My couch is getting old and looking a bit sorry for itself. It needs a new set of covers. There are so many different fabric types out there though. I’m not sure which one to choose. Are all materials good for couch covers? Which textile should I use? What are the different couch fabric types?
Couch fabric comes in a range of colors and styles. Better known as upholstery fabric, the covers on a couch can be natural or synthetic. They can also be a blend of both. To be an ideal upholstery material, the fabric must be strong, durable, and long-lasting. Suitable materials include cotton, linen, jute, leather, velvet, and olefin.
So what makes a material suitable for a couch? In this article, we’ll look at popular couch fabric choices. We’ll cover the pros and cons of each and identify the best fabric for various situations.
- What Is Couch Fabric?
- Different Couch Fabric Types
- How to Identify Couch Material
- What Upholstery Fabric Is Most Durable?
- Kid-Friendly Sofa Fabric
- How to Choose the Best Couch Fabric
- Best Material for Outdoor Couches
- Where Can I Buy Upholstery Fabric?
- Upholstery Fabric by the Yard
What Is Couch Fabric?
Couch fabric is the material used to cover the padded seating area of a couch or sofa. It can also be used for other padded items of furniture.
Most of us have a couch or a sofa with soft, comfy cushions. Or maybe a favorite armchair with a spongy seat you can just sink into. Well, keeping all that stuffing in one place is the material covering your couch, chair, or maybe even your chaise lounge. From the French, chaise longue, which means long chair. Which is just a fancy name for a couch you can lie down on.
It’s not normally called couch fabric, though. It’s known as upholstery fabric and is a special heavy-duty material perfect for coping with the rigors and stresses our couches go through each day.
You probably don’t realize this, but being a couch can be a hard life. From being regularly sat on, jumped on by children, or scratched by pets, your couch goes through a lot. The fabric holding your couch together has to be able to withstand the punishment.
Upholstery fabric is thick, heavy, and can feel stiff. This stiffness is a key element in a fabric’s success as an upholstery material. Unlike humans, furniture doesn’t need to flex muscles or move about. All it needs is a textile strong enough to hold its shape and stop the filling from falling out.
The material used for upholstery tends to have a high thread count and is normally tightly woven. Both of which will make the fabric resilient and long-lasting. They also mean the fabric is not a good choice for clothing or bedding. It would be too rough, stiff, and uncomfortable.
You’ll also find upholstery material is colorfast and any designs or patterns are woven into the fabric, not printed on the surface. There’s a very good reason for this. The pattern on your couch needs to stay put, not rub off on you when you sit on it.
Originally, textiles suitable for upholstery would have included thickly woven cotton fabrics with intricate tapestry designs. Wealthier families would have been able to afford leather, velvet, and even chenille.
These days, thanks to the introduction of synthetic fibers, the choice of coverings are vast. You can use all sorts of materials from heavy denim, olefin, polyester, and even blends of different fibers. As long as the textile you choose is graded for upholstery use, you’re good to go!
Different Couch Fabric Types
As there are so many different couch fabric types available, we’ve put together a list so you can see their pros and cons. Although all of these fabrics can also be used for clothing, bedding, or even both, we’re only concentrating on the higher thread count options. Or, more specifically, the weaves graded for upholstery.
Fabrics come in a range of weights, weaves, and textures. Not all of them are ideal for covering couches. This list will help you identify which fiber is best for your situation. But, you will need to check the suitability of the fabric with the retailer before you purchase it.
1. AcrylicAnother manmade fiber was introduced to imitate a natural material. Acrylic is a substitute for wool. You’ll get a more relaxed look in your room with acrylic covers on your couch. It’s a soft textile that’s both easy to clean and dry. Better still, this fabric can be used indoors or outside.
If you want an informal, easycare seating solution, you might find an acrylic upholstery fabric that will tick all your boxes. It does have some downsides, though. The biggest one is similar to acetate. You’ll notice acrylic marks very easily.
