I-Team: Buying a Leather Sofa? How to Know if it is Real Leather

by Dana Fowle
Aired Jan. 13, 2017

Buying leather furniture is an investment. You want it to last. But, after a recent Call for Action tip, it became clear that not all leather is created equally.

We brought you a Call for Action complaint. A viewer’s leather couch started peeling. He said it was sold to him as leather, but he later found out it was something called bonded leather. Well, we got quite a few emails and calls from you about the very same thing. So we set out to find out ….

Keena Felton’s peeling couch got a fix from Call for Action, our in-house group who mediates disputes. They got him a new couch, but he also found out that his leather sofa wasn’t exactly what he thought it was.

It’s a bonded leather sofa which is a leather material, not the whole skin of an animal. Bonded leather is made up of “left over pieces of leather blended together.” You might hear it called by a few names – like “reconstituted” leather or “blended” leather.

It can look like the real deal. We showed a few samples to Eric Len, a Fox 5 photojournalist and asked him to pick his favorite.

He picked the very soft, almost buttery feel of the bonded leather. And the price is certainly more appealing.

Upholsterer Holger Mejia showed us samples. The one Eric Len picked, he says, runs about $6 a square foot. These two true leather pieces run about $17 and more than $20 a square foot.

Holger Mejia says, “If somebody says this is original leather, this is a leather sofa, we are talking about $3,000. $4,000 a sofa. Because to have one hide of cow is over $700. Just one. And one sofa take almost three hides.”

But you should know what you’re paying for. Real leather can certainly be very expensive, but bonded leather does have issues, too.

Holger Mejia sees a lot of problems with bonded leather, “I found in this business it starts peeling. That’s what a lot of customers come tell me they have this problem.”

A bonded leather product should be labeled as such. But make sure you’re asking a salesperson the right questions.

Also flip it over. If it’s a couch, unzip a cushion and look on the back side. Real leather looks like this. A bonded or faux leather, generally, has a man-made backing like this one.

Both real and faux leathers have their pros and cons. Just know what you’re getting so you aren’t disappointed later.