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What is Bonded Leather?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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In some ways explaining what bonded leather is can be the same as describing the difference between ground beef and steak. The material is leather that is "left over" or otherwise not in its original form, pressed together and adhered to other leather via a bonding agent. This type of leather, sometimes referred to as reconstituted leather, is an alternative to what is known as genuine leather, which are whole pieces of animal hide.

Some may confuse bonded leather with artificial leather or synthetic leather, which should not be done. In some cases, a bonded leather product is 100 percent leather. In other cases, such as bonded leather upholstery, there could be as little as 17 percent leather in the product. Those looking at bonded leather should understand this is an option that does include real leather. Some may appreciate that fact, while others may not.

The difference between bonded leather and genuine leather, in terms of quality and looks, can be hard to see. If it is done properly, the grains and textures of bonded leather should look very close to that of genuine leather. In some cases, the only different may be that the texture of the bonded leather may not be quite as pronounced as that of natural-grained genuine leather. The function, smell, and overall appearance remains much the same, however.

The other major difference with bonded leather is in the cost. It is often available at a substantial discount over genuine leather. This is because the leather scraps, or leather fibers, would have no other value, or very little value, if not made into a bonded form. Therefore, it is still considered a good deal for the manufacturer to sell it at a reduced cost.

One of the most common applications for bonded leather is in the covers for books, especially Bibles. The leather for Bibles can be bonded and still very easily create the desired look and feel. While full disclosure often means the words "bonded leather" appear somewhere on the cover, it would otherwise be hard to tell the difference. It has become such a product of choice for Bibles that finding them in genuine leather is becoming more difficult.

As with all types of leather, the material remains very durable, able to withstand a number of conditions, including heat and moisture. This is a hallmark of leather and why it is used in applications such as Bibles, shoes, belts, and even sports balls. In the end, the choice will usually come down to a personal preference.

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Discussion Comments
By anon970014 — On Sep 15, 2014

I repair and recolor leather professionally. I see all these materials and have researched the differences. Leather is intact animal skin, preserved, colored and thinned for a particular use, such as upholstery.The "top grain" or "full grain" is the outside layer that had the hair on it and is the only part of the hide strong enough for shoes, clothes and upholstery.

Bonded, bicast and vinyl use plastic on the outside to imitate the look and feel of leather. All are much weaker and much less durable. Bonded is plastic glued to plastic that was mixed with ground up leather fibers. Bicast is plastic glued to an inside layer of the hide, which is much weaker than the top grain. Vinyl is a more supple plastic glued to fabric. Bonded and bicast will begin to bubble, peel, flake and/or split within a few months to a couple of years of normal use, and continue to disintegrate at a rapid rate. They are very weak, compared to top grain leather, even when new. How fast they disintegrate varies, but all have poor durability.

Vinyl is about as durable as fabric, since it has strong fabric on the back and is made from a plastic that stays supple much longer than the polyurethane plastics of bonded and bicast materials.

It appears that bonded and bicast exist only to confuse the consumer into believing they are buying a durable product because they contain some leather.

However, leather is strong because it grows that way. Once ground up, it's not leather anymore; it's just collagen fibers that came from skin, but could have come from tendons or intestines and perform the same.

By anon948707 — On May 01, 2014

Ever wondered why a pound of ground beef is way cheaper than a pound of the cheapest cut of beef?

"Explaining the difference between bonded leather and genuine leather, is the same as describing the difference between ground beef and steak."

Bonded leather, a.k.a. reconstituted leather, may contain 17 percent leather scraps, but it's still a man-made material. Technically it's slightly more leathery than pure V-Tex or MB-Tex, a space age plastic that can be made to look, feel and smell like leather.

Why is it replacing cloth in cars and furniture upholstery? Simply because the process is cheaper! Way cheaper! Seams do not have to sewn but can be welded.

It can be produced in China for a fraction of the cost of good quality fabric. Furthermore, the Chinese manufacturers are not bound by the 17 percent solution, so anything goes.

Comfort-wise, cloth is cool in summer and warm in winter, which is the direct opposite of both vinyl and leather. Unlike plastic (and even most leather), cloth breathes well year-round.

Furthermore, a nice grippy fabric keeps one seated properly and one does not slide around like an olive on a plate.

