The Complete Guide to Selecting the Best Upholstery Fabric

Some people might say that it’s just a sofa, but they don’t know it’s a huge investment that should be done right the first time. You don’t want to end up with a furniture piece that will look oddly out of place in your carefully curated living room. Worse, you might even find yourself working hard to maintain its quality in the long run. You can never go wrong with upholstered furniture.

Upholstered furniture comes in many shapes and forms. You must determine what type of piece will be perfect for your needs and where it will be located in the house. If it will be in the receiving area where family members and closest friends gather, the upholstery fabric will need to stand up well to its level of use.

Not quite sure about selecting the upholstery fabric for your furniture? We’ve got you covered! Check out our handy guide to selecting the best upholstery fabric.

What Is Upholstery?

Tracing back its history to the Middle Ages, upholstery has been around forever. People of long ago used to utilize just about any materials they had on hand. Some of them were downright bizarre, such as animal hair, burlap, straw and hay, and coconut husks.

Upholstery is made up of fabric, padding, webbing, and springs. While it’s true that interior elements cannot be seen from the outside, they still contribute a lot to the comfort the furniture provides.

The materials used have evolved over the years. Common materials used were hay, horsehair, and wool. Nowadays, upholstery has taken a modern form with the use of metal springs and foam. The latter is known for its durability.

Take a deep dive to learn upholstery fabric materials and their unique characteristics.

Upholstery Fabric Materials 

Upholstery fabric is the soft material used to cover chairs, sofas, and other furniture. There are plenty to choose from, many of which can be easily accessible. They can be bought from a fabric store, online, or directly from the upholsterer. Sometimes, you can buy them from a furniture manufacturer or upholstery manufacturing mill.

Your choice of upholstery fabric is important. While it may depend on the design and aesthetic you are looking for, it is still good to know about the kinds of upholstery fabric out there.

Natural Materials

Often favored by those who prefer the soft feel of their furniture, some upholstery fabrics are made from natural materials. This includes wool, silk, leather, linen, and cotton.


Cotton is the cheapest choice among natural fabrics. It lends comfort and stability and is durable and resistant to fading. The only weakness of cotton is that it can be quite susceptible to stains, dust, and dirt. This makes cotton a less ideal choice for everyday use furniture.


Known for its durability and sturdiness, wool is resistant to stains, which means it can be used for high-traffic home areas. However, you must remember that when wool gets wet, it produces an odor that can be hard to eliminate.


If budget is not an issue, silk is a great choice, especially if you plan to use it in formal living rooms with less traffic. It is generally more expensive among upholstery fabric options. If something is spilled, the furniture may require professional cleaning.


High-traffic areas that require comfort will benefit a lot from leather as the upholstery fabric.

Known as one of the most durable among its counterparts, this fabric is recommended for pet owners since it is easy to clean and vacuum.


A favorite among adult-only rooms, linen can be quite stylish with its intricate designs. The only downside is that it can wrinkle and stain easily. You will also need to get it professionally cleaned to avoid damaging the fabric.

Synthetic Materials

Designed for durability and easy cleaning, synthetic upholstery fabrics require less manufacturing costs than natural fabrics.

This kind of fabric is produced by joining chemical monomers into polymers through the process of polymerization. A filament is then produced by forcing liquid from chemicals through tiny holes called spinnerets.

Once the liquid comes out of the spinnerets and into the air, it cools and forms tiny threads of continuous filament fiber. The filament has to undergo the twisting process to produce yarn. Yarns are usually dyed before they are woven together to form a fabric.

Synthetic fabrics are known to dry quickly and to be extra absorbent. Here are some examples of synthetic fabrics:


A great blending of fiber with cotton, polyester adds wrinkle protection to the fabric. It is often a favorite for outdoor upholstery.


Nylon is often used in combination with other synthetic or natural fabrics. It is susceptible to pilling and can be easily damaged by high sunlight. It is great to pair it with velvet or chenille fabrics, as it helps eliminate napping or crushing.


Popular as an upholstery fabric, acrylic can resist fading and sun damage far longer than natural fabrics. However, when they do get stains, they can be harder to clean. It is ideal for heavy use and often a great choice for outdoor furniture.