- Suitable for indoor or outdoor use
- Soft to the touch
- Looks like wool
- Perfect for relaxed seating arrangements
- Easy to care for
- Dries quickly
- Scratches easily
- Can be prone to pilling
- Not heat resistant
- Can cause allergies in some people
2. AcetateAcetate is a synthetic fiber made from the cellulose of wood pulp. Unlike rayon, its viscose cousin, acetate is hydrophobic and doesn’t breathe. It’s also heat intolerant.
For those looking for an expensive couch with a smaller price tag, this could be the fabric for you. It has a luxurious feel and a shiny, almost opulent appearance as a cheap alternative to silk. So you get a decadent-looking couch for a fraction of the cost.
- The look of silk for a budget-friendly price
- Luxurious fabric with a sophisticated, expensive look
- Resists pilling
- Impervious to mold and mildew
- Is unaffected by humidity
- Unattractive to moths
- Easily scratched
- Not a good fabric for homes with children or pets
- Dry clean only
- Can’t withstand heavy use.
- Better suited for a couch with occasional usage
3. ChenilleA fabric with an element of fun attached, chenille looks like material covered in fuzzy caterpillars. That’s why it’s called chenille. It gets its name from the French word for the furry little critters.
Because of its cute appearance, this fabric is ideal for a child’s bedroom. Kids love the super-soft texture. But that doesn’t mean it’s a fabric only children can enjoy.
Chenille will provide a laid-back, cozy feel to any lounge area. So embrace your inner child and go for chenille for the secure and restful feeling of home.
- Super soft and comfortable
- Resistant to scratches
- Can be cleaned easily at home
- Large choice of colors to match any décor
- Chenille can stretch out of shape
- Not suitable for homes with pets
- Needs regular vacuuming as dust gets caught between the fibers
4. CottonAs one of the most popular and versatile fibers on the planet, it’s no surprise that cotton can be used for upholstery fabric. Whether it’s woven into a canvas, tapestry fabric, or thick denim, you’ll find a cotton textile to suit your couch.
From the varied color options to the choice of different woven patterns, cotton couch fabric can match any room or decoration theme. Better still, cotton is known to be durable and long-lasting.
- Ideal for people with sensitive skin
- Soft, breathable, and comfortable
- Resistant to pilling and abrasion
- Incredibly durable
- Resistant to fading
- Dyes easily
- Can stain easily
- Prone to creases and wrinkles
- Absorbs water-based spills making cleaning a challenge
- Can also absorb the dye from your clothing
5. JutelJute is a relatively new fabric in the world of upholstery. Originally from India and Bangladesh, jute is more often used for making mats and rope. Although the texture is itself a little rope-like, this fabric makes an excellent accent material. Particularly as a contrasting element in a leather couch.
You do have to be careful with jute. Although it’s a strong fabric, the texture can make it uncomfortable to sit on for long periods of time. It’s not a material that likes to be washed. Nor does it enjoy direct sunlight. This fabric is better suited to indoor furniture and occasional use.
- Adds texture to furniture
- Can be used as a feature on a leather couch
- Environmentally friendly
- Sunlight may cause it to turn yellow
- Cannot be washed
- Prone to wrinkling
- Loses durability when in contact with water
- Better suited to footrests or ottomans than couches
6. LeatherLeather and upholstery go together like bacon and eggs. A leather sofa just oozes tradition and comfort. Leather is probably one of the first materials that came to mind when you first thought of couch fabric. Even faux leather can conjure images of classic lounge furniture with a touch of elegance and style.
It suits a whole host of situations too! From the more formal lounge setting to an informal living area, leather ticks all the right boxes. Durable, cleanable, and resistant to stains, it’s no wonder leather has been the go-to upholstery fabric for generations.
