SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) --Experts are warning that customers in the market for a leather couch may be disappointed if they don't ask the right questions.
The label on some couches may say bonded or bi-cast leather, but what exactly are you getting?
San Francisco resident Anita Saulny-Green showed 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney her peeling and flaking sectional sofa. She bought it in 2010, but recalls her sofa beginning to show damage after just one year. "There's pieces of the material flaking off. At that point, I thought that I had bought leather," she said.
What she had bought was a less expensive product -- bonded leather. "So when I looked at it, I saw leather. It said bonded leather, so I thought well this is a better leather product, so it will last a long time," Saulny-Green said.
Hayward-based leather care and restoration company Advanced Leather Solutions has been in business for 27 years. Kevin Gillan is the general manager.
Two common forms of less expensive leather are bonded and bicast leather. He described bonded leather as chopped up pieces of leather.
Gillan said bi-cast leather is made up of materials that have historically been thrown away. She has seen many of these kinds of sofas peel, tear and flake. "In either case whether it be bonded or bi-cast, the substrate, the actual material that is being used for the strength of this product is an inferior quality," she said.
Both bonded and bi-cast leather have a much shorter lifespan. "This material has flaws in a lot of different planes. It chips off, the urethane coating peels away, it bubbles up," Gillan said.
Adding to the confusion, there are no regulations in the United States about how bi-cast or bonded leather should be labeled.
7 On Your Side asked the Federal Trade Commission and it acknowledged that the only regulations pertaining to leather do not apply to furniture. "I think that's absolutely wrong because I think that you are pulling the wool over people's eyes," Saulny-Green said.
Two furniture associations told 7 On Your Side that bonded and bi-cast leather allows the industry to provide consumers an affordable option.
The Home Furnishings Association which represents retail store owners advises that "the word leather not be used in the description of any product that is not made with real leather."
The American Home Furnishings Alliance whose members are from the residential furniture industry calls for its members to be fully transparent. "The average person wouldn't know what bi-cast is or bonded leather. No one would just know that," Saulny-Green said.
Saulny-Green bought an extended warranty for her sofa, but it specifically excluded cracking or peeling of her sofa from coverage. When looking for leather leather, Gillan said ask if it's top grain or full grain.