If you want to turn your basement into a home theater, you will need sound absorption panels up on the walls! Acoustic panels dampen noise and clarify the sounds within a room, making conversation easier or music more defined. Plus, you can make your own after learning about the best fabric for acoustic panels!
The best fabric for an acoustic panel has excellent acoustic transparency and allows sound through to the absorbent core. The best fabric for these panels also remains stretched without sagging or fading over time. Popular fabrics for acoustic panels include cotton, polyester, and acrylic materials.
In this article, you will learn how acoustic panels work. You will find out what material makes the best coverage for these panels. Finally, you will find tips to help you build your own acoustic panels at home!
- What is an Acoustic Panel?
- What Material Absorbs Sound Best?
- 10 Best Fabric for Acoustic Panels
- What is the Best Cheap Fabric for Acoustic Panels?
- What is the Best Breathable Fabric for Acoustic Panels?
- Acoustic Fabric By the Yard
What is an Acoustic Panel?
An acoustic panel is a device that dampens sound within an enclosed space by reducing the reverberation of sound waves. You find acoustic panes in many environments, from fancy concert halls or ballrooms to tiny offices and home theaters. These devices can also go by several different names, such as baffles, acoustic panels, or soundboards.
Acoustic panels do not soundproof any of these spaces, though. They direct and mitigate the flow of soundwaves and can lessen how much volume escapes outside of the designated space or room, it’s true. But these panels help manage and direct sound–they do not completely block the sound.
True soundproofing usually takes place during the construction of a home or facility. It includes building unique materials inside the walls or ceiling of a space. Instead of providing soundproofing, a good set of acoustic panels will provide sound absorption.
Sound absorption means that the panels catch and hold a certain amount of the sound waves that strike them. This will reduce sound reverberation in the space by cutting down on echoing. Sound panels can also help eliminate background buzz.
Rather than blocking all sound, sound absorption panels help you create a clear sound within the space.
How does this work? In a small space such as an office, soundwaves typically hit the hard surface of the walls first. The waves then bounce off and reverberate back through the room.
If the sound wave hits an acoustic panel instead of the hard wall, the panel can absorb a great deal of the waves. This means that less reverberation will then echo back into the room.
Most acoustic panels contain three elements. First, they have a wooden or plastic frame. This provides a structure and allows you to hang the panel out from the wall. This matters because it will cause the soundwave to hit the panel before reaching the hard wall.
Next, the panel contains a core of sound-absorbent material. The core usually contains some type of synthetic foam or a kind of mineral wool compressed into a thick, sound-absorbing shape. In some cases, the core contains loose fiberglass fill instead of compressed foam.
Finally, the panel features an attractive wrap of acoustic panel fabric. As you will see in the next section, this outer fabric also plays a key role!
What Material Absorbs Sound Best?
Soft or pliable materials typically absorb sound waves best. Hard surfaces can amplify the sound waves, causing them to bounce off and echo. Fabrics like leather or anything with a shiny surface will cause a “sonic reflection” when a sound wave hits them and then bounces back off.
If you want a quieter space, adding cloth-covered furniture, carpets, and curtains will help reduce the sound in the space. These thick, soft materials can trap some of a sound wave when the wave hits the cloth. This type of soft material has sound absorption ability.
Of course, adding acoustic panels can also help dampen noise and direct sound. But the fabric used here is not a sound-absorbing material–instead, it should have excellent sound transparency.
Why do you want to use that fabric that allows sound to move straight through it? Because the core of foam within the acoustic panels does most of the sound absorption work.
The fabric covering an acoustic panel is not simply a decoration to make the panel look nice. It does matter what kind of material you select for the panel’s outer shell. The sound wave must pass through this shell to hit the absorbent core.
The main factor you have to consider when selecting fabric for an acoustic panel is its acoustic transparency. You also sometimes see this referred to as the breathability of the fabric. This means how well sound can get through the cloth to reach the core of foam.
In other words, the sound wave must pass through the fabric without obstruction to reach the foam.
