With so many different upholstery fabrics available, shopping for upholstered furnishings can be confusing. Ease your furniture-buying labors by first determining where the upholstered furnishings will be located, how much natural light the location receives, who will be using the furniture and for what purposes, how much fabric cleaning you're willing to take on, and the amount of money you want to spend. Make a list of these factors to refer to when comparing upholstery fabrics and upholstered furniture.
What to Consider When Selecting Fabrics
If upholstered pieces are destined for family gathering spaces, choose durable, easy-clean upholstery fabrics, such as olefin and microfibers. Save delicate upholstery fabrics, such as silk brocades, for spaces that accommodate gracious entertaining. For brightly lit areas, look for fade-resistant polyester and acrylic upholstery fabrics.
Other considerations when selecting upholstery fabrics are the textile's hand (how it feels to the touch), natural stain resistance (or stain-guard treatment), resistance to abrasion (friction created by moving across the fabric), fire-retardant rating, colorfastness, and resistance to moths and mildew. Read all tags, labels, and selvage notes that provide details about the upholstery fabrics you're considering. When choosing upholstery fabrics to customize a furniture frame, note that fabric costs are rated by number or letter, with lower numbers and initial alphabet letters indicating less expensive fabrics; prices progressively rise as numbers and letters ascend in order.
Upholstery Fabric Primer
The list below includes common upholstery fabrics and fibers, along with their advantages and disadvantages. Many upholstery fabrics, such as velvet, chenille, mohair, and linens, are blends of synthetic and natural fibers, so check fiber percentages to ensure you're buying the textile that best suits your needs.
Wool. A crimped fabric woven from fibers shorn from sheep, goats, and alpaca that may be blended with other natural or synthetic fibers. Pros: Pleasing to the touch, durable, average abrasion resistance. Cons: Attracts moths, poor sunlight resistance, requires dry cleaning.
Cotton. Upholstery-weight cottons include denim, duck, corduroy, and slub (a linenlike fabric). Pros: Easy care, moderate sunlight and abrasion resistance, myriad color and pattern options. Cons: Highly flammable if not treated.
Silk. This natural fiber creates fabrics that are lovely to look at and touch. Pros: Myriad color and patterns options, holds its shape well. Cons: Expensive, very poor resistance to stains, sunlight, and abrasion.
Rayon. Made from wood chip fibers, rayon is an inexpensive fabric that performs best for upholstery when it's blended with other fibers. Pros: Inexpensive, pleasing to the touch, moth and mildew resistant, moderate sunlight resistance. Cons: Poor abrasion resistance, highly flammable if not treated, moisture causes it to shrink and lose its shape, requires dry cleaning.
Nylon. The pioneer of synthetic fibers, nylon is often the sole or a partnering component of microfiber upholstery fabrics. Pros: Easy care, durable, superior abrasion resistance, good stain resistance. Cons: Poor sunlight resistance.
Polyester. This stable synthetic fiber stands alone, oftentimes as outdoor fabrics, or becomes part of various fabric blends. Pros: Very durable, easy care, colorfast, good resistance to waterborne stains, sunlight, insects, mildew, and abrasion. Cons: Poor resistance to oil and greasy food stains.
Acrylic. This synthetic fiber boasts a pleasing wool-like feel. Pros: Inexpensive, easy care, excellent sunlight resistance, moderate abrasion resistance, good stain resistance, myriad colors, pattern, and texture options. Cons: May pill and emit static electricity.
Olefin. This synthetic fiber is a relative newcomer on the upholstery fabric scene. Pros: Inexpensive, durable, excellent abrasion resistance, resists insects and waterborne stains. Cons: Poor sunlight resistance, may melt when exposed to extremely hot temperatures.
Suede and leather. Though not technically a textile, animal hides and skins continue to be popular furniture coverings. Pros: Pleasing to the touch, durable, available in many colors and textures, excellent sunlight resistance, wears and ages well. Cons: Expensive, requires special cleaning, may show color inconsistencies.