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What is PU Leather and Genuine Leather? The Meaning & Differences

April 04, 2019

PU Leather - Leather Colors on Table

It’s no secret genuine leather is a desirable material for a wide variety of products. It’s known for its durability and its attractive appearance. Unfortunately, there are many cheap knock-offs that are meant to imitate the real deal in appearance only. These goods are made from cheap materials that can’t withstand the test of time. As a buyer, it’s important to understand the difference between genuine leather and imitation items – particularly PU leather – so you don’t fall prey to tricky labeling techniques.

What Is PU Leather? 

PU leather is more artificial than it is genuine. To create this type of material, manufacturers take the fibrous part of the cow hide (the part that’s left over after genuine leather is made) and coat it with a layer of polyurethane. To the untrained eye, this type of material looks just like the real thing. Many unaware shoppers think they’re getting a great deal on a quality product but discover later that they purchased an inferior knock-off. Over time, polyurethane goods reveal their true nature by splitting and peeling. While you may save a few bucks on this type of item up-front, you’ll soon discover the true PU leather meaning is synonymous with “unreliable”.

How Can You Avoid Being Fooled?

In many cases, a product’s tag will identify what type of material it’s made from. In the case of polyurethane, there could be several different names listed on the tag. If you see any of the following red flag terms, the product probably isn’t worth buying:

  • Corrected grain
  • Bicast leather
  • PU
  • Bonded
  • Reconstituted
  • Split

PU Leather Meaning

Even if the good is missing a label, there are still ways to spot a fake. First, take a close look at the grain of the material. If it’s too perfect and has an unnatural sheen, it’s probably fake. Next, smell the item. If it carries an aroma of chemicals and/or plastic, you’re probably dealing with a polyurethane leather product. If you’ve already purchased a cheap knock-off without realizing it, you’ll be able to identify it soon enough by its very short lifespan. PU material wears down very quickly and you’ll soon see the fabric beneath it peeking through the cracks. The polyurethane will eventually start to flake or peel off and you’ll be left with an ugly, worn-out product that looks nothing like real leather.

How Can You Find Quality Leather?

Now that you know how to spot a counterfeit, what should you look for when purchasing quality leather products? Here’s a few tips you can follow to avoid being fooled whether you’re shopping for a new sofa or a long-lasting wallet:

  • Look for goods labeled as “genuine leather” (watch out for tricky wording such as “made with real leather.” This means the product may have some bits of the real deal but also incorporates man-made materials).
  • Look for imperfections in the surface grain. Surface grain imperfections and unique markings usually mean you’re looking at a genuine, high-quality product.
  • Check for pliability. If you’re handling a genuine item, it should be somewhat flexible when you bend it or press down on it. If it’s very stiff or bounces back to its original shape unnaturally, you’re probably handling synthetic materials.
  • Smell the item you’re interested in purchasing. It should have an unmistakable, natural smell. If it smells like chemicals, walk away.
  • Put a small drop of water on the surface of the good. If it’s the real deal, the water will soak into the material within a few seconds (unless it’s been waterproofed). If it’s a counterfeit, the water will usually remain in droplet form on the surface.

Authentic goods are generally much more expensive than their synthetic counterparts because they are extremely durable and valuable. If you see an item that’s marketed as real leather but is priced way too low, be wary and do everything you can to confirm its authenticity before you purchase it.

What Are the Benefits of a Genuine Leaher?

Is it really worth the extra money to purchase an authentic item over the many counterfeit options out there? What exactly are the benefits of purchasing genuine goods? Besides their exceptional durability, here are a few of the reasons most people prefer the real deal over cheaper faux options:

  • Water resistance
  • Breath-ability
  • Timelessness (it never goes out of style)
  • Comfort
  • Flexibility (notice how a leather wallet takes the shape of your pocket over time, whereas synthetic products are typically less flexible)
  • Easy to clean
  • Pleasant aroma

In addition to these benefits, you can have peace of mind that your genuine products aren’t full of eco-damaging chemicals like their cheaper counterparts.

How Can You Make Your Items Last?

Once you invest in a quality leather product, you can usually expect it to last many years (perhaps even for the rest of your life!) as long as you take good care of it. Keep your item clean by gently wiping it down with a soft, damp cloth on a regular basis. Avoid using cleansers and soaps, as these can potentially dry out the material and change its color. Use a special moisturizer or conditioner as needed to restore shine and keep your item from cracking and drying out. Once a year, use a waterproofing wax or spray to protect your item from the elements. 

PU vs Genuine Leather

Is It Worth the Extra Cost?

For many people, authentic objects are well worth their initial cost because they are very durable, offer years of use and hold their value over time. Wallets, phone cases and other merchandise made from this material are unique because they become even more beautiful and desirable with age.

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