PU Leather Vs. Faux Leather: The Difference Explained

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When you hear about “fake” leather, the 2 most common terms are “PU leather” and “faux leather.”

It can be confusing, especially when mixed in with other terms.

So let me clear this up before going any further. Any type of artificial leather can be called:

  • Faux leather
  • Artificial leather
  • Pleather

If there are no animal materials mixed in, “vegan leather” is another appropriate term. These types of materials are used for all sorts of clothing products – belts, boots (here are some examples of vegan work boots), bags, etc.

Those are all synonyms, they mean the same thing. The only reason there are multiple terms are for various marketing purposes.

PU leather is simply a type of faux leather.

The 2 Main Types of Faux Leather

But there are multiple kinds of faux leather, all made from various plastic materials. The 2 most popular are:

  • PVC leather – The first type of artificial leather, made from polyvinyl chloride. It’s not super popular any more.
  • PU leather – The most popular type of modern artificial leather. Not all PU leather goods are vegan, since sometimes animal materials are mixed in. 

PU leather comparison

So PU Leather is a type of faux leather (the most popular one). If you see a product that is made with “faux leather,” it likely is made of PU leather.

Hopefully that clears things up.

Now we can look at some common questions about these materials.

What is Pleather, Vegan Leather, and Faux Leather Made of?

Both PVC leather and PU leather are mainly derived from petroleum. In other words, they’re mainly made of just plastic.

A few other materials are typically added in during the manufacturing process, particularly for PU leather.

If you’d like to see a typical process from start to finish, here’s a quick video:

It might just be the chemical engineer in me, but I think that’s pretty neat.

Is Faux or Vegan Leather Durable?

The durability of vegan leather has a lot more variance than regular leather.

Some vegan leather is high quality, and very durable.

Other faux leather is thin, not very durable, and just feels “cheap.”

It all depends on the manufacturer, since artificial leather can be made in a variety of ways. Just expect to pay more for the high quality vegan leather.

Is Vegan Leather Waterproof?

Because vegan leather is mostly made of plastic, it’s typically waterproof.

PVC leather is typically entirely plastic, making it completely waterproof.

PU leather on the other hand, always has an outer coating of polyurethane, so in theory it should also be waterproof. However, if a product is poorly made, it’s possible to become less water resistant over time.

Is Faux Leather Just Plastic?

It can be, but isn’t always.

PVC leather is almost always just plastic, which is a big part of why it’s not that comfortable, and isn’t super popular any more.

PU leather on the other hand, typically coats non-woven fabrics (that aren’t always plastic) in plastic. So it’s mostly plastic, just not entirely plastic in most cases. If you watched the video in the above section, you might have noticed that they added cotton to a particular layer, plus a non-plastic dye.

Is Vegan Leather Sustainable?

The biggest negative of vegan leather is that it’s mostly made from petroleum, like all plastic products.

That alone makes it fairly unsustainable, and it doesn’t biodegrade well.

Since many vegans are also environmentalists, it’s not too surprising that many vegans try to avoid even vegan leather if an alternative is available for what they’re looking for.

Is Vegan Leather Breathable?

PVC leather is not very breathable. It often feels sticky and uncomfortable, especially in hot temperatures.

PU leather, on the other hand, can be made to be more breathable, depending on the manufacturing process.

However, it’s still not a particularly breathable material compared to real leather or other materials.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance nutrition writer. I've been vegan for years and try to make life easier for others by sharing what I've learned.

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