An Ultimate Guide to Recycled Leather

You must have heard of the term “recycled leather” when going through the market to shop for leather products. It is one of the most frequently used types of leather for different purposes across industries. The subtle mention of recycled leather on product labels might make you wonder; What exactly is recycled leather? How is it made? How it fares against other types of leather?

We’ve had all your concerns and questions addressed in this regard. Stay adhered to this guide and we’ll give you a detailed analysis of recycled leather.

Recycled Leather – An Introduction

Recycled leather is manufactured by combining scraps and residual fibers. Leather processing in the factory comes with various cuttings to make it usable. This entire process leaves cutoffs, residue, and leftovers of the genuine leather. These discarded pieces are collected and sent to the relevant factory for their “recycling” into a workable material.

In the recycling process, the leather fibers and leftovers are shredded, put together with a polyurethane binder, and squeezed out into a fiber or paper backing. This sheet-like structure is later coated with polyurethane giving it a look of genuine leather.

On a very basic level, recycled leather is a blend of real and fake leather. It is primarily used in the clothing, binding, furniture, and fashion industry.

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Recycled Leather vs Real Leather

As it is established, the primary constituents of recycled leather are the residual pieces of processed real leather. However, it can never be termed entirely as the real one. Rather it is bonded with polymers (ideally polyurethane binder) to give an outlook of genuine leather.

Here’s how to tell the difference between real and recycled leather:

Appearance and Texture

Recycled Leather comes as a paper or fiber backing. Therefore, it is much thinner compared to real leather. It can have countless textures and patterns.Real Leather typically lacks any specific design or texture. Additionally, it is much thicker than almost all leather types.

Durability and Sustainability

Recycled Leather durability is much less, as it can crack or peel over months or a couple of years. Yet, it is way more sustainable than real leather due to the limited addition of animal hide (10-20%).Real Leather is far more durable due to its nature, but less sustainable owing to the concerns regarding animal hide and difficulty in its processing.

Cleaning and Cost

Recycled Leather is cheap and cost-efficient as it is manufactured by the “discarded” pieces. As for cleaning, you can clean and rinse it to remove stains since its thin layer is the least absorbent. (Although, stay cautious)Real Leather is highly expensive for obvious reasons. It can soak up the liquid which makes it hard to clean. It is prudent to have it treated once in 6 months to keep its originality intact.

Recycled Leather vs PU Leather

Recycled leather differs from polyurethane or PU leather in various characteristics. PU leather in general isn’t entirely vegan. However, 100% PU leather made entirely of thermoplastic polymer can be termed as vegan. On the contrary, recycled leather does have some concentration of real leather; thus, it’s a mixture of real and artificial leather.

We’ve further elaborated the difference of both in the following:

Appearance and Texture

Recycled Leather can have a variety of textures, designs, and patterns upon its thin layer, and thus, is easiest to spot.PU Leather is more similar to real leather in terms of texture and appearance. Therefore, it is hard to tell them both apart.

Durability and Sustainability

Recycled Leather products are least durable and hence have a shorter lifespan. The leather’s sustainability is relatively high as it is proven to be a workable solution for the (potentially pollutant) leftover real leather.PU Leather has comparatively high durability as its products last for two years (at least). If the leather is fully based on plastic polymer, it’ll be termed an “environmental pollutant” since plastic can’t decompose.

Cleaning and Cost

Recycled Leather is rather costly as compared to PU leather, but is certainly inexpensive than real leather. Although, it has the least chance of absorbing the liquid, be extra careful with the cleaning process. It is vulnerable to abrasives, detergents, and other chemical cleaners.PU Leather is cheaper than recycled leather. It is equally least absorbent and far more convenient to maintain. Appropriate conditioning can increase its lifespan and allows you to get the most out of it.

Is Recycled Leather Same as Bonded Leather?

Recycled leather is similar to bonded leather. In fact, both the terms are synonymous with each other. Bonded leather is called so because the disposed of fabrics are bonded together to form a pulp. This pulp is combined with a paper-backing using adhesives.

The term “recycled” refers to the overall recycling process of the (potential) residual pollutants of genuine leather. The type of leather developed via such reprocessing is typically referred to as bonded, blended, reconstituted, or recycled leather. The naming depends on the brand; however, the procedure followed throughout remains the same.

