Reupholstering furniture is a great way to switch up the decor in your house without buying new furniture. Maybe you’re on a budget and want to give your home and furniture a facelift, or you just want to change your stained, older upholstery for something new and fresh. That raises the question, what is the best upholstery fabric?
When it comes to the best upholstery fabric, there are quite a lot to choose from. You can go with a natural fabric such as cotton, leather, linen, silk, or wool or a synthetic or semi-synthetic fabric such as acetate, olefin, or polyester. But, the best fabric for you just depends on the function of the piece you’re reupholstering and its location in your home.
In this article, I’ll explain what the best upholstery fabrics are. I’ll also provide a description of the fabric and the pros and cons of each one. Finally, I’ll cover other things you need to consider when deciding which upholstery fabric to use.
- What is Upholstery Fabric?
- What Are the Best Upholstery Fabrics?
- Best Fabric for Sofa Upholstery
- Upholstery Fabric Durability Ratings
- What is the Best Upholstery Fabric for Kids and Pets?
- What Are the Easiest Upholstery Fabrics to Clean?
- What Is the Best Upholstery Fabric for Chairs?
- How to Choose Upholstery Fabric
- Upholstery Fabric by the Yard
What is Upholstery Fabric?
For starters, what is upholstery fabric, just in case you’ve never done a project like this before? Upholstery fabric is essentially the type of fabric used to cover couches, sofas, chairs, and other types of indoor or outdoor furniture.
Usually, upholstery fabric is often labeled as such at the fabric store. It’s generally more durable than fabric that is more general-purpose while still being comfortable and visually appealing. The added durability of upholstery fabric is because it has to hold up better again wear and tear and spills and be relatively easy to clean when compared to other fabrics.
Upholstery fabrics can be made of the same materials as general-purpose fabrics. You’ll find upholstery fabric made from cotton, polyester, velvet, olefin, etc. However, the type of material and fibers that upholstery fabric is made of should play a major role in choosing which one is best for your project.
What Are the Best Upholstery Fabrics?
Below are the best upholstery fabrics, but you should know that there is no one true best. Each of these fabrics is great for specific uses in its own way. There isn’t necessarily one or two that you should always consider.
The characteristics of each of these fabrics are different, and it’s these characteristics that should determine their uses. I’ll explain the characteristics and qualities of each of these fabrics and the pros and cons of each one to help you decide which one is best for you.
1. AcetateAcetate fabric is a type of semi-synthetic fabric made from spun cellulose fibers. It’s usually an affordable alternative to more expensive fabrics such as rayon and silk. It has a glossy appearance but is soft and smooth to the touch. The fabric is very lightweight and comes in various colors and styles. It’s very popular to use for sofas, chairs, and loungers.
- Elegant appearance
- Mold ad mildew resistant
- Doesn’t shrink and pill
- Lightweight and comfortable
- Can rip easily
- Not ideal for households with pets
- Doesn’t stretch much. Make sure you buy plenty
2. AcrylicAcrylic fabric is a synthetic fabric that is made of acrylic fibers. The fibers are essentially a type of plastic, making this fabric exceptionally durable compared to other fabrics on this list. It’s often used as a synthetic alternative to wool or cotton while still lightweight. Because of its durability, it’s especially used for upholstery that would typically be used outdoors rather than indoors since it doesn’t fade easily due to sunlight.
- Won’t fade or bleed
- Easy to clean
- Great for outdoor use
- Can retain heat
- Not very abrasion resistant
- Can pull or snag on clothing
3. Cotton/Cotton BlendCotton and cotton blend fabrics are great choices if you want a more natural-looking fabric for your upholstery. Cotton fabric is made from 100% cotton fibers and cotton blend fabrics are usually a blend of cotton and synthetic polyester fibers. It’s a great all-purpose upholstery choice, but it does have its pros and cons.
By choosing a cotton/polyester blend, you can increase the durability and stain resistance of the fabric. Plus, cotton can fade easily, so if you’re going to use the fabric in sunrooms and rooms that receive a lot of sunlight, it’s better to use either white cotton or a cotton/polyester blend to help reduce fading.