Initially developed to imitate silk, cotton, and linen, rayon is strong and durable. Its disadvantage is that it is prone to wrinkling.

Different Upholstery Fabrics for Different Needs

It can be confusing to choose the right fabric for your upholstery. There are so many options out there that you will be spoilt for choice. The perfect fabric is the key to long-lasting furniture. Before you choose, you will need to determine what you need.

Are you going for an earthy, organic vibe? Where will you put this furniture piece in your home? How often is it going to be used? You may also want to consider your budget and, more importantly, whether you have kids or pets at home. Explore your fabric options below.

Fabrics for Homes with Kids

Having kids around means spending more time and effort cleaning up after spills and messes. If you have upholstered furniture, it will be a nightmare to ward off stains unless you have the right upholstery fabric in place. So how do you choose kid-friendly fabrics?

You need to make sure that the fabric you are picking is sturdy and durable. This means synthetic fibers are the best way to go, as they are more resilient. You will also want your fabric to be resistant to wear and tear.

You can verify this by checking the Fabric Wearability Code. This test is based on one of the durability testing standards in the upholstery industry. The code is your indicator of how much an upholstery fabric can withstand when it comes to wear and tear.

Cotton fabric is a good choice because it is highly durable when well-made. It is water-absorbent, versatile, and hypoallergenic. Cotton is made from organic fibers that come from the seeds of the cotton plant.

Microfiber can also be a kid-friendly option as it is often stain-resistant and comes in different textures. It is easy to clean, often only needing water to do so. It is also hypoallergenic.

Wool is popular for its durability. It is not susceptible to pilling, snagging, and wrinkling either. Cleaning it can be a breeze as you can use a hand-held vacuum to remove dust.

Top Pet-Friendly Fabrics to Shield Furniture from Stains and Scratches

Pets are often considered part of the family, so they are welcome in the living room, snuggling up on sofas. However, pets can be hyperactive and can do serious damage to your upholstered furniture, if you are not careful.

You will be faced with drool, pet hair, and sharp nails. At times, it can leave your furniture stained and scratched. While it can be impossible to keep them away, there are other ways to pet-proof your furniture. It involves choosing the right upholstery fabric.

You will want a fabric that is resistant to stains, easy to clean, and will last for a long time. Avoiding materials that can get snagged by nails and claws is a must.

Leather is an ideal choice for a pet-friendly fabric. It is durable and easy to clean. Your pet hair won’t stick to the smooth surface of the leather.

Velvet can withstand wear and tear, all thanks to its tight weave and low pile. Plus, it can also keep odors and liquids from seeping in. You can easily brush off its surface, too.

Canvas is also a good option for pet owners, mainly for its resistance to tears, dirt, and hair. This is especially useful when it comes to slipcovers. You can remove it when it gets dirty and wash it to remove dirt and hair.

The Best Upholstery Fabrics for Senior Living Facilities

Senior living facilities need furniture that meets the fabric selection, functionality, design, and material in compliance with health regulations. That is why choosing one for this purpose takes careful consideration. The choice of furniture can affect the daily lives of residents and staff members. They will need to be easy to maintain and should allow ease of movement.

Easy-to-clean and low-maintenance materials are the best choices in this case. They should be highly resistant to stains and able to endure frequent use. You will also want to choose functional furniture for senior living facilities.

This means the material should be strong, durable, and supportive of senior residents’ everyday movements. For example, many of them will rely on furniture as a support when they are walking between rooms or when simply standing up. You will want an upholstery fabric that softens the edges and won’t inadvertently irritate their skin.

Linen is a good choice for this. Like cotton, this natural fiber is used in many household items like furniture and curtains. It is durable, breathable, and less prone to pilling.

Polyester, while more prone to pilling compared to linen, can still be a good choice as a fabric for seniors during the winter months as it is water-repellant and dries quickly. This fabric doesn’t absorb moisture.

It is also a good idea to choose an antimicrobial fabric. This kind of fabric protects against the growth of bacteria, mold, mildew, and other pathogenic microorganisms. The textile is often given an antimicrobial treatment to make it more efficient against microorganisms.

