What is Recycled Leather?

4 overlapping fabric samples

During a recent restoration of a pair of 50’s chrome chairs, my client decided to have them re-upholstered in recycled leather.

2 chairs re-upholstered in recycled leather

A pair of restored mid-century chrome chairs upholstered in recycled leather

As we pondered her fabric choice, we agreed that the look and feel of it is much like leather, but we both wondered “How is this stuff made?” She suggested that maybe it’s something like particle board or felt – a compressed composite of reclaimed pieces. I did a little research and found out this was a pretty accurate guess.

4 overlapping fabric samples

embrace™ is one brand of recycled leather

Two different brands used similar wording to describe their product, so I assume all brands may use a similar process. Here’s one description:

The recycled leather used in embrace™ goes through multiple, non-polluting cleaning process. First, the discarded leather is collected from the manufacture of apparel, shoes, handbags, furniture, etc., and is put through a series of scouring processes to achieve a consistently even texture. It is also cleaned to allow a uniform, natural color for the finished product. After the recycled leather is applied to the fabric, it is washed again to soften the hand. The end result is an environmentally safe and “clean” product which gives the feel, weight, and durability of leather, but does so without polluting the environment.

The end product becomes the “perfect” fabric because it is strong, cleanable, beautiful, and has all the best characteristics of leather without the negative environmental impact of producing leather. Additionally, embrace™ provides significant cost savings when compared to upholstering furniture with leather hides.

Offering the look, feel, and volume of traditional leather – but without the price – embrace™ represents a new category of furniture fabric. In aesthetic terms, this recycled leather fabric offers consumers similar colors, depth, luster, dimensional grain, and hand-rubbed layered tones as traditional leathers. The unique composite construction process delivers outstanding hand and touch along with care-free, high-performance reliability – year after year.

embrace™ uses excess leather headed to already overcrowded landfills and recycles it into a stylish and timeless product

I like that it is PVC free, with the same polyurethane ‘face’ (surface) composition as the eco-friendly vinyls. The cleaning guide recommends soap & water and says DO NOT USE ALCOHOL BASED CLEANING AGENTS (which would no-doubt melt the surface material)

First introduced in 2007, the early bonded leather products apparently left much to be desired, but improvements in the process and finishing have resulted in a better product, and brought it wider acceptance in the furniture industry.

2016 postscript: Keep in mind that the above quote is industry-written. See comments below for an upholsterer’s point of view. The thin surface may not hold up well to pet claws and sharp objects.

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About the Author

CarlaHey there! I'm Carla Pyle. I love the stories that our furniture tells. For me a picture of my Granddaddy Milton's green upholstered arm chair brings to mind the vivid rhymes & colors of 'The Cat in the Hat' and his soft low voice in the telling. I love too that there is always an element of nature in furniture - the warm-toned curving grain of a walnut leg or the reflection of life in a mid-century chrome piece. The best part of teaching & sharing natural upholstery is that it ties all of these things together. Stories - of individual experience and of the planet - help us build happy & healthy homes.View all posts by Carla →

  1. JGJG04-06-2014

    Thanks. This was very helpful! Best of success with your work.

  2. TmTm08-09-2014


  3. Sharon WestlySharon Westly01-07-2016

    We are looking to buy some Lazyboy furniture available in recycled leather. If I am understanding your article correctly, the recycled leather is as durable as real leather and a substantial improvement over bonded leather. We are senior citizens so our furniture does not get the wear and tear of a family with children. We do have four legged children who are treated like family and allowed on the furniture. They are seniors also so basically just sleep on the sofas when they are on them. I would love to have your input as to the advisability of purchasing recycled leather over the real thing. I will say that the real leather furniture we have had for 14 years has held up well except for splits in a few places on the back cushions. Any suggestions you have would be appreciated as this is probably the last major furniture purchase we will make at our ages. Thank you!

  4. CarlaCarla01-07-2016

    Hi Sharon,

    Great question! Considering that you will have four legged children on your sofa, I would recommend real leather. I reupholstered a real estate client’s office chairs with recycled leather about 4 years ago, and she has not had any problems with it. However, I recently spoke with another upholsterer who had seen some significant problems with recycled leather because it has a very thin polyurethane layer that she observed does not hold up well to sharp objects (e.g. pocket knives, pet claws, etc). I think I will now amend this post because the quoted description does imply that it’s as durable as real leather, and apparently that is not the case. I hope this helps in your decision – thanks for asking!


  5. Lynn MaginotLynn Maginot01-18-2016

    In response to Sharon on whether to buy recycled leather, A BIG DON’T BUY IT!!! My husband & I invested in a FlexSteel sectional ($4000) with this type of material 3 yrs. ago. We are responsible 50+ baby boomers with no children, grandchildren or pets. In the last 6 months a section started to “peel” on the seam of the arm. When I contacted the furniture store & sent a picture I was told FlexSteel will not cover it but we can send out a rep @ $75 an hr. plus material. I came across this blog as I am researching this material before I call FlexSteel directly. I am beyond disappointed with this material. Btw, FlexSteel doesn’t use this material anymore.

  6. CarlaCarla01-20-2016

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience – this is very helpful information so others can avoid the problem you’ve had. It’s too bad Flexsteel did not stand behind their high-end sofa and at least give you free repair!

  7. ConnieConnie01-27-2016

    Considering having 4 kitchen chairs (seats and backs currently with fabric upholstery) redone with recycled leather. Reason? To accommodate young grandchildren so no concern about dribbles and crumbs. We have no pets. Normally just two of us. Do you think recycled leather is adequately durable for such a project?
    We had 6 dining room chair seats redone in it a few years ago. They r fine but not used very often.

  8. CarlaCarla01-27-2016

    Recycled leather may not be the best answer for your kitchen chairs. Kids have a way of adding exponential wear & tear over normal adult use. If you read the other comments on this page, you should be able to make an informed decision.
    Thanks for asking!

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