leather vs leatherette

Leather seat covers are hot. Sometimes literally, like in the middle of the summer when you forget to park in the shade, but also in the sense that people love them. They’re luxurious, elegant, and they smell awesome. Like most well-loved things, this popularity has led to imitators, or as consumers lovingly call them, “knock-offs.”



While faux leather is usually honest with its advertising about being synthetic, there’s always a few bad apples to spoil the bunch. There’s a growing trend of dubious sellers passing off leatherette as the real deal and sometimes even selling it at the price point of actual leather.

  1. And really, leatherette isn’t all that bad. It looks and feels like leather, but it’s actually made of vinyl which makes it easier to maintain and clean. Plus, it makes it easier to produce which ultimately makes it cheaper for you. That is, as long as it’s not being passed off as real leather by shady sellers.

Can you tell if this is leather or leatherette?

So what’s the difference between leather and leatherette? They both have their pros and their cons. Let’s take a look at how leatherette compares to the real deal.

compare leather leatherette

  • Material. Leather is made of animal hide, while leatherette is made from PVC or polyurethane and leather scrap. Note that this makes leatherette a cruelty-free option, which makes it great for vegans, vegetarians, or animal lovers.
  • Price. Obviously, the cost of buying leather seat covers is harder on your wallet compared to leatherette seat covers. Real leather does vary in quality, but even shoddy leather is going to come miles ahead of leatherette in the long run. No matter how much you’re slapping down for leatherette seat covers, when it comes down to it they’re just not going to hold a candle to the real thing.
  • Color. Real leather is generally limited to a few neutral colors like black, gray, and various shades of brown. On the other hand, leatherette gives you a lot more options since it’s manmade. If you’re looking to get a taste of the rainbow, leatherette might just be your go-to.
  • Durability. One of the huge appeals of leather (besides the fact that it’s, you know, leather) is its durability. On average, the lifespan of leather is between 10 and 15 years and with proper maintenance and some good ol’ TLC, you’ll find it looking better and better every day as it ages. You can’t really say the same for leatherette. What you see is pretty much what you get, and time catches up with it a lot quicker…especially in the context of seat covers where you’re constantly sitting on them. You’re going to notice a lot of wear and tear. With leatherette you can usually expect somewhere around 5 to 6 ears of use on average.
  • Maintenance. Leatherette is kind of like your dream girl – it looks great and is totally low maintenance. In fact, all you really need to do is give it the occasional wipe down with a damp cloth every now and then to keep it looking fresh and clean. Leather on the other hand is a bit more finicky; it requires regular conditioning to keep it looking good, so you better have your wallet ready.
  • Eco-friendly. This isn’t one you’d think of off the top of your head, but for those of us who are a little more eco-conscious it’s something to consider. Being a natural product, leather is biodegradable although admittedly it does take a while…around 50 years, if we’re getting into specifics. But that’s better than leatherette, which is synthetic and pretty much makes it a giant car seat shaped plastic bottle once you’re done with it.

leather keeps it natural

leatherette lets you taste the rainbow

All in all sure, it can be a good choice if you’re into the look and feel of leather and want to save a couple of bucks, but when sellers are deceiving consumers into paying full leather prices for leatherette, that’s where the problem lies. When it comes down to it, leatherette isn’t the bad guy. Dishonest sellers are.

So maybe now you’re a little paranoid. What’s the deal? How do you know if you’re buying real leather or just some leatherette being passed off as the real thing? Here are some things you can do to give yourself an edge.

  • Get up close and personal. No one is perfect (except for Ryan Gosling) and leather is no exception. If you really get all up in there,  you’ll notice that real leather has all kinds of marks, patterns, and pores that vary throughout the whole surface. With leatherette, the whole thing will be consistent and picture-perfect. So take a closer look and map out some of the areas of the material. If it looks like Ryan Gosling, you’re dealing with leatherette.
  • Cop a feel. When you hold real leather, you get this buttery and supple feeling that’s unlike anything else on this planet. Leatherette is smooth to the touch too, but lower grade varieties can feel plastic-y. Another thing you can try is pressing really hard on the material – leatherette will give way to your touch while genuine leather will stand its ground.
  • Get a whiff. Everyone knows what leather smells like. Awesome is a good way to describe it. Leatherette doesn’t have that amazing, blessed, give-me-more scent. In fact, some varieties are cursed with a pretty strong chemical odor. It wears off eventually over time, but it’s a pretty big giveaway. So go ahead, get real close and take a nice deep sniff of that leather. No one’s judging you, we’ve all done it.
  • Burn, baby, burn. This one might be a little crazy, but it’s good to know and a fun fact for sure. Real leather is fire resistant. Plastic and rubber materials like the ones commonly found in leatherette aren’t. So if you feel like playing pyromaniac, you could play with fire and see if your “leather” can handle the heat or if it needs to get out of the kitchen. I can’t promise your salesman will be impressed, though.
  • The price is right. Let’s be real. If you want leather, be prepared to pay the price for it. If you’re buying leather seat covers and the price is ridiculously low, it’s a red flag. When something is too good to be true, it almost always is. That’s a law of the universe. Not a good law, but definitely a law.

So the next time you’re stumped and aren’t sure whether or not you’re being duped, pick up this article and check yourself before you wreck  yourself (and your wallet).