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What Kind of Furniture Fabric Is Best For Your Home?

Posted by Hammond Knoll on Sep 21, 2021 10:30:00 AM

When it’s time to replace the outdated furniture in your living room or when the time comes to toss the “thrashed” sofa in the family room, sticker shock may not be the only thing that makes your head spin. 

There are so, so many choices as you walk into the furniture store – it’s mind-boggling!

The style: traditional, contemporary, mid-century, or antique.

The size, shape, and functionality: oversized, short, tall, narrow, reclining or footstool included.

The look: floral, patterned, flat, or shiny.

The feel: soft, scratchy, nubbed, or napped.

And just when you think you’ve made all the decisions, there’s one more: the fabric type.  

Selecting the fabric type can make or break your satisfaction with the performance of the piece of furniture.

Here’s an example:

You buy a high-end piece of furniture for the family room – without knowing the performance of the fabric – because it goes perfectly. 

You find out the hard way that it stains easily. 

Which doesn’t work with the three kiddos, the dog, the cat, and your beer-drinking football friends that gather every Sunday in front of the TV.

If it doesn’t clean up, you have three choices: 

  1. Replace it.  
  2. Recover it.  
  3. Live with it.  

Options 1 and 2 are costly. And 3 could cause a neat freak to lose their mind.

Let’s try to avoid losing your mind or depleting your checking account. 

How?

By breaking down the Pros and Cons of the variety of fabric types that are available.

There are two main categories of fabric: man-made and natural. We’ll start with the man-made.

Man-Made Fabrics

Man-made fabrics that are produced by chemicals or melted plastics are called “synthetics” and include nylon, acrylic, olefin, acetate, and polyester, to name a few of the most popular.

Nylon

Nylon isn’t used by itself and is most often blended with one of the other synthetic fibers such as velvet since nylon is resistant to crushing and matting. 

It is not used as a stand-alone since it does fade and pill (form balls on the surface).

Acrylic

blue wingback chair with acrylic upholstery

Pros   

  • It’s available in many bright, happy colors. 
  • It’s soft to the touch and imitates wool.
  • It’s very easy to clean, spot clean, and it dries quickly.
  • It’s resistant to sun fading.

Cons   

  • It pills (forms balls on the surface of the fabric from abrasion).
  • Acrylic melts from heat (such as next to a fireplace or heater).
  • Some folks are allergic to the chemical used to make the fiber.
  • It doesn’t stand up to a lot of wear.

Our Two Cents 

Acrylic fabric can be fun due to the wide array of fun colors, but it’s best to use this fabric in a non-busy area such as a living room or a chair that is rarely used in a family room. We don’t recommend this fiber for lots of daily use.

Olefin 

olefin upholstery

Pros

  • Olefin is water-, fade-, chemical-, and fire-resistant.
  • It cleans up very easily from daily soil, spots, and spills.
  • You can clean it with bleach and it won’t remove the color.
  • It’s durable and will take a lot of daily abuse.

Cons  

  •  Design choices are limited with vibrant colors and patterns. 
  •  It’s supposed to resemble wool, but the knock is that it looks inexpensive.
  •  Oil-based stains are hard to remove and often become permanent.
  •  Long exposure to the sun can cause the fibers to become brittle, making them split.

Our Two Cents

Olefin fibers are awesome for a well-used family room or, perhaps, a waiting room because it wears great and the cleanability is like no other fiber (with the exception of oil stains). If you’re going for an elegant look, you may want to skip this fiber and move along to something higher end.

Acetate  

coach with acetate upholstery

Pros

  • It's inexpensive.
  • It imitates silk with a nice shine and luster appearance.
  • It’s resistant to humidity.
  • It won’t mold or mildew.
  • It’s non-pilling 

Cons

  • Acetate stains easily.
  • The fiber lacks strength and wrinkles easily.
  • It needs to be dry cleaned by a professional – spot cleaning yourself is not an option.
  • It’s not made to withstand a lot of daily use and abuse.

Our Two Cents

Acetate is perfect if you’re pinching pennies but need an attractive piece for a  room where it will get very little use and limited chances of spots and spills. If you’re looking for an attractive piece for a heavily used room and are okay replacing it every couple of years, go for it.

Polyester (aka Microfiber)

microfiber couch

Pros

  • It’s soft and cozy.
  • It’s easy to clean, spot clean, and it dries fast, too.
  • It‘s tough to stain.
  • The fabric breathes and doesn’t absorb odors.

Cons

  • Polyester stretches and can wrinkle in well-used areas.
  • It can crack in extreme temperatures.
  • It’s flammable, so no smoking on the sofa! (Enough said!)

Our Two Cents

Polyester (aka microfiber) is the perfect selection for a household with lots of activity from the family (four-legged critters included).  Microfiber is fairly priced, wears well, and cleans up easily. It's hard to go wrong with this pick.

Rayon

black chair with rayon upholstery

Pros

  • It’s affordable.
  • The fabric is soft and comfy
  • It’s moth- and mildew-resistant.
  • It’s fairly durable.

Cons

  • The fabric stretches and wrinkles.
  • Rayon is not water-resistant
  • It shows wear and tear when used frequently, sooner rather than later.

