Before talking about leatherette vs. leather, it is important to know what does each term mean.
Leather and leatherette are two of many vehicle's upholstery. While there are many other car's upholstery materials like cloth, microsuede, and vinyl, leather and leatherette are used the most in newer and more luxury vehicles.
Leather and leatherette might look identical for someone who doesn't have enough experience in the vehicle's upholstery. However, they have significant differences.
In this article, we will explain to you the difference between leather and leatherette, the pros and cons of each material, and help you identify which one is the right for you.
What is Leatherette?
If you hear any of the terms: faux leather, pleather, artificial leather, synthetic leather, vegan leather, PU leather, and fake leather, you are referring to the same material, which is leatherette.
The idea behind creating leatherette is to design a material that mimics leather at a much lower price.
Leatherette is not only used to create vehicle's seats, and it can be used in many other practices like clothing, footwear, and upholstery.
In the design of leatherette, cloth fibers are used and coated with a plastic material like PVC or polyurethane. One of the main characteristics of leatherette is that it does not include any animal byproduct.
What is Leather?
Leather is the most luxurious fabric used in clothing or vehicle's upholstery. It is made of chemically treated animal hides, most commonly from cows.
Many factors affect the quality of leather, including the type of animal and breed, the hidden layer used, and the climate or the environment the animal was living in. Also, workers' skills can significantly affect the final leather product.
What are the pros and cons of leatherette?
Leatherette became very famous in vehicle seats due to the benefits it provides at lower prices as compared to other upholstery.
For example, you will not be able to tell the difference between leatherette and leather visually. Also, the leatherette is much cheaper than leather.
Leatherette does not have a lot of pores; therefore, it is considered waterproof, and you can simply wipe the dirt of leatherette easily. Using only a damp cloth, you can remove spills and dirt from leatherette. This characteristic attracted many parents with kids as the material does not require a lot of cleaning time and effort.
Besides, leatherette comes in many different colors as you can dye it easily. Besides, leatherette color does not fade by time like real leather. Therefore, leatherette is considered an animal friendly.
On the other hand, there are several drawbacks to using leatherette in your vehicle.
As leatherette does not have enough pores, it does not breathe in hot summer days. As a result, you might feel that leatherette sticks to your skin when you sit or lean on it for a longer time.
Moreover, leatherette gets hot much faster than real leather, which might not make it very comfortable for some people during summer days.
Leatherette does not last more than ten years; meaning, it is not a durable material. Over time of use, you might start seeing cracks and tears in leatherette and more severe cases, and you might see the underlying material coming out of the cracks. These cracks can give leatherette a more worn appearance as compared to leather.
What are the pros and cons of leather?
As we mentioned before, leather is one of the materials that provide a more luxurious look to the vehicle.
The material itself is very soft and comfortable, which made it very attractive to many car buyers. Besides, leather has a special smell that always gives a feeling of a new vehicle, which also attracts many car buyers.
When it comes to durability, leather is one of the most durable materials that can last not only for a couple of years but for many decades. Leather has a high resistance to tear and wear, and it turns softer and softer by the time of use.
Unlike leatherette, leather is considered a porous material allowing it to breathe and be preferable for people living in hot areas. As the leather breath, it does not stick to your skin when you sit on it, and it does not get very hot, making it uncomfortable to sit on it.
Another advantage of using leather in your vehicle is that it is a perfect choice for people with allergies. The way the leather is made does not allow allergens to trap in it, which provides a comfortable ride to people with allergies.
Vehicles with leather tend to have higher resale value as compared to other vehicles. This would be, of course, if the leather were taken care of and kept in a very good condition, although it might need a little more effort in taking care of it.
Therefore, it is recommended that you maintain a regular cleaning routine for your leather. However, be very cautious when choosing the cleaning product as some products might result in damaging leather by stripping the natural oil.
On the other hand, there are several cons associated with owning a vehicle with leather internal.
The first drawback of leather is the price. To get the luxury look, it is not surprising that leather is considered very expensive when compared to leatherette, for example.
Although leather is considered very durable, leather should be maintained and cleaned regularly to avoid aging degradation. Besides, leather can fade over time if it was exposed to sun intensity for a very long time.
Since leather is made of natural materials, there are not a whole lot of color choices to choose from like leatherette. Therefore, you won't see other leather colors than black, brown, and white in rare cases.
It is not easy to clean stains and dirt from leather as compared to leatherette because leather can absorb spills and dirt quickly. Cleaning leather can be time-consuming and requires a lot of effort. Therefore, if you are a parent with kids, you leather might not be the best choice for your family unless the kids are old enough to prevent spills and dirt from getting to your vehicle's leather.