Ideal Fabrics for Commercial and Automotive Use 

The fabric you use for your car seat makes a lot of difference to your comfort and style. Fortunately, the market offers many choices regarding auto upholstery, from cheap and expensive to functional and aesthetic. In fact, the US automotive textiles market size is huge, amounting to an estimated $28.6 billion in 2021 alone.

Automotive upholstery fabrics must resist wear and tear, water, and oil. They need to be able to withstand the harsh rays of the sun so they will not easily fade from constant exposure.

Leather is known for its durability, making it an ideal option for car seat upholstery. It can last longer than any other type of auto fabric. Thanks to its breathability, leather offers comfort. Plus, this type of fabric is attractive and easy to maintain.

Another great choice for car upholstery fabric is nylon. It is among the most common materials that one will find on car seats. Nylon, while durable, is not as expensive. It provides resistance to damage from pet claws, and it can also absorb moisture quickly.

If you want another option that is easy to clean, then vinyl fabric is your best choice. This fabric absorbs water easily, repels moisture, and is less prone to damage from spills.

For those who are on a budget, polyester is a good pick. This fabric will give you complete control during maintenance. When exposed to sunlight or oil spills, this one does not easily fade. You can easily and quickly clean this kind of fabric with a damp cloth.

Important Factors to Consider When Selecting Upholstery Fabric

The kind of upholstery to be used depends largely on several factors. When buying upholstery, you will need to consider its comfort, durability, and style. That is why purchasing an upholstery fabric requires careful consideration. You will want to pick something that you can live with for years to come.

Upholstery, after all, is so much more than its appearance. Here are the most important factors you need to consider when choosing your upholstery fabric.

Comfort and Quality

No matter where you are installing the upholstery, comfort, and quality are the prime factors that you need to keep in mind before making a purchase decision. While you have set a budget inside your head, you should never compromise your upholstery fabric to save money. In the long run, investing in quality upholstery fabric will be more beneficial.

If it is of high quality and offers great comfort, it is bound to last for years, and you won’t feel like revamping it just a few months down the road. You can save a lot from frequent repairs and replacements.

Color and Pattern

Color and pattern are essential for your upholstery fabric of choice. They can often contribute to creating a vibe that suits your needs. For homes, lighter solid colors can create an airy, inviting mood to the space. Darker colors, however, will do well in hiding dirt and wear. Some people go for neutral colors and simple patterns as they go with many different décor styles.

In care homes, fabric designs that are simple are the best choice. Old people often struggle with glare and might find it hard to distinguish colors between rooms. You will want to choose a color that is contrasting with the walls, making it easier for seniors to distinguish furniture.


A durable fabric can take many rubs before it shows wear. Rub is the back-and-forth motion that mimics the wear and tear of someone sitting on an upholstered seat over time.

When choosing a fabric based on durability, you will need to consider what kind of fabric you will need, where it will be placed, and whether you have kids or pets. These factors will determine how durable the fabric you need will be. Durability can also come in the form of stain resistance, water repellant, and UV resistance.


With the threat of climate change looming over our heads, it is important to choose sustainable fabrics that can help save the planet. Some fabrics are partly made of recycled materials, reducing the environmental impact when producing them. This means they are less costly as the costs and emissions associated with farming, dyeing, and transporting them are eliminated.

Special Considerations 

There are other factors apart from those mentioned above that you may want to consider. These include allergens and antimicrobial resistance. Children, pets, and the elderly need extra care regarding allergens as some materials can harm their health.

In care homes, most of the furniture is health compliant. This is done so that the environment is not susceptible to infection. It is important that upholstery fabrics used in senior care homes do not support microbial growth.

Fade resistance is important when deciding on an upholstery fabric for your car. It is great if your fabric of choice can be easily wiped down when stains and spills happen. You use your car in any kind of weather, so it is important that the fabric is highly resistant to extreme weather situations. Too much exposure to the sun, for example, can cause some fabric to fade easily.

Final Thoughts

It may seem daunting at first, but choosing the right upholstery fabric for your furniture and other needs can be highly manageable and even enjoyable if you know what you want. Before delving into the buying decision process, you must first conduct a self-assessment. What do you want? Comfort, durability, quality? Do you have a specific budget? Do you have pets and kids?

These questions will guide you in selecting the best fabric for your upholstery—something that will last and stand the test of time.


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