Bonded leather is less durable than genuine leather because it's a combination of leather fibers and a special glue rather than one solid piece of animal hide. Its durability depends on the material's quality, however, and how you care for it.
If you choose high quality furniture made with material that contains a high percentage of leather, it will last longer. In addition, it's important to clean bonded leather gently, just using a vacuum and a slightly damp cloth (drying immediately after); harsh chemical cleansers, strong soaps, alcohol-based cleaning agents, and even leather cleaners will all shorten its lifespan. Keep it out of the sun and away from heat sources that will dry out and crack the material.
Bonded leather contains leather fibers, but it differs from genuine leather because it's not one solid piece of animal hide. Instead, leather scraps are shredded, and the fibers are bonded together with specialized glue. That mixture is then put onto a fabric backing, embossed with a leather grain (in some cases), and coated in polyurethane. This gives the material the traditional leather look, but the center layer is fabric.
Bonded leather is also called blended leather, reconstituted leather, and bicast leather. The percentage of actual leather used within the material varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some furniture makers also build chairs and sofas with a mix of bonded and genuine leather, saving more durable material for the seats and back, while the areas that are less subject to wear are upholstered with bonded leather.
Depending on the quality of the material, bonded leather durability can be quite good. How you treat your furniture will be very important, however. While genuine leather gets character with scratches and wear, bonded leather doesn't — it just looks damaged. A single scratch can remove some of the surface of the polyurethane, which means discoloration instead of that classic distressed leather look.
Because you sit on it all the time, your bonded leather sofa may be less durable than other furniture. Repeated movement against the seat or arms can cause wear, especially on lower quality pieces. The top surface, which typically contains the texture and color that makes the material look like leather, can even flake and peel off. This is more common when the surface is exposed to the sun or another heat source, or is treated with a cleanser that dries out the material.
You have to be very careful of how you clean bonded leather because the surface can easily be damaged by heavy soap or alcohol-based products. In some cases, the wrong cleaner can mean your bonded leather couch or chair cracks. The fortunate thing, though, is that you don't have to use leather conditioner because there's not enough real leather to need it. Cleaning is also simple and inexpensive: vacuum your furniture regularly to remove dirt and debris, and wipe it down with a lightly dampened cloth. Use a soft dry cloth to remove any moisture and ensure that the surface is completely dry.
Repairing bonded leather can also be more difficult and more expensive than genuine leather. Lower bonded leather furniture durability means that repairs are rarely as strong as the original fabric, and a tear may come open again with routine use. There are leather repair kits available to help scratches and discolored areas blend in, however.
While bonded leather may not be as durable as genuine leather, it is much more affordable and can look great in a room. Making sure that you clean it gently and keep it out of strong sun will extend the life of your piece. The reality, though, is that furniture made with bonded leather likely isn't something you want to have in a playroom or a space that gets a lot of traffic. If you're very concerned about bonded leather durability, you may want to save up your money and invest in genuine leather furniture.