Upholstery fabric is thicker than regular fabric, but what is it exactly that makes it more durable than other fabrics? I was wondering just this when I began looking for upholstery fabric for the not-so-new sofa that I reclaimed from a yard sale.
As with most things in life, no two upholstery fabrics are the same. Some fabrics are better suited to use for chair backing, while other fabrics are best for the seating area, and yet others are better for the armrests. Not to mention that you get light or residential use upholstery fabric, as well as light commercial use fabric and heavy-duty commercial use fabric.
It’s all quite a bit confusing, right? Learn all about what makes upholstery fabric durable right here.
What Is Fabric Made From?
As you may already know, fabric is made from yarn. The fibers of plants such as cotton and linen and even hemp are all spun together to make a string or yarn. These yarns are then woven together to make a fabric.
When it comes to synthetic fabrics like polyester, the process is somewhat similar. Synthetic fibers are spun together to make a synthetic yarn that is woven to make fabric. The thinner the fibers, the softer the yarn and fabric will be.
Sometimes, the fabric is woven onto a backing fabric to increase the strength and rub-resistance, which is usually how upholstery fabric is made.
In case you’re wondering, the rub resistance is how many rubs it takes to wear through, fray, or cause pilling to fabric by rubbing over it both ways. Industrial strength fabric can withstand up to 50,000 rubs either way (so a total of 100,000 rubs when going forward and backward) to wear the fabric down.
Fabric strength is really important for high-traffic areas where people come, go, sit, get back up, press against, or press down on an upholstered furniture item, such as in restaurants, public offices, and public transportation.
Factors that Contribute to Fabric Durability
There are several factors that contribute to the strength of the fabric, whether upholstery or other types of fabric. Each of these factors will make the fabric stronger, last longer, and provide a unique feel to the fabric.
The length of the individual fibers being used to make the fabric yarn is woven from will contribute to the overall strength of the fabric. Natural fibers like linen have longer fibers than cotton, which contributes to a stronger and more durable fabric.
With synthetic fibers, longer fibers and thinner fibers that are all spun together into yarn will make for a stronger and more resilient fabric.
Upholstery fabric is somewhat different from other fabrics in that it can have an inner core. When the fabric is woven around a strengthening inner core, the fabric will gain extra strength and resilience. While surface damage can still be a factor, the fabric integrity remains intact.
We often see inner core upholstery fabric being used for outdoor fabrics like canvas and PVC fabrics that are used for awnings.
Tensile Quality of Weave
The tighter the weave, the stronger the fabric. When a fabric is woven loosely, the individual yarns don’t have enough support to stop them from moving and rubbing. So while it may be great to have a loosely woven or knitted jersey, it’s not the best choice for upholstery material.
The tensile quality also refers to the tightness with which each yarn is drawn during the weaving process. Thinner yarns can be drawn tighter than thicker yarns, making for a stronger fabric.
Surface Quality of the Fabric
When upholstery fabric has a surface texture that is added to the smooth base texture of the fabric, such as velvet or embossed fabrics, the wear factor increases. This means the fabric will wear away or rub through faster than a smooth fabric that provides no additional friction.
Which Fabrics Are the Most Durable for Upholstery Use?
Knowing what will cause a fabric to rub, you may wonder which fabric is best to use for your next upholstery project. Here are our favorite and most durable fabrics.
Real leather has a unique quality that resists wear. Leather sofas and chairs will rarely rub through. What you should keep in mind with leather furnishings is that the quality of the leather will determine the amount of use you will get from it.
Top grain leather should be your first choice, and you should take care to nourish the leather. If the leather gets hard, it will crack and damage. However, with regular leather treatments as per your manufacturer’s guidance, your leather furniture will last a lifetime.
Pure cotton is a real winner with upholstery fabric in terms of durability. Cotton fibers are resilient, and while there may be some minor fluffing of the cotton surface, it will continue offering great service for many years.
Cotton that has been woven into thicker fabrics like denim and sailcloth can offer great wear resistance. Treating cotton fabrics with a stain repellent agent such as Scotchguard can help your fabric remain durable and stain-free.
Also known as polypropylene, olefin is a range of synthetic fabrics that are made with acrylic and resin. Olefin can be soft and woolen in texture, yet it offers great durability because the fibers won’t fray or damage.
Microfiber is a type of synthetic fabric, and like olefin, it is also heavy-duty and suitable for frequent use. Additionally, microfiber can be brushed to make a range of textures while not compromising on the durability of the fabric.
While linen is usually the go-to fabric for sheets, it is also highly suitable for upholstery purposes (depending on the thread count). Linen can have a long fiber if the raw materials are harvested correctly.
With the longer fibers, the resulting yarn is fray resistant. When tightly woven, the yarn will produce a quality fabric that is rub-resistant and durable.
How to Test Whether Fabric Is Durable
Many upholstery suppliers or textile mills will provide a list of characteristics that each fabric has, making it relatively easy to know whether the fabric is durable or not. How you determine whether an already upholstered piece is durable or not can be a challenge.
Manufacturers may offer fabric information, including the rub resistance of the fabric, the fabric composition, and fabric characteristics. Less well-known manufacturers or second-hand furniture pieces may not provide you with this information, which is when you need to test whether the fabric is durable or not.
To test fabric durability, you can take the following steps:
1. Sit on the Upholstered Furniture
By sitting on the fabric cushions, you apply pressure to the surface. When you get up out of the chair or sofa, the fabric should quickly return to shape. When there are “seat” lines, the fabric lacks resilience and won’t retain its shape.
2. Rub the Fabric
If you have a slip of fabric, you should rub it between two fingers for at least a minute, moving your finger and even your fingernail across the surface. After this period of rubbing, you can feel the surface with your fingertips. If you can feel any difference between the spot where you rubbed and the rest of the fabric, the durability isn’t up to standard and the fabric won’t last.
3. Test a Sample of the Fabric
When you order a sample of the fabric you wish to use, you can really put it through the paces of a few tests. With this sample, you can spill things from ketchup to wine and see how washable the fabric is. You can also pull the fabric, checking to see if the weave returns to normal when the pressure is released or if the fabric becomes deformed.
Fabric Durability FAQs
What does durability mean in textiles?
Fabric durability refers to how long a fabric remains as new after regular use, washing, and wearing. Durable fabrics are rub-resistant, maintain their color, and return to shape after being placed under pressure by pulling or scratching them.
How does thread count influence the durability of a fabric?
Thread count refers to how many threads are visible per square inch. The higher the count, the tighter the weave, which results in a more durable fabric.
How high a rub count fabric should your furnishings be upholstered with?
While 15,000 rubs is a fairly decent fabric, it is not a particularly durable fabric and won’t last many years on your sofas or other furniture. It is best to get a rub count of 25,000 and up to ensure long-term durability and high-quality fabrics are used for your home’s soft furnishings.
The Final Word on Durability
When you are going to spend a pretty penny on new upholstery, you want to be assured of the best possible quality and durability. Don’t splash out on fabric that isn’t durable; you will regret it as soon as the first pill mark appears or the armrests of your sofa begin to wear through.
Buy the best quality you can afford, remembering that high quality is an investment as you won’t have to replace that upholstery soon. If you want to check on the durability of any of the fabrics at Kovi Fabrics, you can follow up with a consultant who can give you all the information on colorfastness, rub rating, and general quality.