Which one is best for you, leather or leatherette?
To choose between leatherette and leather, it all depends on your needs.
If you are a parent and expect to use the vehicle to pick up and drop off the kids, you might need to choose leatherette versus leather. As we mentioned before, leather can be very hard to clean and absorbs dirt and stains, while leatherette can be simply cleaned by a damp cloth.
If you have a low budget and would like to get a vehicle that “looks” luxury, you might need to choose leatherette, not leather. Leatherette has the luxury look of leather at a much lower price.
On the other hand, if you live in hot areas and you would like a comfortable material, you might need to choose leather. Leather does not absorb heat and feels very soft, while leatherette can get sticky and very hot in high-temperature areas.
Also, it is important to consider the amount of time you have to take care of your vehicle. If you have a very busy schedule, you might not be able to take the appropriate care of your leather seats, unless you have someone else maintain and clean it for you.
Therefore, before deciding on owning a vehicle with leather or leatherette interior, step back and think of your needs and see what works best for you.
Which one is more environmentally friendly, leather or leatherette?
Sine leather is made from natural and sustainable sources, and it is likely to be more environmentally friendly than leatherette.
Hides used in producing leather come from cows that are sent to be used for milk. In other words, leather production does not require killing the animal first. Leather is considered biodegradable in 50 years.
On the other hand, leatherette includes plastic in its production. This plastic comes from either polyurethane or PVC.
During the entire life cycle of leatherette, you can see the adverse environmental impact at many stages.
For instance, when PVC is added to produce leatherette, a lot of petroleum material should be added along with a large amount of energy. This energy comes from nonrenewable resources like fossil fuels.
Since fossil fuel is nonrenewable, overusing, it can harm the environment, and this source might be gone shortly.
When leatherette is made, toxic byproducts are released to the environment. These byproducts can also be dangerous to humans and animals like byproducts, dioxins, and others. Such products last for a very long time in the environment.
Finally, if leatherette reaches the end of its life cycle and sent to the landfills, a great portion of the materials involved do not decompose or biodegrade (e.g., PVC.) Even the rest of the degradable materials can release toxic chemicals to the soil and water. The toxic chemicals find their way to the environment through leakage from the landfill.
How does leather or leatherette affect vehicle resale value?
In many used car sales ads, you might see the word LEATHER! Spelled in capitalized words indicating that it is worth the price.
A vehicle with leather seats can have a much higher price than a vehicle with a leatherette seat. Kelley Blue Book mentioned that the same vehicle with leather seats could add up to $370 to the price when compared to vehicles with fake leather.
You might see higher differences in the resale price between used vehicles with leather seats or without. The price can add up to $500.
How to tell the difference between leather and leatherette?
According to J.D. Power market research, many car owners cannot tell the difference between vehicles with leather and leatherette seats without looking at the vehicle's sticker.
The continuous improvements in leatherette production narrowed the gap between real and fake leather. These improvements made many of the mid-priced models look as luxury as high-priced models.
Automakers experts say that 94% of car owners believe that they have real leather interior, although 13% of them have leatherette seats.
Brent Gruber, the director of the global automotive division at J.D. Power, mentioned that it is not a bad thing that people cannot tell the difference between leather and leatherette:
“It's a compliment to the suppliers that they can produce a synthetic material that customers indicate looks and feels so much like leather that they frequently cannot tell the difference, despite automakers marketing the leatherette has a synthetic leather-like material,”
For instance, the base-model of Mercedes-Benz C300 is made of leatherette. However, if you look at the vehicle, you will feel that it is made of real leather when it comes to how nice and luxurious the interior looks.
Leather and leatherette are both used for the vehicle's upholstery.
While leather is known for its luxury look and durability, the advanced and continuous improvements of leatherette made it look very close to real leather.
Even though leatherette is getting popular and attracting many vehicle buyers, there are many disadvantages to owning a vehicle with a leatherette interior. These disadvantages include the material feels cheap; it is not durable and can get very hot in summer.
The leather, on the other hand, is more durable, comfortable, can preserve the resale value of the vehicle if it was taken care of. However, some of the drawbacks of leather include the very high price that made it hard to afford for many car owners, and that leather is hard to clean and needs a special cleaning routine to preserve its quality.
Choosing between leather and leatherette depends on your own needs. Therefore, experts suggest that you take a step back and think of what your goal of owning such vehicle and what are the most important features that you care most about (e.g., durability, lower price, heat resistance, etc.)