Bicast leather is not 100 percent leather. Strictly speaking, it is not even leather, but a leather byproduct. It is made from split leather, which is then laminated and strengthened with polyethylene or a vinyl top layer. It is embossed to give it the appearance of grain and to make it look more leather-like. It is slightly stiffer than top-grain leather but has a more consistent texture.
Bicast leather is the result of modern technology, which lets leather be split into a number of layers. Top-grain is the highest grade of leather. The inferior remaining layers are used to make bicast leather. Without the polyethylene coating, this castoff may not have been of any use at all.
For someone who is not really aware of the characteristics of real leather, it is very easy to mistake it for the real thing. Bicast leather was originally made for the apparel industry for glossy shoes and was later adopted by the furniture industry.
How to Tell It Apart from Real Leather
There are several ways to tell it apart from real leather. While bicast leather furniture may look like leather at first glance, you will find that it does not behave like real leather. Here's how you can tell it apart:
- Real leather is very supple: If you bunch it in your hand and let go, it will relax back to its original position. It also develops richness and patina with extended use. Bicast leather, on the other hand, does not develop that suppleness or patina with time.
- Chemical smell: You may find that bicast leather upholstery has a strong chemical smell at first which dissipates after a while. It can take up to a week for the smell to go away after it has been exposed to the air.
- Grain looks too perfect: Real leather never looks uniform, and there is a great amount of variation in the grain. Bicast leather resembles real leather at a glance, and you may find plenty of color choices, but the grain may appear to be too even. The same grain pattern is repeated over and over giving the surface a uniform appearance.
- Splits and cracks: Bicast leather may also be prone to splitting and cracking. This happens because it is not as resilient as real leather.
Pros and Cons to Buying Bicast Leather Furniture
While bicast leather does not compare to real leather, there are some advantages to buying it like price and maintenance. It is much more affordable than real leather and it is easy to keep clean.
All the same, it is misleading and dishonest to sell it as 100 percent leather or call it real leather. If you are looking for real leather, then bicast leather is not for you. Unlike real leather, over time, it does not improve with age. Quite the contrary, the bicast material degrades with time. If you are in the market for furniture that lasts a while, then bicast leather is not for you.