Our Two Cents

A rayon piece should be in a situation where it is seldom used: a living room, as a side chair, or in the dining room.

Natural Fibers

Naturally, 😉 natural fibers are made from plants and animals. (Sorry, cow-cow).

Cotton

couch with white cotton upholstery

Pros 

  • It’s 100% natural and hypoallergenic so it’s excellent for those with allergies.
  • It can be dyed any color.
  • It’s breathable.
  • Cotton is one of the most durable fabrics on the market.
  • It doesn’t pill.

Cons

  • Cotton stretches and wrinkles easily.
  • It takes colors easily and absorbs them, as well. Use caution with the new jeans transferring color.
  • It will absorb spills, so, if it’s not cleaned, over time, the fiber can become a bit smelly.

Our Two Cents

This would be a great piece for the family to hang out on every day. It’s durable, cleanable, and good for allergy-sensitive peeps. One note: If the family is going to spend time on the sofa, choose a color instead of white to hide some of those little mishaps that happen from time to time.

Leather

round leather ottoman

Pros

  • It’s super easy to clean and maintain.
  • Leather is non-absorbent, leaving you time to wipe up the “oops” when they happen.
  • It’s as durable as all get out.
  • It’s always in style.
  • It doesn’t like odors – not even cigarette smoke. (Remember, it’s non-absorbent!)

Cons

  • It’s cold – especially on those rainy winter days. Brrrr! 🥶
  • It’s hard. 
  • A quality piece of leather can be rather expensive.
  • Sharp objects can poke holes in leather. Think of the kitty or puppy claws. 🐾

Our Two Cents

We like leather. We LOVE leather. It’s super easy to maintain, it adds elegance and style to any room, and it’s durable.  We vote leather for every room.

Wool

four chairs with plaid wool upholstery

Pros

  • Wool is fire- and water-resistant.
  • It’s environmentally friendly. (Thanks to the sheep!)
  • It’s warm on cold days and cool on hot days.
  • It’s extremely durable.
  • It won’t fade, wrinkle, mold, or mildew.
  • Expensive fabric is more often than not built on a quality, long-lasting frame.

Cons

  • It’s spendy.
  • It’s not widely available as some other natural fibers. (Cotton, to name one.)

Our Two Cents

It’s the perfect fabric for even the busiest household. It proves the old saying, “You get what you paid for.”

Silk

chair with silk upholstery

Pros

  • Silk has an elegant appearance.
  • It lasts for years when properly cared for.
  • It doesn’t wrinkle.
  • It comes in a huge selection of colors and patterns.

Cons

  • It’s expensive.
  • It’s a dry-clean-only fabric.
  • It watermarks or stains easily. Even professional cleaning can’t get these stains to budge.
  • It‘s not sun-resistant.
  • It won’t withstand heavy use.

Our Two Cents

Silk is beautiful and complements any luxurious living room. However, it’s not made for heavy use – especially not in an area where spots and spills can occur. It's best to have a silk piece as a showpiece rather than actually using it as furniture.

Linen

linen fabric

Pros

  • It's sturdy and gets stronger when wet.
  • It’s soft, cozy, and comfy.
  • It doesn’t pill.
  • Available in mostly earth tones. (Great for the PNW!)
  • It’s fade-resistant.
  • It’s affordable.

Cons 

  • Linen wrinkles easily.
  • It soils easily.
  • It requires a professional cleaning. 
  • It doesn't like everyday abuse.

Our Two Cents

Linen works great in a home without a lot of traffic, for example, a single couple that entertains on a rare occasion. If you’re going for a natural look, linen has an elegant, earthy flair to it.

Chenille

chenille upholstery

Pros

  • Chenille comes in lots of fun colors and patterns.
  • It’s very durable.
  • It’s snuggly soft.
  • It can be spot-cleaned in the home, as well as professionally cleaned. (No dry cleaning required!)

Cons

  • It’s another fabric that stretches and can have wrinkles.
  • It’s not pet-friendly. It’s vulnerable to claws and it loves catching pet hair.
  • Debris gets stuck in the fibers easily.

Our Two Cents 

Chenille is perfect for any room of the house, especially where you spend most of your time chilling. It’s durable and easy to clean. The only downfall is that it collects pet hair and can be a burden to remove unless you are okay using a lint roller frequently.

Velvet

blue velvet couch

Pros

  • It’s velvety smooth and soft. (No pun intended! 😉 )
  • It comes in lots of vibrant colors. 
  • It has a very “rich” appearance.
  • The nap of the fabric can be brushed to shine.

Cons

  • It’s not cheap.
  • It’s not made for everyday use; it’s more for a formal lifestyle.
  • Cleaning is a challenge, especially when it comes to setting the nap. If not cleaned properly, the nap becomes a distorted mess.

Our Two Cents

Velvet is beautiful, rich, luxurious, and made for an elegant home. It would not be a happy camper (nor would you) if you put a velvet sofa in the family room where it would get lots of use.

Wrapping It Up…

The perfect fabric is out there for every situation, whether you want a formal look, a cozy comfy place to gather with the family, or a showpiece.  

Have a question?  Comment?  Let us know how we can help! 😀

While we are on the furniture topic, we have a couple more articles to answer your questions:

Cost to Clean Upholstery  

Furniture Cleaning Tips 

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