The fabric’s weight can play a big role in this acoustic transparency. You will see that many acoustic panel fabrics come in pretty heavyweights, like canvas or duck cloth. This matters because a thicker fabric often holds its shape better and because you do not want the fabric to show the insides of the panel!
Keep in mind that acoustic transparency is good, but visual transparency is not what you want in this case! The outer fabric should make the panel look attractive.
You do also want to consider the durability of the material you choose. Some fabric will stretch over the frame nicely at first but then begin to sag and droop over time. You do not want a super-stretchy material or any material that contains elastic fibers for this reason!
If you use a colorful or printed fabric, you will also want to consider whether it will fade over time. This matters most if you plan to place the panels near a window or direct sunlight.
Finally, another big consideration for acoustic panels is their fire resistance. Some kinds of fabric can release dangerous smoke or fumes when they catch fire. For this reason, most acoustic panels used in professional or public spaces must have a certain level of fire resistance.
10 Best Fabric for Acoustic Panels
The best fabric for acoustic panels offers acoustic transparency. It also looks nice and holds up well over time without stretching or fading.
Some of the most popular choices of acoustic panel fabric include brand-name fabrics such as Guilford of Maine. Heavy cotton fabric like Duck Canvas also remains popular. Cheaper options include muslin or burlap.
1. Guilford of MaineGuilford of Maine is a brand of cloth designed for acoustic purposes. It contains 100% recycled polyester made from things like water bottles. It comes in a heavyweight plain weave structure that contains a thread count of 225 threads per square inch.
Besides covering acoustic panels, this fabric makes great speaker screens and bass traps. It serves as the industry standard for commercial acoustic panels and baffles partly because it works well. It also offers fire resistance and can help keep a large commercial space safe.
You can buy this material for home use, but you should expect pretty high prices! Most sellers offer GOM material by the yard for about $16 per yard, usually with a minimum requirement to buy at least five or ten yards at a time.
You can find GOM fabric in more than a dozen solid colors. These range from unobtrusive neutrals like “wheat” or “bone” to bolder shades like “magenta” and “geranium.”
2. Cotton DuckCotton duck cloth is one of the most popular fabrics for acoustic panel coverings. Cotton duck or duck canvas has great acoustic transparency and stretches tautly and holds its shape well.
Technically, “cotton duck” is just canvas! The name “duck” comes from the Dutch word “doek,” which means a type of linen canvas. It typically has a finer weave than some other kinds of canvas but is not a fancy or expensive material.
This material has a heavy plain weave. This means that the threads cross over and under each other in a traditional basketweave structure.
Like most types of canvas, you can expect this material to feel quite thick and weighty in your hand. You will typically find this material in a 10 oz or 12 oz weight.Cotton Duck has lots of advantages. You can buy it in pretty much any color or print imaginable, depending on the fabric seller you choose.
It usually does not cost too much. Plus, it will hold up well over time!
However, like all cotton fabrics, it does not offer fire resistance. You will need to treat the panels yourself if you want to make them safer in case of fire.
3. CottonCotton makes an effective and attractive but expensive cover for acoustic panels. Cotton fibers have a porous structure that allows them to easily soak up water and let air flow freely through the fibers. The breathability of this cloth also indicates its acoustic transparency, as sound waves can flow through just as easily as air!
Of course, you can buy cotton fabric in all kinds of different weaves and many different colors and styles. If you want a super decorative acoustic panel, try visiting a sewing store and shopping the quilting cotton aisle. You will find every type of print and design imaginable!
Because natural fabric tends to cost more than synthetic fabric, you will have to pay a bit more for this material, though. Also, cotton could stretch out and sag over time if you plan to place the panel in a humid environment. This happens because cotton absorbs moisture so readily.
Cotton burns very easily, and it could release dangerous fumes depending on what kind of finishing coating the fabric manufacturer added to it.
This is the biggest drawback to using cotton to cover your panels. You will want to treat them with a fire-retardant spray to make them safe for your home or workplace.
4. BurlapBurlap remains a popular choice for DIY acoustic panels because it is one of the cheapest options available, though it is not necessarily the most durable option long term.
