Tell Us Your Bonded Leather Horror Stories

Now, before you think we’ve gone and gotten kinky on y’all, please note that the discussion here is about bonded leather, which is sort-of-but-not-really leather that gets used in a lot of things, like that set of encyclopedias you keep around to impress the ladies. For the purposes of this post, we’re talking about furniture with bonded leather upholstery — and whether or not you were told the product was actual leather.

See, bonded leather, especially the kind that makes it onto furniture — even high-price items — is a mixture of actual leather fibers with plastics and other materials.

We’ve been hearing some complaints — backed up by consumer gripes we’ve seen posted elsewhere — about people buying “leather” couches and chairs, at prices ranging from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand, that are not clearly marked as “bonded leather” or who are told that bonded leather is just another name for the genuine article.

Additionally, we’ve heard of people being upsold pricey warranties on their purchases — warranties that only cover accidental damage, and not the type of wear that one can expect from “bonded leather.”

So when their bonded leather armchair starts to fall apart within the warranty period, they either have to fight to get the store to honor the warranty or at least refund the money spent on that useless warranty.

As we look into these allegations, we wanted to see how widespread the problem is. So if you’ve ever had a bonded leather piece of furniture fall apart on you after only a short time — and especially if you purchased a warranty on that furniture — send us your story at tips@consumerist.com with “Bonded Leather” in the subject line.

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  1. McRib wants to know if you've been saved by the Holy Clown says:

    “Tell Us Your Bonded Leather Horror Stories”

    I’ll let Coffee tell you that one. He was on the receiving end anyway.

    • Coffee says:

      I’ll spare the details, but when you’re being dragged down a charming country lane behind a large destrier, watching the blooming rhododendrons blur by in a canvass of pink and red and white, the clopping of hooves pounding a merry stacatto in your ears, it’s important that your body suit is made of genuine leather. I’ll tell you that much.

  2. do-it-myself says:

    My partner and I purchased a bonded leather living room set in November. There was no trickery as it was properly labeled. We had hand-me-down white leather couches which were an unknown number of years old (we had it for over 3 years, before that, who knows). We decided to “upgrade” with a new, more modern set of furniture but didn’t want to pay out the wazoo. We got a 4 piece +ottoman for about $1,000. We liked this set because the pieces are rearrangeable/interchangeable/expandable. Our cat’s rear claws have done a little damage, but you can barely tell because it’s black.

    I never realized how furniture can trap in odors because when we got this new set, it smelled like our apartment the day we moved in. It was THAT fresh…it was unbelievable! We only plan on keeping this set for a few more years and the cushioning doesn’t feel as supportive as it should be, but we can’t complain for what it is.

    You’re next article should be about the perils of microfiber furniture. We also purchased a nice looking table and chair set at the same time as the living room. I will never in my life purchase a microfiber anything for as long as I live. At least I was smart enough to stay away from it as a couch!

    • do-it-myself says:

      I accidentally left out the part that the chairs are microfiber. :( I know how to take care of it, but SOMEONE keeps spilling stuff on MY CHAIRS.

      • ChuckECheese says:

        I remember a hilarious infomercial for an Oklahoma City furniture store where they clean the microfiber sofas with Windex and a rag.

        • Unknownable says:

          Mathis Brothers, perhaps?
          Microfiber is a pain.
          My folks bought a full living room set several years ago,
          and with 5 cats in the house, it wasn’t long before some areas where showing
          quite a bit of wear. Not to mention for some odd reason cat hair is a pain to get off of microfiber.

    • Portlandia says:

      I have a very light colored microfiber couch, it wasn’t expensive ($1500) but it wasn’t cheap either. It came with fabric protector on it and has been the easiest thing to keep clean. A damp cloth and a little fabric cleaner only as needed and it cleans right up.

      Not sure what problem you’re having with microfiber I find it very resilient and the couch still looks great.

    • Costner says:

      Wow that is the exact opposite of my experience with microfiber. I had a microfiber sectional and everything that was spilled on it was easily cleaned with the kit which they provided with the purchase. Dried milk, apple juice, baby spittle… various magic stains that just appear when everyone swears it wasn’t them…. it all came out without a single problem. I also used to have a cat and the claws had no impact on the microfiber.