- Easy to look after with wipe-clean properties
- Doesn’t absorb water or stains
- Will not absorb smells from tobacco or pets
- Real leather is both durable and long-lasting
- Can be damaged by sharp objects, particularly if it’s faux leather
- Can be expensive
- Tends to hold on to heat and cold making sitting on it uncomfortable at times
- Can fade in direct sunlight
7. LinenLinen offers an affordable couch fabric with built-in antibacterial properties. Derived from the flax plant, linen is a natural fiber resistant to moths, pilling, and fading. Your linen-covered couch will also be impervious to mold and mildew.
You can use 100% linen for upholstery, but for added benefits, consider linen with a hint of synthetic fiber content. Not only will the manmade content boost linen’s advantages, but it will also add an extra treat. It will give your linen covers resistance to wrinkles.
- Smooth and soft texture
- Incredibly durable
- Resistant to pilling
- Doesn’t scratch easily
- Antibacterial and resistant to moths, mold, and mildew
- Gets dirty quickly
- Prone to wrinkles
- Tends to shrink
- Doesn’t like humidity
- Professional cleaning is advisable
- Only suitable for occasional light use
8. OlefinOlefin is a synthetic fiber made from melted plastic. It’s water-resistant, fire-resistant, and can be cleaned with bleach. This material is incredibly durable and your ideal choice for covering couches that see a lot of rough use.
The appearance of olefin is similar to wool. But unlike wool, olefin doesn’t mind getting wet, making it an ideal material for outdoor couches.
- Fire resistant
- Water-based stains can be removed easily
- Can be cleaned with bleach
- Colors are added to the plastic during production so they will not fade
- Too much sun can make the fabric brittle
- Hard to remove oil-based stains
- It’s melted plastic, so heat can be a problem
- Not so good for indoor couches
9. PolyesterJust like its natural cousin, cotton, polyester can be used for many tasks. Polyester is a manmade fiber with many of the same upholstery properties as leather. As a strong fabric resistant to smells and stains, it’s a great candidate for couch fabric.
Not only is it readily available and relatively inexpensive, but polyester will also give your couch a similar look and feel to one made from real leather. In fact, many faux leathers are made using polyester.
- Easy to clean
- Soft and comfortable
- Stain and rip-resistant
- Colors will not fade
- Impervious to smells
- Heat intolerant
- Not fire resistant
- Can crack in extremes of hot or cold
- is known to stretch out of shape
- Can be prone to abrasion damage
10. RayonOf the upholstery materials on this list, rayon is possibly the least durable. It’s a semi-synthetic fiber similar to acetate as it’s derived from the cellulose of wood pulp. Also known as viscose, rayon’s woody base gives it some of the features of natural fiber. One of which is its ability to absorb water.
Although it looks soft and feels as comfortable as a cotton couch fabric, it can’t take the same treatment. Rough handling and regular use will dull the fabric. It may also cause the material to stretch out of shape. Rayon isn’t a good choice for homes with children or pets.
- Soft and comfortable
- Resistant to moths, mold, and mildew
- Stylish appearance
- Loses its shine quickly
- Scratches easily
- Prone to wrinkling
- Absorbs water and liquid-based stains
- Easily damaged when wet
11. SilkKnown for its luxuriant feel and super smooth texture, silk is one of the most expensive fibers available. Because of this, it’s a fabric best suited to formal upholstery. Or areas needing a touch of elegance but don’t get a lot of use. You wouldn’t want to use this one in a family living room. It wouldn’t last 5 seconds.
Silk is a delicate fabric that can provide a romantic ambiance in the right location. It’s high maintenance, though. Requiring dry cleaning and a spot away from sunlight, this one needs a gentle hand. It’s definitely one for adults only.
- Lustrous and decadent
- Ideal for formal settings
- Available in a range of colors and patterns
- Keeps its shape
- Oozes sophistication
- Very expensive
- Incredibly delicate
- Dry clean only
- Unsuitable for pets and children
- Not good for couches that are used regularly
- Stains easily
- Colors fade in sunlight
12. VelvetAt one time, velvet was a fabric only available to wealthy households. Even today it’s a fabric synonymous with prosperity and luxury. With a price tag to match, it’s also among the more expensive upholstery options.