The pros of burlap include its sound transparency, as its loose weave easily allows soundwaves to pass through. It also has a dense enough structure that you can’t see through it, so it can serve a good decorative purpose.
That said, not all burlap is created equal. You will want to make sure you purchase burlap with a thread count of over 200 threads per square inch or you might see the foam core behind the fabric! You could also look for burlap by weight, selecting only types that weigh at least 10 oz per square yard.
Another factor to consider is what kind of material the burlap contains. Traditional burlap is made out of jute fibers, but these days, you can also get burlap made out of polyester or even linen. As a natural fiber, jute may shed tiny particles over time, while polyester will hold up better but is not biodegradable.
The downside of burlap is that it does not offer any fire resistance unless you treat it with special chemical sprays yourself. Also, if you plan to use a loose core material such as fiberglass inside your panel, the weave of the burlap will not contain it very well.
5. MuslinMuslin has excellent breathability and acoustic transparency and can serve as a very affordable acoustic panel cover. Muslin contains 100% cotton fibers in a very loose weave. The loose weave allows both air and sound to flow through the fabric freely.
You can buy muslin fabric by the yard for as little as one or two dollars!
Nothing is perfect, though, and you will also find that muslin typically only comes in a plain, undyed state. If you want neutral, cream-colored panels, this will work great! But muslin does not offer many fashion options if you want more decorative panels.
Another potential downside to this affordable panel covering is that, like all cotton fabrics, it has a high flammability rate. You may consider treating your panels with a fire-resistant spray if you use muslin to cover them.
6. Speaker Grill ClothThe cloth used to cover speakers can also make a useful covering for acoustic panels. This fabric provides excellent sound permeability, as you might imagine! It has a mesh structure made by creating an open weave out of polyester threads in which the warp threads don’t touch each other, creating mesh-like gaps.
The downside to using this professional-grade material is that it costs quite a bit, as you might expect.
Also, you will pretty much find this material only in black or a few other solid shades, so you will find it more challenging to match your decor with this material. Speaker grill mesh usually comes in a stiff structure, making it less easy to stretch over the wooden frame of an acoustic panel.
7. Heavyweight LinenHeavyweight linen offers a luxurious and attractive option for acoustic panel covering. Linen material comes from flax fibers woven in a loose, slubbed design with a textured look and feel. This all-natural fabric has incredible breathability, lasts a long time, and even resists odors!.
But as with anything, it also has some drawbacks. You can buy linen in many solid colors, typically in neutral or natural shades, but it does not usually come in prints or bright designs. Also, linen costs a lot.
Like most natural materials, linen can also absorb moisture, making it prone to losing its structure in a humid environment. It does not resist heat or flame well either, so it will require chemical treatment.
If you love the look of linen but not the cost or the safety risk, you could also consider buying a “faux linen” fabric made of polyester. This material does lose a fraction of its acoustic transparency because the polyester fibers inside the yarns do not transmit air or sound as readily as the natural linen fibers. But on the other hand, synthetic polyester will last forever!
8. VelvetVelvet makes great curtains to help control the sound in a room but is not a great cover for acoustic panels. Pairing velvet curtains, cushions, or upholstery with acoustic panels can help you control the volume in an enclosed space.
Most velvet today contains polyester woven on a special loom that weaves two layers of fabric and then slices them apart, leaving all of those soft threads on the surface of the material. This nap, plus the heavyweight structure of most velvet, makes it a good sound absorber. This is why so many theaters and concert halls use those giant, fancy velvet curtains on stage!Velvet does not have the acoustic transparency you need for a good sound panel cover. It also stretches very easily and will sag over time. If you like the rich, luxurious look of velvet, try using velvet curtains or wall hangings in your space to absorb excess sound.
9. PolyesterLightweight plain weave polyester, polyester canvas, or polyester faux linen work well as fabric coverings for acoustic panels. Polyester fabric comes from byproducts of petroleum or recycled plastic materials. In either case, the tiny fibers inside polyester threads contain plastic!
