Fabric swatch. Image Source.
Furniture upholstery can make a fashion statement – but it should also be hard wearing, easy to clean and comfortable in all climatic conditions. Choose the material carefully, and you’ll be able to add long-lasting colour, comfort and style to your home or office.
To help you make an informed decision, we’ve compiled a furniture upholstery guide that covers the most common fabrics – including both natural and synthetic fabrics – and how they stand up to dirt, sunlight and consistent wear and tear.
Natural upholstery fabrics
Natural fabrics are created from animal products or plants. Some examples are cotton, wool, leather and linen.
Due to their composition, natural materials tend to be soft, pliable and well aerated; qualities, that when combined, offer unparalleled comfort and style.
Natural fabrics also tend to considered more upmarket and chic, and are more expensive, than synthetic fabrics. However, they may not be as durable, fade resistant or easy to maintain.
Leather is harvested from domesticated or wild animals, including cows, crocodiles, ostriches and snakes. Due to the high price tag associated with the tanned pelts of exotic animals, bovine leather, either brushed or in its natural state, is the material of choice for home décor.
It’s a durable material that doesn’t attract and retain dirt and is easy to clean with a quick wipe of a damp cloth. As a natural fabric with pores, it offers advanced breathability and comfort in both hot and cold conditions. If left in direct sunlight for any length of time, however, the colour will fade and the leather will crack.
- Hard wearing
- Easy to clean and maintain
- Fade resistant when out of direct sunlight
- Elegant and exclusive
- Does not crease
- May dry out, fade and crack due to sunlight
Cotton is a soft natural fibre derived from the cotton plant. It is virtually pure cellulose that is spun into yarn to make breathable fabrics. Cotton has high tensile strength and is resistant to alkali materials and organic solvents. Its durability is dependent on the weave of the fabric. It accepts dyes well and blends in with all sorts of textures and materials. Fabric applications or treatments, such as block-out fabric protector or Scotch Guard, can make it easier to clean and extend its life span.
On the down side, cotton tends to crease and burn easily, and attracts more dirt and grime than silk, linen or leather.
- Durable, depending on the weave
- Resistance to stains can be enhanced by surface treatments
- Exposure to direct sunlight causes disintegration of the fabric
- Mildew build-up is possible in cold, damp climates
- Low resistance to wrinkling, dirt build-up and open flame
Wool is the processed fleece of sheep, goats, rabbits or other animals. It’s incredibly soft, has insulation qualities and has better flame resistance than cotton. Despite its softness, it’s renowned for its resilience and durability, and doesn’t fade, wrinkle or retain dirt.
- Naturally stain resistant
- Resilient and durable
- Soft and springy
- Warm in winter and cool in summer
- Flame resistant
- Fade resistant
Linen is made from the fibres of the flax plant and is most easily identified by its cool, crisp finish. It’s a durable, hard-wearing fabric that’s easy to maintain, doesn’t stretch easily and has no piling tendencies. It’s susceptible to mildew but is resistant to pests such as moths and beetles. Although it doesn’t accept dyes easily, it has a naturally high lustre and is available in a range of hues, from cream and ivory to grey. Because linen is susceptible to shrinkage, it should be cleaned only by professional upholstery cleaners.
- Hard wearing and long lasting
- Exclusive and chic
- Resistant to abrasion and pests
- Dirt and stain resistant
- Wrinkles easily
- Disintegrates in direct sunlight
- Requires specialist cleaning techniques to prevent shrinkage
Synthetic upholstery fabrics are man-made and include vinyl, rayon and polyester. They are generally durable, resistant and easy to clean, and are much lighter on the pocket than natural upholstery materials. What they lack in organic beauty they make up for in sheer convenience and practicality.
Vinyl is a form of plastic made from ethylene and chlorine. It is flexible, versatile, remarkably easy to clean and maintain, and fully recyclable. It is used in the upholstery industry as a type of mock leather that’s far cheaper than its genuine counterpart. It’s an incredibly strong and durable material that’s resistant to moisture, humidity, stains, pests and dirt.
- Strong and durable
- Easy to clean
- Available in a variety of grain textures and colours
- Eco-friendly and recyclable
- Resistant to spills, stains, pests and dirt
- Modern and minimalistic
Rayon is processed cellulose, primarily wood pulp, and is available as viscose and faux silk, cotton and linen. Although it is not as durable as natural fibres, it is hard wearing and comparatively long lasting. It’s smooth and cool to touch and is ideal for hotter, more humid climates. On the down side, rayon requires professional dry cleaning.
- Reasonably durable
- Versatile and economical
- Smooth and cool to the touch
- Water and stain resistant
- Flammable and prone to wrinkle, stretch and shrink
- Must be dry-cleaned
Acrylic fabrics consist of synthetic fibres made from polymers to emulate the feel of wool. Acrylic fabric is lightweight but durable, soft and warm. It’s resistant to fading, pests and mildew and is more resilient than most other fabrics. It’s hypoallergenic and resistant to stains and the accumulation of dirt and grime. Acrylic furniture upholstery is cheap, colour fast, easy to clean and dye-friendly.
- Soft and warm to the touch
- Resistant to sunlight, fading, mildew, stains and dirt
- Cost effective
- Easy to clean
Why You need an expert upholstery cleaning service
Even if you’ve opted for upholstery fabric that’s easy to clean and maintain, it’s recommended that you deep clean your furniture upholstery at least once a year.