Your Guide to Common Upholstery Fabrics

Whether you’re buying new furniture or deciding how best to preserve your current furniture, it’s vital to understand the fabric you’re dealing with. Upholstered fabric comes in many materials because certain materials are better suited for different environments.


In this blog we cover some of the most common natural and synthetic upholstery fabrics.


Natural Fabrics

Natural textiles are sourced from plant, animal, or mineral resources.


Cotton
Cotton maintains colour and texture well over time. It comes in numerous weaves—from damask to sailcloth—that allows it to complement many different home styles. However, cotton is highly flammable, easily wrinkled, and vulnerable to stains.


Cotton Blends
To make up for some of the shortcomings of traditional cotton, manufacturers often pair it with other fibres. Depending on the blend and weave, cotton blends retain more durability than cotton itself. Many furniture manufacturers finish cotton blends with a stain-resistant coating which makes this a family friendly option. But check that the finish exists—without it, cotton blends are also vulnerable to soiling and staining.


Leather

Animal leather holds up well over time, often accumulating charm as it ages. It presents a fairly forgiving surface that you can clean gently with a vacuum or damp cloth. Sharp objects may scratch or puncture leather. Leave leather repairs to a professional upholstery technician or a leatherworker.


Linen
Linen resists fading and pilling. However, you should reserve linen furniture for formal areas for adults. Linen wrinkles and soils easily. Do not attempt to clean linen upholstery yourself as this may result in deformation and shrinkage.


Silk
Like linen, silk performs better in adult-only areas. Silk includes a delicate weave, easily snagged or soiled. Also like linen, silk requires professional cleaning and repair to maintain its vibrancy and longevity.


Vinyl
You may choose vinyl as a leather alternative. The fabric provides easy care and may even prove suitable for dining rooms and busy living rooms. High-quality vinyl may last for long periods of time, even with heavy use.


Wool
Wool is a heavy, durable fabric. With wool upholstery, you must take care not to inadvertently bind the fibres together in a process called felting. Wool blends present an easier care option as they can withstand spot cleaning. You should have a professional perform any cleaning on wool and any extensive cleaning on wool blends.


Synthetic Fabrics

Manufacturers create synthetic fabrics using petrochemicals alone or with natural fibres.


Acetate
Manufacturers originally created acetate as a silk alternative. However, it only presents mild resistance to sunlight-related fading, wrinkling, wear and tear, and soiling. Acetate requires professional cleaning.


Acrylic
Manufacturers created acrylic as an imitation wool textile. It withstands stains, wrinkles, fading, and most types of wear. High-quality acrylic resists wear fairly well. However, average- and low-quality acrylic may pill (accumulate small fibre knots on the surface) excessively with use.


Microfiber
Most microfiber comes from a blend of polyester and nylon. This soft textile presents an ideal choice for families as it also resists snagging and most stains. However, light-coloured microfiber attracts other types of fibres, including pet fur and dark threads from jeans.


Nylon
Nylon represents one of the most stain-resistant upholstery fabrics available. However, nylon may succumb to fading when exposed to excessive sunlight. Nylon may also develop pills with heavy use.


Olefin
Olefin is a durable, affordable option. It represents a wise choice for homes with pets as it resists insect infestation and mould cultures. Olefin repels most types of soiling as well.


Polyester
Manufacturers rarely use polyester alone in upholstery textiles. In a blend, polyester increases a fabrics ability to remain unwrinkled, un-faded, and unsoiled. Manufacturers also add polyester to napped textiles, like velvet, to reduce their tendency to take on a “crushed” appearance.


Rayon
Rayon serves as an alternative to silk, linen, and cotton. High-quality rayon lasts for long periods of time, even with significant use. Rayon withstands stains and most types of wear. However, it wrinkles easily and may require frequent steaming to maintain its appearance.


If you’re in the market for new upholstered furniture, check the fabric composition before you make your decision. This information can give you a glimpse into how the piece will hold up in your home or business.


If you’re working with furniture you already own, you can find textile information on the upholstery tags. Often, textiles represent percentages of several different fabric types. Use this knowledge to inform how you use and clean your furniture.


Keep in mind, the tighter the weave of a fabric (indicated by a higher thread count), the better the textile will wear over time. You can also preserve even the most delicate fabrics with the help of a professional upholstery cleaning and repair specialist in Toronto. Address all stains, snags, and pilling as soon as possible to keep your upholstered fabric functional and beautiful.


For more information on the textiles in your home, from rugs to draperies, read our other blogs.

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