Real Leather vs. Fake Leather: An In-depth Comparison

April 24, 2024 4 min read

Real Leather vs. Fake Leather: An In-depth Comparison

When shopping for leather items, understanding the differences between real leather and fake leather is crucial for making informed decisions. This detailed guide will help you distinguish between the two, highlighting their characteristics, pros and cons, durability, and more, so you can choose wisely based on your needs and values.

Understanding Real Leather

Real leather, also known as genuine leather, is made from the hides of animals such as cows, goats, and sheep. It is highly sought after for its durability, flexibility, and unique texture. Real leather ages beautifully, developing a patina over time that enhances its aesthetic appeal.

What is Fake Leather?

Fake leather, often referred to as synthetic leather, includes materials like polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), also known as vinyl. These materials are created with a plastic coating over a fabric base, designed to mimic the look and feel of real leather at a lower cost and with varying degrees of durability.

Comparison Table: Real Leather vs. Fake Leather

Feature Real Leather Fake Leather
Material Origin Animal hide Synthetic materials (plastic)
Durability Highly durable, ages well Less durable, may peel or crack
Aesthetic Quality Unique textures, develops a patina Uniform appearance, lacks unique characteristics
Environmental Impact Biodegradable but requires significant resources to produce Not biodegradable, petroleum-based production
Cost Generally more expensive More affordable


Environmental Impact Comparison

Real Leather: Real leather production involves extensive animal farming, which has a significant environmental impact, including water consumption and methane emissions. The tanning process also often uses harmful chemicals that can pollute water bodies if not managed responsibly.

Fake Leather: Synthetic leather is primarily made from petroleum products and involves chemical processes that can be harmful to the environment. However, it does not involve animal farming, which might appeal to environmentally conscious consumers. The production process for synthetic leather is also becoming more advanced with efforts to reduce chemical use and incorporate recycled materials.

Care and Maintenance Tips

Real Leather Care:

  • Cleaning: Use a damp cloth to clean. For deeper cleans, use a specialized leather cleaner.
  • Conditioning: Apply a leather conditioner every 6-12 months to prevent drying and cracking.
  • Protection: Avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight and heat to prevent fading and drying out.

Fake Leather Care:

  • Cleaning: Wipe with a damp cloth; for tougher stains, use mild soap and water.
  • Protection: Apply a protective spray designed for synthetic materials to help resist staining and cracking.

Ethical Considerations

Real Leather: The use of animal skins and the chemicals involved in tanning raise ethical concerns. Consumers who prioritize animal welfare may opt for ethically sourced leather or alternatives that do not involve animal products.

Fake Leather: Often marketed as a cruelty-free alternative, fake leather avoids the use of animal products. However, the environmental cost of petroleum-based materials and the potential for contributing to plastic pollution are concerns.

Performance and Use Cases

Real Leather: Ideal for high-end fashion, durable upholstery, and premium car interiors due to its longevity, comfort, and patina development over time.

Fake Leather: Commonly used in fast fashion, budget-friendly furniture, and automotive interiors where cost savings are paramount. Advances in technology have improved its durability and texture, making high-quality fake leathers nearly indistinguishable from real leather in some uses.

Technological Advances in Leather Production

Innovations such as biofabricated leather, which involves growing leather in a lab from animal cells without harming any animals, are paving the way for sustainable and ethical leather production. Similarly, improvements in the manufacturing of synthetic leathers aim to reduce harmful byproducts and incorporate more sustainable materials like recycled plastics and plant-based components.

Financial Implications

While real leather generally has a higher upfront cost, its durability often translates to a lower cost per use over time compared to fake leather, which may need to be replaced more frequently due to wear and tear. However, for consumers on a budget or those who prefer not to use animal products, fake leather offers a cost-effective alternative.

Design and Style Variations

Real Leather: Offers variations like full-grain, top-grain, and suede, each with unique textures and aging qualities that are highly valued in fashion and interior design.

Fake Leather: Provides a uniform appearance and can be produced in a wide range of colors and textures, including mimicking exotic leathers, which can be appealing for avant-garde fashion and vibrant interior designs.


Pros and Cons

Real Leather:


  • Lasts longer and can be more cost-effective in the long run.
  • Biodegradable and considered more eco-friendly than fake leather.
  • Breathable material that adjusts to body temperature.


  • Requires regular maintenance.
  • More expensive upfront.
  • Ethical concerns regarding animal products.

Fake Leather:


  • More affordable and accessible.
  • Available in a variety of colors and styles.
  • Does not use animal products, making it a vegan option.


  • Not breathable and can feel uncomfortable in warm conditions.
  • Less durable, prone to peeling and cracking over time.
  • Produces more environmental waste due to its non-biodegradable nature.


Q: How can I tell the difference between real and fake leather?

A: Real leather has irregular grain patterns and a distinctive leather smell. Fake leather will often have a perfectly uniform pattern and a plastic-like smell.

Q: Is fake leather waterproof?

A: Yes, most fake leather materials are inherently waterproof, making them suitable for rainy conditions.

Q: Can I repair peeling fake leather?

A: It’s difficult to repair peeling fake leather effectively. It is often more cost-effective to replace the item.

Q: Is real leather ethical?

A: The ethics of real leather depend on sourcing and individual perspectives. Look for ethically sourced or recycled leather if this is a concern.