      Meanwhile I spent twice as much for a real leather couch, chair, and ottoman (Natuzzi is the brand name) and it has not worn nearly as well. Some areas are somewhat faded while other areas are stained. Some milk was spilled on it at one time and there is a permanent dark spot where it was, and when I do attempt to clean it, the cloths I use end up turning red (the leather is a burgundy color) which means every time I clean it, I’m removing dye and shortening the lifespan. The same cat left a few scratches in the arms when she would leap off – and there is nothing that can be done to hide them.

      Knowing what I know now, I think I’d be more apt to purchase more microfiber as I just don’t feel the leather has held up nearly as well. I suppose it might come down to the quality of the material… there is likely cheap microfiber and more expensive microfiber. This might be one of those things where you get what you pay for?

      • do-it-myself says:

        What kit is this that can clean dried milk and chicken wing sauce? The cat hair is no problem for me because I have this thing that scrapes it right off.

        • Costner says:

          Wish I could tell you the name of it, but it came with the couch… and the ex now has both the couch and the cleaning kit.

          However it was a clear liquid that came with a sponge that had two sides. One side was a regular sponge, the other side was a rougher material. You poured a bit of the liquid onto the sponge, squeezed it a few times to turn it into a foam, and started rubbing it into the stain / spot. After that you could use a clean cloth to wipe away the excess foam and any remaining liquid and then you let it dry. An hour later or so (when dry to the touch) you used the rough side of the sponge which would drag along the microfiber and bring back the texture of the cloth.

          I have to be honest… it was almost fun to remove spots since the kit worked so well. Of course that particular soft was treated with a stain solution at the factory so perhaps that prevented stains from setting. I never spilled anything like red wine on it so I can’t speak to that, and I never let bigger spills go untreated for days or anything… but for things like small milk stains from a sippy-cup or bottle, or the small little stains caused by normal eating and drinking all came out without any effort.

          I’d probably visit a high end furniture store and just ask them if they have any kits for cleaning microfiber. Sure it might cost a few bucks more than a cleaner available at Target or what have you… but I tend to think the furniture manufacturers wouldn’t give something out if it didn’t work, and in my experience it worked great.

  3. eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

    I used to work at a leather goods store that lost out on sales because we refused to carry the newer, not-at-all-good Coach crap that uses bonded and split leather.

    That’s my horror story.

    • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

      I should mention that not all Coach stuff sucks. Their more classic-looking stuff is usually made out of actual leather.

    • CalicoGal says:

      COACH doesn’t sell through any retailers besides Macy*s, Nordstrom, and Dillards.
      There are no “leather goods stores” that sell COACH, aside from COACH themselves.

      I have a newer (2011) COACH 100% leather bag that is gorgeous and high-quality. Although softer than their traditional-era offerings, their current ALL LEATHER (not fabric trimmed with leather) offerings are still very nice.

      • Boo LaRue says:

        I totally agree. I have three beautiful, high-quality leather Coach bags from the 80’s, as well as one that I bought in 2009. I am not a fan of their fabric-leather hybrids, so I can’t speak on those, but their all-leather bags are still great.

      • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

        Right, and that’s a newer phenomenon.

  4. JustJayce says:

    Never buy a bonded leather belt – It can’t handle everyday movements and the bond eventually fails and the surface of the belt falls apart.

  5. The Fake Fake Steve Jobs says:

    This one time at band camp…

  6. Overman says:

    Blame OP here.
    My furniture set was NOT marked as bonded leather.
    At about year 2 it began to crack, I figured it needed leather moisterizer.
    At 5 years, it began to peal away and you could see the woven backing the
    crap was glued to.
    I got the set at a national chain furnature outlet, so I really couldn’t expect the finest quality.
    One of the legs was scuffed and I paid more for the matching arm chair than the couch.
    They now sit in the downstairs recroom covered with a crochetted afghan like my grandmother used to do.
    If only I had encased them in vinyl covers like her , they’d still be in pristine shape.
    I should have gone to Restoration Hardware and bought a $20k set.

