Just the Leathers: Faux Leather vs. Genuine Leather for Furniture

Beth Rice 22/07/2021

When it comes to leather for upholstered furniture, there are a number of pros and cons to weigh. Not only do you need to decide if the leather look and characteristics are right for you, but there are other leather-like options to consider that can also do the job. This handy guide focuses on types of leather and compares faux versus genuine leather for fine furniture.

Types of Leather

Genuine Leather

Just like cheese and wine, genuine leather is known to age gracefully. It gets softer with time. Markings on leather are nothing to be afraid of. Marks like bites, scars, burns or scrapes indicate the real deal, a full top-grain leather. These marks and wrinkles are individual imperfections that speak to the uniqueness of the animal hide the leather came from. Dye is used to color the hides, and each hide may take color a bit differently. The leather absorbs the dye, ensuring the color won’t fade. Leather is low maintenance and easy to clean. Just a light dusting will suffice from time to time. You also can vacuum it or use a damp cloth to wipe it clean.

The strongest part of the hide is the top grain. Top grain leather results when full-grain leather is run through a splitter. All leathers are graded. The ones that don’t need any altering or touch up get higher grades. The ones with imperfections that need touch up will be corrected and this makes the leather a little stiffer. Those that don’t need correction are softer and more natural.

Full grain leather or real leather is thick. No part of the leather is shaved off. It will develop a patina over the years as it absorbs moisture and oils. This results in a light and dark patina in some areas. Leather can be used for rustic, classic or contemporary rooms.

Genuine Leather Examples
Leather can be dyed a variety of colors.

Comfort Factor

Genuine leather softens as it ages. Instead of fading or losing shape like some fabrics can, leather will soften and become even more flexible. Genuine leather breathes. It absorbs and releases moisture, contributing to a comfy feel.  Leather also doesn’t hold dust, allergens and pet dander like fabric does, offering a more hypoallergenic option for upholstered furniture.


Leather upholstery for your sofa or loveseat will last a lot longer than fabric. Its toughness resists wear and tear. Genuine leather is the most durable upholstery option, more durable than fabric and it wears well. Leather just gets better with age.


While leather will cost more than fabric upholstery, it pays you back in durability. Furniture with leather upholstery will last longer than fabric.

Leather Pros:

  • Durable
  • Easy to clean
  • Maintains its shape
  • Won’t hold pet dander
  • Wears well and ages well

Leather Cons:

  • Pet nails or teeth can damage leather–not 100% pet friendly
  • Should not be put in direct sunlight–could possibly cause fading or cracking
  • Cost is high

Ultra Leather

What is ultra leather and what does it bring to the upholstery game? Ultra leather is a performance-grade faux leather. It’s basically a step up from standard faux and offers a more genuine look and feel.  In addition to the look, it offers durability like genuine leather does. While it’s not genuine leather, it offers an incredible substitute. Available in lots of colors, ultra leather looks natural, offers consistent color and is Green Guard Certified, meaning it gives off low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and contains no toxic by-products.  Ultra leather is soft and resists wear.

Ultra Leather Examples
Ultra leather is available in a variety of colors.

Ultra Leather Pros:

  • No animals used in production
  • Offers the look and feel of leather
  • Good durability
  • Resists wear
  • Green Guard Certified
  • Lower cost

Ultra Leather Cons:

  • Not as strong as genuine leather
  • Not exact same look and feel as genuine leather

Faux Leather

Faux leather lets  you enjoy the look of leather without the cost and without using an animal product.  It’s made from a fabric base that’s chemically treated with dye, polyurethane or wax to give it texture and color. Faux leather is manmade and no animals are harmed in its production. Machines are used to create it, helping to produce consistent color throughout. Faux leather can be dyed different colors, and it is fade resistant. Faux leather offers an attractive substitute, but is not as durable and will not age the same as genuine leather.

Faux Leather Pros:

  • Offers look and feel of leather
  • No animals used in production
  • Most affordable leather-like option

Faux Leather Cons:

  • Not as durable as genuine leather
  • Will not age as well

Whether faux, ultra or genuine, whatever grade you choose, leather offers a classic look, one of sophistication that only the leathers can offer.

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