- Cool to the touch
- Can be used in any room
- One of the most comfortable fabrics
- Can fade easily
- Not as durable as other fabrics
- Harder to clean than other fabrics
4. LeatherLeather is another great upholstery fabric that feels cool to the touch when you sit on it. It’s most commonly used for sofas and couches. Leather is loved by many people due to the elegant look that it gives to furniture and the smooth texture. However, it’s really only ideal for indoor furniture and not outdoor furniture.
It’s important to condition your leather upholstery to keep it from drying out, so it is more high-maintenance than other fabrics. Because it can also rip easily, you may wish to avoid leather if you have pets.
- Doesn’t absorb spills
- You have to clean and condition it regularly
- Prone to cracks and rips if it dries out
5. LinenLinen is a natural fabric that is made from the flax plant. It is one of the most comfortable fabrics there is. When used for upholstery, it can also give your furniture a very fresh and clean look. It’s also very soft to the touch. This is a common fabric to use for sofas and chairs.
It’s worth noting that you’re often limited as to how many colors you can find linen fabric in. You’ll mostly find solid, neutral colors, which are great for matching any decor. But if you want something brighter and patterned, you’ll likely need to choose a different fabric.
- Easy to spot clean
- Fairly resistant to rips
- You can’t use heavy chemicals to clean it
- It doesn’t come in as many colors as other fabrics
6. MicrofiberMicrofiber is a type of synthetic fabric that is usually made from polyester fibers. Microfiber is sometimes referred to as microfiber suede, or faux suede, due to having an appearance that is similar to suede. It’s often used to upholster couches, sofas, and dining room chairs, but it isn’t good for outdoor furniture.
- Easy to clean
- Very durable
- Doesn’t rip or pull easily
- Soft to the touch
- Comfortable to sit on
- Shows stains easily, especially on lighter colors
- Can trap shed pet fur, which can be hard to remove
- The fabric can create a lot of static due to the texture
7. NylonI’m going to keep this one short and sweet. Nylon is a very durable synthetic fiber, but it usually isn’t used as an upholstery fabric. Instead, it may often be blended with other synthetic fibers to make them more durable. You’ll most often see nylon fibers blended into upholstery fabrics designed for outdoor use.
- Highly resistant to abrasion
- Doesn’t rip or tear easily
- Stretches well and maintains its shape
- Dries quickly
- Resistant to mildew
- Resistant to static
- Fades when exposed to prolonged sunlight
8. OlefinOlefin is also known as polypropylene fabric. It is another type of synthetic fiber commonly used for outdoor furniture and pillows. But, it can make a great fabric for chairs and banquette cushions, especially in the dining room and kitchen. It is durable and lightweight and worth considering if you need to reupholster patio furniture.
One reason why olefin makes a great outdoor, kitchen, and dining room fabric is that it is waterproof. Water doesn’t soak into the fabric but pools on top of it instead. It’s a great choice for kids who love to spill things. Olefin is also resistant to mold and weather conditions. Most olefin is treated upon production to make it less prone to fading. But if you live in an extremely hot climate that sees a lot of sunshine, then it may still fade some.
- Easy to clean up spills from
- Mold and mildew resistant
- High-quality olefin doesn’t fade in sunlight
- Can melt if it gets too hot
- Low-quality fabric may fade some in sunlight
9. PolyesterPolyester is one of the more commonly used upholstery fabrics. This synthetic fabric is durable, inexpensive, and comes in a wide range of colors and patterns. Polyester may also be blended with other upholstery fabrics to increase their durability. You could even use polyester outdoors on covered porches. It’s just not going to be as mildew and mold resistant as some other outdoor fabrics.
- Great if you have kids and pets
- Resistant to abrasion
- Breathable material
- Dries quickly if it gets wet
- Can build up static electricity, which can cause minor shocks
10. RayonLike the first fabric on this list, acetate, rayon is another semi-synthetic fabric created as a cheaper alternative to silk. You may also see this fabric referred to as viscose. It’s a versatile fabric and is smooth, soft, and cool to the touch. It’s primarily used for indoor upholstery such as couches and chairs.
