Leather – Vegan Leather Made from Mycelium Fiber
- Pineapple Leather – Vegan Leather from Pineapple Fibers
- Leatherette – The Synthetic Leather Alternative with Style
- Leather and Vinyl – Learn the Difference and Tell Them Apart
- Cactus Leather – An Innovative, Vegan Leather From Plants
- Eco Leather – Safer and Environmentally Friendly
- Synthetic Leather – What Can Make it a Great Choice for You
- Apple Leather – Vegan Faux Leather With a Natural Twist
- Pleather – Fun Facts, Uses, and Characteristics
- Microfiber Leather – When To Use This Type of Vegan Leather