Pros and Cons of Recycled Leather

There are certain pros and cons you’re ought to know before choosing recycled leather products.

·        Pros

  • Cost-effective: Recycled leather is basically a combination of scraps and leftovers of real leather. Therefore, it is way cheaper than the genuine one.
    • Customizable: It is customizable in terms of size and appearance. It can be easily resized into a shape that sits right with your needs and demands.
    • Smooth Appearance: It has a smooth appearance and comes in a variety of textures. You can choose the recycled leather product of just about any color and design that you prefer.
    • Stain Resistant: Being highly resistant to liquid, it is less likely for recycled leather to develop permanent stains. Use a damp cloth to remove the temporary blemish. Appropriate conditioning over time increases its overall lifespan.

·        Cons

  • Least Durability: Recycled leather has a shorter lifespan compared to genuine and artificial (PU) leather. If not maintained or conditioned properly, it gives a worn-out look within months.
    • Vulnerable to Abrasive: Although it is the least absorbent, you need to remain extra cautious with the cleaning process. Avoid abrasives and chemical detergents, as they can easily peel or scratch its thin and stiff layer.
    • Vulnerable to Sunlight: The fragile nature of recycled leather makes it vulnerable to sunlight. Keep your products away from sunlight if you’re to avoid quick scratching and fading.
    • May Develop Allergy: It is a near-synthetic material due to the addition of polyurethane binders. If your skin is sensitive to chemicals and develops allergies, you should better opt out of sitting on a recycled leather sofa.
    • Not Entirely Vegan: It is not entirely vegan since there’s minimal interference of genuine leather. If you prefer an artificial alternative to real leather, better go for PU leather.
    • Unpleasant Odor: It is likely to release chemical odor over time caused by the incorporated chemicals. The use of recycled leather jackets, wallets, and bags may turn detrimental for individuals sensitive to toxic smells.

Applications of Recycled Leather

Recycled leather finds a variety of applications across industries. Primarily, it is used for clothing and fashion accessories. The discarded clothing pieces are repurposed and transformed into an “all-new” fresh recycled leather product. The clothing and fashion products include:

  • Recycled Leather Fabric and Textile
  • Recycled Leather Bags and Briefcases
  • Recycled Leather Wallet and Handbags
  • Recycled Leather Shoes, Jackets, and Belts

In the furniture industry, recycled leather sofas, chairs, and couches are noteworthy accessories assembled with the combined leather. Likewise, paper-backed leather is employed to serve the purpose of bookbinding and book-covering.

Is Recycled Leather Sustainable?

Recycled leather products are somewhat sustainable due to several reasons, given by:

  • The term “recycled” is evident to eco-friendliness, as the manufacturing process recycles the pollutants of real leather.
  • Real leather is purely based on animal hide, whereas recycled leather constitutes less than 20% of the hide.
  • Real leather may turn some people off owing to its high cost. Recycled leather comes as a worthy alternate being the cheapest of all leather types.
  • The pure chemical odor of the artificial leather (such as PU leather) turns uncomfortable for many. Although recycled leather has a fair share of toxicity in its smell, typically it smells more like real leather.
  • Unlike genuine leather, it can be reshaped, resized, and retextured according to customer preferences.

Correspondingly, there are certain challenges linked to the concept of recycled leather.

  • Non-elastic; thus, have a shorter lifespan.
  • Difficult to recondition or restore once worn out.
  • Needs to be disposed of correctly to avoid contamination.


With a variety of ranges out there in the leather industry, it may become a daunting process to choose the appropriate one for the relevant purpose. Therefore, it is better to have thorough information on all sorts of leather.

Recycled leather is a composite of scraps and polyurethane which makes it a cheap and economical choice. Yet, this cost-effectiveness doesn’t pay off well in the long run for definite reasons. If durability is your primary concern, you may avoid going for recycled leather.

However, it all comes down to personal preference. With all the relevant pieces of information in focus, it’ll certainly become easier for you to make a fitting decision.

3 thoughts on “An Ultimate Guide to Recycled Leather

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