It’s great for furniture that only gets used occasionally, but it doesn’t tend to retain its appearance over time. For a similar fabric that is more durable, cotton and linen are better upholstery options if you’re planning on using the furniture a lot.
- Soft texture
- Comfortable to sit on
- Cooling, won’t retain body heat
- Great for rooms that get hotter than others
- Not for outdoor use
- Not mildew resistant, mildew can damage the fabric
11. SilkSilk is one of the most elegant and expensive upholstery fabrics you can buy. It’s smooth and soft to the touch and has a glossy appearance that can quickly give your home a luxurious look. It’s only for indoor use and is commonly used to upholster chairs and chair cushions, pillows, and sometimes even as wallpaper. It’s quite expensive, but there are cheaper alternatives to silk (such as rayon and acetate) that can give your furniture a similar appearance.
- Very strong fabric
- Can withstand being stretched across furniture
- Doesn’t wrinkle easily
- Shows water and liquid stains easily
- Shows wear and tear easily despite being durable
- Not great for kids and pets
- Can fade in sunlight; avoid in sunny rooms
12. VelvetVelvet usually refers to polyester fabric that has a certain texture. The texture of velvet is soft and it has a shiny, luxurious look that is sure to make your furniture look expensive. Velvet should only be used to upholster indoor furniture. Using velvet can add texture, shine, and elegance to any room. It’s also very versatile and can go with any decor.
- Unique texture
- Soft and comfortable feel
- Looks luxurious, expensive, and elegant
- Goes with any decor style
- Hard to clean
- Shows stains easily
- You have to clean it as soon as it gets stained
- The texture can get damaged due to heat
13. VinylVinyl can be used as upholstery if you want your upholstery to look similar to leather without the cost or maintenance of leather. It can be used for sofas and chairs but is more commonly seen on dining room chairs, banquettes, and bar stools.
Vinyl is great for the kitchen and dining room because it is easy to clean. Stains and liquids can simply be wiped right off. It’s also very affordable and there is a wide selection available. It can be used outdoors but will feel hot to the touch on warm days. It can stick to bare skin, especially on hot and humid days.
- Can look similar to leather
- Great for use in the kitchen
- Easy to clean
- Spills can be wiped up
- Very affordable
- Large selection available
- Not the most comfortable
- Can stick to the skin on humid days
- Can feel hot to the touch on warm days.
14. WoolThe final upholstery fabric I’ll mention is wool. Of course, wool comes from sheep and although we may not typically think of it being an upholstery fabric, it is often used to upholster couches and sofas. It’s primarily used for indoor furniture. It isn’t very easy to clean and is often recommended to be dry-cleaned only, which is hard to do with upholstery. Wool is also very expensive, so this fabric is mostly ideal for furniture that isn’t going to get a lot of use.
- Incredibly comfortable
- Can last a long time with proper care
- Hard to clean
Best Fabric for Sofa Upholstery
Sofas often get the most use of any other furniture in our homes. As a result, they’re often exposed to the most wear and tear. You’ll want any fabric you use for your sofa to be durable and easy to clean, plus still look good over time.
With that being said, the best upholstery fabric for sofas is:
- Cotton Blend
Leather can also be a great choice if you don’t mind maintaining it to preserve its appearance. Or, you can look for synthetic leather fabric instead that doesn’t require much work.
Upholstery Fabric Durability Ratings
When choosing upholstery fabric, you’ll consider how durable the fabric is. Fabric durability is measured using a fabric durability rating based on abrasion or “rubs.” Upholstery fabric always has a rub rating on the tag that tells you how durable the fabric is.
Light Use Upholstery Fabric
Upholstery fabric with a light use durability rating means that it can withstand 3,000 to 9,000 rubs before it starts to wear and tear. As the name implies, these fabrics are intended for furniture that doesn’t get a lot of use.
Light use upholstery fabric is typically used for things such as bedroom furniture, accent chairs, and even things as curtains. These are going to be your more delicate fabrics, such as silk. Even a lower classification known as delicate-use upholstery fabric can withstand fewer than 3,000 rubs. These fabrics are typically meant for furniture that doesn’t get used at all or things such as decorative pillows.
