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Is PU Leather Vegan?
We Answer All Your Questions

Last updated: February 9, 2021

Going vegan means cutting out meat, dairy, and eggs from your meals. But it also means giving up on all other animal products, including leather, silk, and wool. Once you realize that wearing leathers means wearing cowhide, you’ll embrace the alternatives.

PU leather is often used as an alternative to real leather. But, the question is — is PU leather vegan? Let’s find out!

What is PU Leather?

holding a pu leather

PU leather is a synthetic material made from a type of polymer — polyurethane, or PU. Polyurethane is a standard replacement for leather because it’s easy to produce and mold into any shape and size.

Apart from polyurethane leather, PU is also used for making mattresses, insulation, car parts, and more. Many brands go for polyurethane when they want to jump on the plant-based everything wagon.

However, just because it’s not made directly from animals, it doesn’t mean polyurethane is vegan-friendly.

How It's Made?

PU leather is made from the highest-quality polyurethane that’s formed into a variety of products. This is the main reason it’s so much cheaper than real leather. Synthetic leather is made with various chemicals that help the plastic coating bond to the fabric backing.

The types of plastic used to make the synthetic leather vary and decide whether the final product, that is, the PU leather is eco-friendly or not.

Luckily, PVC isn’t as standard in synthetic leather as it used to be in the 60s and 70s, but you can still run into PU leather made with PVC, so be wary of that.

Moreover, some types of PU leather also contain real leather, but I’ll touch upon that later.

How to Tell if Something is PU Leather

If you have a very keen eye, you might tell the difference by just looking at the material. However, since very few can do that, the next best way is to look at the tag.

The product label should disclose whether the item is made with PU or real leather. Furthermore, PU leather will probably have a distinct plastic smell.

Another useful clue is the price. Real leather will (almost) always cost more than PU leather. Finally, you could do a water test, although I wouldn’t advise you to do that unless you own the product.

Run the item under water. Real leather typically absorbs water, while PU leather won’t.

PU Vs. PU-Coated Leather

There’s also the risk of purchasing PU-coated leather, so you’ll want to be careful about that. Unfortunately, there are many leather products coated with PU and sold as PU leather product. It feels confusing and deceptive, but you can work it out.

Once again, you should check the label. PU leather should have a tag that says 100% synthetic, vegan, or list the materials it’s made from. As society is becoming more aware of vegan leather’s importance, manufacturers are keener to display their products are made from PU leather without animal cruelty.

PU Vs. Other Types of Faux Leather

layers of leather

Now, there are a couple of more names for vegan leather and alternatives to real leather, including:

  • Vegan leather
  • Synthetic leather (Mainly used for vegan UGGs production)
  • Faux leather
  • Fake leather
  • Pleather, and
  • Leatherette.

Despite all the different names, vegan leather is typically made from only a couple of different materials. They include sustainable kelp, cork, and other natural materials.

But, as I mentioned, most genuine leather alternatives include PVC. PU and PVC (polyvinyl chloride) are both types of plastic, but there are a couple of essential differences.

PU Vs. PVC Leather

Polyurethane, or PU, is made of only two synthetic material coats, so it’s much more breathable than PVC. Furthermore, there’s no backing; PU is more flexible and lighter than PVC leather.

However, this also means that polyurethane doesn’t handle humidity and hot weather very well. Polyurethane typically cracks and flakes very quickly, and it’s not very durable. On the other hand, PVC handles the heat amazingly.

Other Things to Consider

There’s one very serious thing to think about when considering buying a PU leather product. More often than not PU leather production process includes petroleum. Petroleum which is made from fossil fuels, are made from animals [1].

Now, whether or not this will bother you depends on your definition of veganism. Some vegans don’t consider this to be an animal product, while others disagree. I won’t go into what type of a vegan you are; I’ll just leave all the info here to decide for yourself.

The Difference Between PU and Real Leather

types of leathers

As I said a couple of times, looking at the tag is your best option. But here’s the main difference between real and PU leather. These guidelines will help you transition from leather to vegan PU leather products easier. Now, you want to be careful.

Vegan PU leather may sometimes look and feel very close to animal leather. However, here’s what you should expect from the vegan leather alternative:

  • The smell should be very distinctive. If you’ve been to a thrift shop store or smelled your grandpa’s wallet or men’s dress shoes, you’ll know what I’m talking about. PU leather and other vegan leather alternatives usually smell like plastic.
  • PVC and PU leather also feel a lot different than animal leather. PU leather typically has a plasticky texture.
  • Leather usually comes in white, black, and brown colors, and I think you understand why. However, the leather alternative is synthetic and can be easily dyed into any color.

Sadly the leather industry kills thousands of cows every year. Yet, leather products are still a luxury and typically have a high price tag. On the contrary, the prices of PU leather products are much lower. As I mentioned, the material is easy and affordable to mass-produce.

But no matter these guidelines, be sure to check the label or contact the manufacturer if you’re still not sure whether you’re about to buy a vegan leather alternative or the real thing.

Pros and Cons

If you’re still on the verge and reconsidering whether to invest in PU leather, here’s a quick pros and cons list.

PROS
  • 100% PU leather is vegan and cruelty-free.
  • It costs less than genuine leather.
  • Easy to clean.
  • Can be made in different colors and styles.
  • Doesn't dry out over time.
  • Sustainable and uses fewer resources to be made.
CONS
  • Can look synthetic and cheap.
  • Isn’t a breathable material.
  • Typically smells of plastic.
  • Isn’t very durable.
  • Not all PU leather products are 100% vegan.
  • It's made from plastic, and plastics take up to 1,000 years to decompose, so it’s not the most eco-friendly option.

Is It the Best Alternative?

I think we can agree that just because PU leather may be vegan, it’s not the best alternative to animal skin.

Yes, it’s cheap, cruelty-free, high-quality, but let’s dig deeper.

Durability

I did mention the durability in the pros and cons table. PU leather isn’t the most durable material out there. Yes, it’s cheap, flexible, and breathable, but it also breaks and flakes quickly. You’ll probably buy products more often if they’re made from PU leather.

Environmental and Health Impact

The biggest con of PU leather is its impact on the environment. It’s made of polyurethane — a type of plastic. Moreover, the manufacturing process also includes ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. These toxic chemicals cause severe health issues, such as nerve damage, breathing issues, and skin rashes.

Byproducts of manufacturing this material also pollute the environment. Chemicals end up in oceans, causing water pollution and endangering marine life, while products made from PU leather end up in landfills.

Other Environmentally-Friendly Leather Alternatives

If you care about the environment, and your health, go for eco-friendly products made from cork or kelp. You can also go for pineapple leather made from pineapple leaves.

These alternatives may be more expensive and difficult to find. Still, they’ll protect the wildlife and be easy on the environment.

Is PU Leather the Best Choice for Vegans?

So, is PU leather vegan? You can consider PU leather vegan if you consider fossil fuels to be non-vegan.

It depends on your attitude towards it. Personally, I don’t consider it vegan.

Like I mentioned, cork, pineapple leather, and kelp are much better alternatives, but I’d love it if you shared your opinion with me.

References:

  1. https://ocean.si.edu/conservation/gulf-oil-spill/what-are-fossil-fuels

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