By anon318761 — On Feb 08, 2013

What would you recommend using to clean bonded leather?

By anon304265 — On Nov 19, 2012

Bonded leather is only about 17 percent leather made from ground up discarded bits of real leather.

By anon252669 — On Mar 06, 2012

Bonded leather is made by gluing scrap pieces of leather together, which otherwise would be thrown away. Genuine leather sofas, for example, are made with whole leather pieces.

By anon236753 — On Dec 25, 2011

According to Furniture Today, bonded leather upholstery is nothing more than vinyl/polyurethane sheeting backed by leather fibers. The surface is embossed to resemble leather. So you are not buying leather in the traditional sense. There may be small pieces glued together, like a butcher block, but the amount of leather you are getting is really small.

By anon169850 — On Apr 23, 2011

OK, now, I have ran across a totally different phrase on Ebay: "bonded bicast" leather (in reference to furniture.) So which is it? Can it be both? Is there a new process? Or is it someone's else lack of info? Or an outright attempt to misled the consumer? Anybody for sure on this?

By anon159535 — On Mar 12, 2011

I found this dialogue helpful. I am going to reupholster two chairs for my son and was wondering about bonded leather versus vinyl (hides were too costly). After reading this, I think I will select a good quality vinyl. Thanks.

By anon152279 — On Feb 13, 2011

Bicast leather is sold under a huge array of trade names, and the products made of it may be (and usually are) labeled "Leather" or "Genuine Leather" in the US. As the other comments point out, this stuff doesn't wear like leather. pretty much like particle board (stuff made of wood chips/saw dust and resin binder, think Ikea furniture) and what most people think of as "wood."

By jimhs — On Jan 19, 2011

Bonded leather, in my opinion, is garbage. I bought a belt made of "bonded leather," not knowing anything about it. In fact, I didn't know what it was made of at the time I purchased it.

After wearing that belt only six times, it broke completely in half when I got up out of a chair. It actually looks like cardboard. I would never again buy anything made from this junk.

After reading about how it's made, I would give it the same comparison as particle board to plywood. My suggestion to anyone thinking of buying anything made from this junk to spend the extra money and buy "genuine leather." Stay away from this stuff. Believe me, you'll be glad you did.

By caesib — On Jan 05, 2011

Someone below asked about "bonded leather" and "pets" and also about 'cigarette burns melting' bonded leather. This is my experience.

Cigarette burns: I bought a fairly high end, but bonded leather sectional that had a couple of cigarette burns in it when I bought it. Yes, it looked like "melted holes". I was also cautioned by the first owner, the landlord, to not use candles around it as bonded leather is highly flammable. I don't know this for fact -- only that she told me she had been told this when she purchased the sectional.

Pets: My elderly cat was still living when I had that sectional. He was starting to occasionally have bladder control issues, leaking, and sometimes would sleep deeply and not waken to use his litter box. I came a couple times to find small puddles on the couch. (It won't sink in - the "good news" and it didn't leave a stain or urine odor.)

However, my problem was that I used a cleaner that was supposed to be mild and safe for bonded leather and would still sterilize the couch, and it cracked the couch cushion! I learned from asking around then, that these bonded leather furniture pieces crack fairly quickly and usually early on if attempted to be cleaned. The couch at this point was I believe about two - 2-1/2 years old. (She'd had it a year or little over, then I was about 14 months into the lease).

Pets and nails: When I bought the sectional, it has a few small tears from where the owner's kitten had "attacked it" as a scratching post. My cat, being older, was fine with it, but sometimes would accidentally make some damage if his nails were a little long, close to the trimming point - more like "scratches" into a cushion. The kitten holes looked worse over time, the scratches didn't seem to affect the wear-ability of the sectional pieces.

Would I buy bonded leather again? Not sure:

a) It is cold to sit on in damp weather and doesn't seem to 'warm up'.

b) In hot weather, anyone who sits on it, finds they start "sweating" and stick to it. It also can get "hot" to sit on if near a sunny window.

Suggestion: If you are buying cheap furniture to get you through a year or two, or buying used, it could be a good purchase if you can get around the above points.

Otherwise, I would suggest a good micro-suede or micro-fiber. I've had a lot better luck, consistently, with it for pet stains, grease, oil, make-up (if you fall asleep on the couch), comfort (cozy) -- all around the product is easy to clean and holds up really well.