Medium Use Upholstery Fabric
Medium use upholstery fabric has a durability rating between 9,000 to 15,000. Fabrics on the higher end of that range tend to be stiffer than fabrics on the lower end. These fabrics tend to be very versatile and more general purpose, as they can be used for a wide range of furniture. They are typically used for sofas and couches.
Heavy Use Upholstery Fabric
Heavy use upholstery fabric has a durability rating that is higher than 15,000 rubs. These are going to be your thickest and stiffest fabrics. You’ll want to use these fabrics in rooms with the most traffic and use, such as the family room.
What is the Best Upholstery Fabric for Kids and Pets?
If you have kids and/or pets, you’ll want to choose upholstery fabric a little more carefully. You’ll also need to choose a fabric that is a bit more durable and more stain-resistant (or at least easy to clean) and resistant to ripping and tearing.
Tight weave fabrics tend to be more durable and easy to clean. Fabrics include leather, microfiber suede, olefin (polypropylene), and polyester. You could even get away with using cotton or linen if the fabric was darker so that it wouldn’t show dirt as easily. It’s best to choose a fabric with a durability rating closer to 15,000 rubs or higher if you have kids and pets.
What Are the Easiest Upholstery Fabrics to Clean?
The easiest upholstery fabrics to clean are going to be those that are made of synthetic fibers. Remember that synthetic fibers are essentially made from modified plastic fibers. These fabrics are generally waterproof or water-resistant, as well as stain, mildew, and mold resistant. Examples include polyester, olefin (polypropylene), and vinyl. But, even some fabrics such as acrylic, acetate, cotton, and linen can be easy to clean as long as you use the right products.
What Is the Best Upholstery Fabric for Chairs?
The best upholstery fabric for chairs just depends on the type of chair. For chairs that get a lot of use, you’ll want to use fabric such as cotton/cotton blend, polyester, or maybe even leather if you’re willing to maintain it. And remember that if you have kids and pets, you’ll want to use a stiffer and thicker fabric and one that’s easy to clean.
For dining room chairs, fabrics such as vinyl, polyester, or olefin make great choices due to how easy they are to clean. For outdoor chairs, you’ll want to consider acrylic, olefin, or a fabric blended with nylon.
How to Choose Upholstery Fabric
When choosing upholstery fabric, there are several things you’ll want to consider. The first is to consider your lifestyle. Do you have kids, pets, or both? Or do you live by yourself or travel a lot? If it’s the former, choose a more durable fabric. If it’s the latter, it’s okay to choose a fabric that isn’t as durable if the furniture isn’t going to get as much use.
Consider where the furniture is going to be as well. Is it going to be in the living room, kitchen, bedroom, etc.? And what kind of wear and tear the fabric will receive in that location? If it’s in the kitchen or dining room, you’ll want a fabric in which food stains can be cleaned easily. If it’s the living room, you’ll want something with a medium to heavy use durability rating. If it’s in the bedroom, you might get by with a medium or even a light use rating.
Finally, consider how the fabric will hold up over time, especially with the location of the furniture. If the furniture is going to be outside, you’ll want something fade resistant and mold and mildew resistant. If the fabric is in an indoor room that gets a lot of sunlight, you’ll want to be fade-resistant. You get the picture, but all of those things are worth considering.
Upholstery Fabric by the Yard
Upholstery fabric is sold at any retailer that sells fabric, whether in a physical store or online. It’s different from general-purpose fabric, as upholstery fabric is often more durable and comes in different colors and patterns.
As far as the price, it depends on the fabric you choose. Upholstery fabric made from synthetic fibers will generally be cheaper, as fabric made from cotton. Fabrics made from linen, leather, silk, wool, etc. will be more expensive.
The width of upholstery fabric is usually between 54 and 60 inches. The colors and patterns that each fabric type comes in will vary.
If you’re considering reupholstering your furniture, there are lots of fabrics you can choose from. There are also lots of things to consider, including your lifestyle, the function and location of the furniture, and the characteristics of each fabric. I hope this guide made it easier for you to choose. If you did find it helpful, be sure to share it and leave a comment. Thanks for reading!