This means that polyester does not have the natural breathability or acoustic transparency of an all-natural material such as cotton or linen. You can offset this lack of breathability by finding polyester cloth with a looser weave.
Polyester has a low cost since synthetic materials cost less to manufacture than natural materials.
The other big benefit of using synthetic fabric is that it has much greater durability and will not stretch or sag over time. Plus, it has better fire resistance than cotton or another natural fabric.
10. Polyester FeltPolyester felt is a unique fabric that stands out from this whole list because you can use it as both the outer cover and the insulation for your panel! In fact, polyester felt acoustic panels form a large niche in the market for office or home use panels. Polyester felt has many advantages for acoustic panels, including its lightweight and durable structure. Most of the time, polyester felt contains recycled plastics, making it a good sustainable choice.
Felt makes a good decorative choice because you can purchase it by the yard in many different colors or prints. You can also buy ready-made panels in unique 3D shapes because felt can hold interesting forms!
What is the downside to this cool material? Well, you won’t want to use it as a traditional cover over an acoustic panel because it does act as a sound absorber and does not have the breathable acoustic transparency of most of the other materials described here. Plus, its thick, soft texture does not lend itself to stretching over a panel frame without looking bulky.
But if you want to make your panel out of a thick piece of felt, go for it!
What is the Best Cheap Fabric for Acoustic Panels?
The best cheap fabric for acoustic panels is muslin or burlap, which can cost as little as one or two dollars per yard. You can also find lightweight polyester fabric at a low cost from some sellers, with prices as low as $4 or $5 per yard.
Both muslin and burlap can wrap an acoustic panel and will allow soundwaves through to the absorbent core material inside. But both of these materials do not have the long-term durability of polyester, duck cloth, or Guilford of Maine cloth, though. They also limit you to a bland, all-natural coloring in most cases.
You can find a huge range of polyester fabrics at any sewing store or online from sellers like fabric.com or Etsy.com. This fabric will cover the acoustic panel and will allow sound through so long as you select a material with a loose weave. Plus, it will last a long time and offer benefits such as heat resistance.
What is the Best Breathable Fabric for Acoustic Panels?
The best breathable fabric for acoustic panels includes natural materials with porous fibers and synthetic materials with a loose, breathable weave.
Lightweight fabrics such as muslin and some kinds of polyester fabric offer a loose weave structure that lets air flow through the gaps in the threads. Speaker grill cloth also uses a special open weave to create a mesh structure that provides breathability.
More heavy fabric like duck canvas contains cotton fibers, which have natural breathability. Burlap, made out of jute, also has a heavier weight but natural breathability.
One way to test a piece of fabric for breathability is to hold it in front of your face with your other hand on the opposite side of the material. Blow through the fabric and see how much air you feel on your hand!
This breathability will indicate the acoustic transparency of the fabric. This is important because it tells you how well the covering will allow the soundwave through to the absorbent core material inside the acoustic panel.
Acoustic Fabric By the Yard
Depending on what kind of fabric you want to purchase, you can buy acoustic fabric by the yard from online sellers, from unique brands, or from craft and sewing stores.
The easiest way to buy fabric to cover your acoustic panels is to visit your local sewing store, such as Joann Fabrics. Here you can browse aisles of plain-weave polyester or colorless muslin for affordable options. You can also examine bolts of polyester felt or linen for a pricier option.
You can also order fabric by the yard from many online sellers like fabric.com, Amazon, or Etsy. If you want a specific brand such as Guilford of Maine, you can buy fabric by the yard from that company on their website.
The best fabric for acoustic panels offers acoustic transparency or breathability that allows sound waves to reach the core material inside the panel. Good fabric for covering panels also offers longevity and will not stretch out or sag over time. Ideally, the best fabric for covering panels also has fire resistance.
Commercial acoustic panels often use a brand name fabric called Guilford of Maine or a special kind of canvas called Duck Canvas. The most popular affordable choices for the fabric to cover acoustic panels include muslin, burlap, and lightweight polyester.
Do you plan to make your own acoustic panels? What kind of fabric will work best for you? Leave a comment below to let us know!