Lower end types, like found on low-end futons, the material may stretch a lot, but higher end micro-fibers or micro-suede tend to keep their shapes and remain pretty good looking and take a lot of 'abuse'.

By anon134760 — On Dec 15, 2010

Vinyl is a carcinogen. Don't take my word for it.

By anon88435 — On Jun 04, 2010

@anon41349: Bonded leather is ground up leather pressed together like fiberboard or paper and bonded with a glue.

Bicast leather (a.k.a. bycast leather) is a shaved piece of leather (again otherwise useless) that is layered with a plastic to strengthen it and give it a nice appearance.

Practically they are both the same, something that will look nice for a few years, then crack and look like a cheap worn out vinyl. Genuine, genuine leather will look nice for a few years, become soft and age (generally most would say this improves the leather) for another 50 years before eventually wearing out.

The above article seems to take a biased approach to describing the differences of bonded leather and genuine leather, and while it is written in a rather journalistic manner (neutral sounding yet oh so biased to the writer's viewpoint) the underlying fact is that bonded leather is essentially vinyl weakened with organic matter interlaced in the synthetic matrix.

To say "essentially the only difference is the price" is like saying the only difference between sausage and a filet is the price. The statement neglects to inform the reader that the long term durability and age enhancing qualities of leather far surpass that of bonded leather.

In my own view, I cannot see how bonded leather is an improvement over vinyl (or some other synthetic leather). If anything, it seems to me like they are filling the expensive synthetic material with a cheap filler (collagen fibers from dead animals) to save money.

Couple this with the confusing, if not fraudulent, statement by a manufacturer claiming that, by grinding up animal parts and blending it with a synthetic fabric, they are creating "leather." They might as well use the connective tissue of the animal, as chemically there is not much difference between the animal's innards and its hide.

Can some people prefer bonded leather to genuine leather? Sure, bonded leather looks nice for a few years, and is cheap and will make a wonderful fill in the garbage dump when the couch wears out.

By anon83602 — On May 11, 2010

As a bookbinder with 40+ years experience: If you want a Bible to be passed down through many generations, use only genuine leather. Genuine leather can last indefinitely, depending on the care given it.

Bonded leather will last 5-20 years, depending on care and on the original thickness and quality of the bonded leather.

By anon64695 — On Feb 08, 2010

yes, that's how it's done.

By anon59993 — On Jan 11, 2010

I want to know the exact same thing as 51498. I, too, have been looking for durability. I get mixed reviews. Does it at least hold up as well as a good fabric upholstery?

By anon56258 — On Dec 13, 2009

In my experience the bonded-leather Bibles I have used and seen do not hold up over the years like the genuine leather Bibles I've owned. We're talking 5-10 years though.

By anon55249 — On Dec 06, 2009

I have some beautiful pieces of very thin leather backed with coarse muslin that I purchased years ago when a tannery went out of business.

I would like to use it to make a Bible cover but am afraid it is too thin. The thicker pieces I had bought made a wonderful Bible cover but it is now worn out.

Does anyone know whether cutting and stitching this (glove?) leather with the muslin backing would give an acceptable result? Or would it be better to stick with baby shoes, clutch purse, etc. with this piece? Thanks.

By anon54654 — On Dec 01, 2009

Bonded Leather is made from leather fibers that come from the stage in the tanning process where the hide is shaved to the desired thickness. It is generally not made from scraps of finished leather.

The leather fibers are bonded together usually with natural latex. This bonding is done on equipment that is similar in principle to paper making equipment.

By anon51498 — On Nov 06, 2009

Since bonded leather is made with polyurethanes, does it 'melt' when a cigarette hits it? Will there be burn holes? How does it hold up? Nothing in any of the articles I read about it states anything about durability.

If a dog climbs on it, will the scratch from its claws show-anadine dying is not mentioned either. How deep does the color go into the fabric? Is it only surface dyed or is the entire body soaked in the dye?

By anon46477 — On Sep 25, 2009

Are bonded leather and bicast leather the same thing? does it have polymer in it?

By anon41349 — On Aug 14, 2009

Clyn - yes, that's exactly how it's made.

By clyn — On Aug 14, 2009

How is bonded leather made? Is it like manufactured wood, where they grind all the pieces together and mix with glue?

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