  7. blogger X says:

    Well, I was about to…oh wait…bonded leather…nevermind.

  8. sorta savvy consumer says:

    We’ve got a leather (or so I assume leather), how do I tell if it is Bonded Leather vs. Genuine leather. Also against my wishes, my wife insisted on the warranty, since it would theoretically include repairing any damages that our 7 kids might inflict.

    So far the only claim we had, we didn’t finish because we delayed and we were moving and didn’t have time for them to come fix it (small pin size hole from a jeans or something). So far a year later it still isn’t fixed nor is it noticeable so again, pass on the warranty no matter how many devilish kids you have.

    Not that you want to do it for all your stuff, but for my expensive laptop that doesn’t depreciate much (Macbook Pro) I bought a personal articles policy that was pretty cheap and would cover any accidental damage (water, dropped, etc.) Much better choice than those very expensive theft/loss policies they sell at the store.

  9. ChuckECheese says:

    Recently I’ve inadvertently purchased a couple bonded leather dress belts of all things. The thin leather-esque coating peels off with only days to weeks of wear. I returned a belt to DSW a few weeks ago where the leather was peeling off the odd, rubber-like interior of the belt after only 2 days of wear.

  10. Lorigun says:

    We said we wanted real leather, not bonded leather. What we got was leather covered with a thin colored leather bonded on top of the natural. The leather had only a one year warranty. After abou 18 months, the top layer started wearing off. That’s when we discovered it was not dyed leather but simply a thin leather covering over natural leather cowhide. We did purchase a 5year warranty and discovered it only covered accidental damages. The salesman picked up our loves eat and sofa to send back to the factory for repair. We even had to pay for the pick up and redelivery. The salesman said he can’t take it back as it is now used. We said we believe he did noy disclose that this was a colored thin layer of layer bonded to natural leather. We believe after it is repaired, it will positively wear off again. What to do?

  11. Fishnoise says:

    Don’t have any leather furniture, but have had my share of misfortune with bonded-leather dress belts with all the durability of crepe paper in a tsunami. If anyone’s looking for a leather briefcase or backpack, I’ve had a great customer experience with Custom Hide. I’ve owned one of their Scholar Laptop briefcases since 2003 and have used it almost daily, sending it back once for a free repair under their lifetime warranty (and I admit I had been overloading it to the point of abuse). Wish no. 17 in my “If I Win the Lottery” list is to bribe their staff to build me a couple of English club chairs covered in their brown- or whiskey-colored hides.

  12. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I like those patch leather purses and bags. It’s little bits of leather stitched together. I don’t know if those are bonded leather, but I’ve never had any trouble with them. The straps get yucky, but the bags themselves stay looking nice. They’re usually more affordable and by the time they fall apart, I’m sick of them anyway.

  13. Tedicles says:

    Actually the post is a little misleading, “bonded leather” is not necessarily mixed with “plastics and other materials.” Bonded leather is actually more commonly made from pure leather. Basically you take all the scraps from other leather production, and mix it with a liquid solution and then roll out new, larger sheets of ‘bonded leather.’ Many times bonded leather is made from 100% leather scraps/pieces.

    It is also good to know that there are actually 4-5 ‘layers’ in each piece of original leather, the outside/exterior pieces being the nicest and most expensive. But the quality degrades as you being using the interior layers. Additionally is also makes a big difference in cost and quality based on what type of animal leather it is, whether cow, pig, sheep, etc.

    • dobgold says:

      sounds like pink slime or chicken mcnuggets.

    • Jimmy37 says:

      When I researched it on furniture websites, that’s not what I read. It is not pieces mixed with plastic. Bonded leather contains a small amount of leather.

    • Costner says:

      The problem is, there is no real criteria for what constitutes “bonded leather”. Some might have a high leather content, others have mostly vinyl, some might even be mixed with fabrics or latex. You can likely buy high quality bonded material that includes a surface comprised of almost 100% leather and binders with a fabric backer, but you could also find bonded leather that is only 20% leather. This is probably why it gets such a bad name.

