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An Introduction to Synthetic Leather

Updated on October 16, 2009

Synthetic leather, often called pleather or vinyl, is a material created as a substitute for leather in clothing, upholstery, and other uses where a finish and feel that is like leather is desirable, but the other properties of leather aren't required. Less expensive than real leather, synthetic types are often used to cut costs. They are lighter in weight than leather, come from petroleum sources rather than animal ones, and take a very long time to break down.

an example of some synthetic leather
an example of some synthetic leather

There are a number of different varieties of this manmade material, and each of them comes with its own properties. Synthetic leathers are used in all kinds of applications, including massage chairs and other furniture, car interiors, jackets and other clothing, shoes and accessories, cell phone cases and a wide variety of other uses. Most of the places you could use leather, synthetics can also be used to much the same effect. In some cases, synthetic leathers are even better than the real thing!

One of the most common types of imitation leather is PVC based. It is difficult to clean beyond a simple wipe down, due to its reaction to dry cleaning chemicals and does not allow air or moisture flow through, but can have a very shiny surface, similar to patent leather. Polyurethane based synthetics, by comparison, are washable and have some ability to allow airflow, making them more comfortable in uses where the skin will be in contact with the material, including shiatsu massage chairs. In fact, some of the best massage chairs out there use synthetic materials.

In general, synthetic leather is tough, stain resistant, and attractive. It has the ability to retain warmth effectively, and tends not to breathe well. Synthetic leather cracks as it ages, but in high end versions, such as those used in the best massage chairs, this could take many years. This is one reason why it's best to buy high quality synthetic leather if you're going to choose this material. It will allow your belongings to last a lot longer and maintain their attractiveness. There are also a wide variety of colors, finishes, and embosses available.

Other kinds of synthetic leather include poromeric ones - types made with a plastic coating over a fibrous base layer. These were first developed in the 1960s, and are also called leatherette, but have been through a lot of changes. The original materials were relatively stiff, despite the ease of cleaning them.

There are now a number of artificial leather materials that offer the same feel and look of real leather. These are commonly used in laptop cases, wallets, and similar items. Cork leather is a material made from cork oak, and ocean leather is derived from kelp, but these are much less commonly used than petroleum-derived materials.

synthetic leather on a massage chair
synthetic leather on a massage chair

If you're in the market for a leather massage chair, one with a synthetic leather covering might be a good choice. Breathable synthetic leather is less expensive than real leather, easier to effectively clean without calling in a professional, and it retains warmth, making it a truly comfortable material for a massage chair. After all, a warm surface allows your muscles to relax more easily, making your chair's massage much more effective.

In addition to these great characteristics, the elasticity of high quality synthetic leather is a real advantage, too. After all, the rollers in a massage chair can be rough on materials that aren't elastic enough. Their up and down motion may tear fabrics with low resistance to them. Synthetic leather coverings, on the other hand, have enough give to them to move with the rollers, so they'll last a lot longer without wearing out.

If your mental images of synthetic leather include mostly un-breathable materials that crack and split, it's time to think again. Those kinds of fake leather are outdated, and rarely used these days, except in the very cheapest of products. Higher quality synthetic leathers with a much more realistic look and feel are now available on the market, and many of them are being used to cover high quality massage chairs.

You encounter these imitation leathers on a daily basis, though you might not think much about it. If you haven't checked out the wide variety of beautiful finishes available, you're cheating yourself. Take a little time to look at the massage chairs and other products on the market that make use of this great material. You may be surprised by how good it looks and feels.


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      chicken nugget 5 months ago


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      Aslan 3 years ago

      Hey, that post leaves me feeling foihsol. Kudos to you!