Attention leather cleaners! More and more American consumers are being sold leather labeled as 100% leather. Some of this upholstery is actually bi-cast leather. (Alternately called bycast leather or PU leather, appropriate term.) What is bi-cast leather, you ask?
Bi-cast leather is to leather what particle board is to solid wood. It begins as a thin split (layer) of leather that is left after the useful layers have been removed. In some cases instead of split leather, the base is composed of leather scraps, the saw dust of leather cutting. A polyurethane coating is applied to the top. The portion that is actual leather can’t even be seen. Without the support of the coating, the fraction of bi-cast leather that is actually leather would not be usable.
A pattern is embossed on the surface to give it a leather-like appearance.
There is also some tri-cast leather that has an additional plastic layer applied to the back.
Bi-cast leather has the look of leather at a very attractive price. But it has disadvantages to the owner and the cleaner who may happen upon it. As the top coat begins to wear, the material loses structural integrity. It can easily be ripped. While a small rip in real leather may be repaired, a tear in bi-cast leather will quickly grow. The polyurethane may peel off with use. The unsuspecting cleaner may end up being blamed for causing such damage.
Most bi-cast leather comes from China. In the United Kingdom, New Zealand and some other countries, laws have recently been passed that require it to be clearly labeled. However, in the United States there is no such requirement. Some manufacturers or sellers voluntarily label it as bi-cast, but other sellers may state it is “leather” or even “100% leather.”
How can you tell if the piece you are about to clean or buy is real leather? One way is by the price. If the price is well below what you would expect to pay for say aniline leather, then you may be getting what you pay for. Also notice the appearance. Leather does not naturally have an even coloration or pattern. There are marks that give the hide individuality. If the variation is lacking it may be bi-cast lacking or perhaps a protected leather. There is also the smell test. Real leather has a recognizable fragrance that is missing from polyurethane and plastic.
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