      I’m not sure about your comments regarding layers though – I’ve seen leather hides treated as they are removed from animals and they are just one piece of leather – they aren’t broken down into layers so perhaps I’m not understanding your comment. The layer can be “shaved”, but I’ve never seen a process of taking one piece of hide / leather and breaking it down into layers. A single hide isn’t all that think so what would the point of layers be?

      • Tedicles says:

        There are many different ways of doing things of course. With the layers I know this to be a fact, though I am referencing mostly inexpensive leather products (such as purses and wallets at the $10-20 price point). But I can assure you that manufacturers today do split the hides in 4-5 layers, as I work directly with the factories overseas to supply goods here in the USA. For a real nice leather product, with the associated higher cost, then you should not be getting split leather, rather the full piece as you mention.

    • Cacao says:

      Oh, so it’s the Pink Slime of leather.

  14. DaveInBillsburg says:

    The only leather, bonded or otherwise, furniture I’ve been fortunate to own was a large arm chair from my maternal grandfather. He won it in a contest back in the 60s, it was real leather, brown, soft as could be. Very well broken in. Had to have some springs/support replaced in the seat, but other than that it was in great shape. When we moved from NH to VA back in 2000 I had to leave it behind because we were moving in with my in-laws for a few years to save up to buy a house. I left it with my brother since he had room for is. He still has it and I look forward to sitting in it with a glass of of some good single malt scotch when I’m up there visiting in a few weeks.

  15. Jimmy37 says:

    When I looked up what bonded leather is, I found out that not even the furniture industry has a consistent defintion for it.

    It is definitely NOT LEATHER And it’s NOT plastic/vinyl-coated leather. The best that can be said for it is that it consists of a thin layer of leather fibers at the bottom, making up no more than about 20% of the volume.

  16. wabewux says:

    I bought an EZ Chair (bonded leather office type) from Officemax a couple years ago. I only paid a sale price of $100. and was very happy with it. It looked good, was comfortable and I could sit it in for hours with no problems. All of sudden, after about 2 years, all the “leather” started flaking off. I had not started wearing different clothes or used any type of cleaning product on it. I do not know the reason it started to flake off but just a few weeks later a lot of the finish had come off. I didn’t bother to check the warranty because I find that after you go through the bother of returning it or paying shipping costs to return it, you wind up losing. I am hoping that maybe I can refinish it with a can of spray leather dye or something like that. Right now I still use it but I have a bed sheet covering it.

  17. rawrali says:

    We bought a bonded leather couch and recliner almost exactly a year ago. We really liked the design of these particular pieces, and they were a great deal. Real leather was out of our price range. I did a lot of research on bonded leather and spoke with several people who owned bonded leather pieces before we went ahead with the purchase.

    So far, it has held up perfectly. I was a bit afraid that the metal grommets from our jeans and other things like that would scratch it up, but no wear so far. We’re getting a dog in a few months, which will have limited access to the sofa (i.e. only when we’re there to supervise so its not chewing the thing to pieces while we’re at work) so we’ll see how it well it continues to hold up at that point.

  18. jjq says:

    I’m just wondering about the legality of calling it “leather”. If they are not required by law to specify if it is top grain, or split, do they have to say when it is “made of little shreds and scraps held together by a polymer”?
    Of course, after the fact, the store will certanly claim that they always tell the consumer, and that the consumer didnt hear, or comprehend what was being said.

  19. Libertas1 says:

    I bought a bonded leather club chair from Nebraska Furniture Mart five years ago that I hardly ever use (maybe as much as twice a year), and it just started self-destructing on it’s own this last year.

  20. jayally says:

    Don’t get me started on my denim couch! Just picture a really well worn pair of faded jeans. The gorgeous blue coloring came off with water when I tried to clean a spot just after I bought it and I paid extra for scotch guard.

  21. OldJohnB says:

    Bought a la-z-boy “leather” recliner. came with a cleaning kit and some kinda moisturizing kit. I thought leather wore like iron. Nope, more like tinfoil. This is the last piece of “leather” furniture I’ll be buying. Of course, I do live in a dry-climate region of North America, but still…..
    nice try La-Z-Boy, Nice try……