You’ve got to admit though, the price is worth it. The sheer beauty of velvet is enough to lift the look of a room from mediocre to sensational. This fabric will radiate elegance and finesse. Give your humble couch an air of regality.
- Luxuriant softness
- Ambiance of regality
- Ideal for formal settings
- Insulation properties
- Available in rich colors to suit any décor
- Reflects light which enhances the plush of the fabric
- Expensive to buy
- Hard to clean
- Cheaper velvets may not be as durable
- Not suited to everyday use
- Can be ostentatious
13. WoolWool is one of the best upholstery fabrics available. Not only is it soft and durable, but it’s also waterproof, fireproof, and has excellent insulation properties. Wool covering on your couch will make it cozy, comfortable, and a pleasure to sink into after a hard day at work.
This is one couch fabric you can be rough with. It’ll take the knocks from both children and pets. Yet it can still add a touch of refinement to your living area. So it’s going to come as a surprise to find out that wool isn’t regularly used as a couch fabric. Not on its own anyway. You’ll nearly always find it as a blend with something else.
- Incredibly comfortable
- Water and fire-resistant
- Durable and stain-resistant
- Resistant to mold and mildew
- Environmentally friendly
- Insulating and breathable making it ideal for hot and cold climates
- Doesn’t fade
- Not prone to wrinkles
- Moths love it
How to Identify Couch Material
With so many fabric options, it can be difficult to tell a couch material from curtain fabric. As curtains require drape and don’t necessarily need to be heavy, using a textile designed for drapery for couch covers could be disastrous.
So too, we could use upholstery fabric for lightweight curtains. They could be too heavy and could bend your curtain pole. Identifying couch material at a glance is essential to ensuring you get the right fabric for the job.
But what do you need to look for? Well, any good couch fabric needs to be durable and long-lasting. The fibers have to be strong and resilient, but the weave of the fabric has to be pretty strong too.
You should look for a material that has a high thread count. This means there are a lot of threads per inch of fabric. These threads should also be woven closely together. The resulting fabric will feel thick and stiff.
It’s the thickness of the material that makes it suitable for couch fabric. A lightweight or low thread count option like a cotton voile or organza fabric isn’t going to be strong enough to take the daily rigors a couch has to withstand.
To make things a bit easier, upholstery fabric is graded using a simple system known as the double rub method. The fabric is tested with a machine that rubs it back and forth until it starts to show bare patches.
It’s the passes in both directions that give the system its name. Quite literally, the fabric is being rubbed twice. An ideal grade for couch fabric can be anywhere between 10,000 and 25,000 double rubs.
If you are in any doubt, check with the retailer you buy the fabric from. They should be able to tell you if the fabric you’ve chosen is suitable for use on upholstery.
What Upholstery Fabric Is Most Durable?
The most durable upholstery fabric depends on what you look for in a couch material. There are technically two choices. One is traditional and natural. The other is synthetic.
If you want to go natural, leather is the most durable couch fabric. This is one of the reasons it has been used to cover couches, chairs, and footstools for generations. The thicker the leather, the more durability it will have.
It’s a fabric known to take a beating. Whether it’s from kids using the cushions as a trampoline, or your soggy doggy with the zoomies, leather takes it all in its stride. Better still, leather is both waterproof and stain-resistant, so keeping it clean is a piece of cake.
You don’t need to worry about spilled cake either. Not even if it’s been silently decomposing down the back. Leather doesn’t retain smells.
The most durable synthetic material is microfiber fabric. Made from a blend of polyester and nylon, microfiber has tightly woven, ultra-thin fibers. Not only do these fibers ensure the fabric is super-durable, but they also protect against liquid spills and dust.
Kid-Friendly Sofa Fabric
Kids can be rough on sofas, so you need a fabric that will withstand whatever they throw at it. Quite literally, in some cases, from books or toys to a carton full of yogurt.
For sheer stain resisting power, the ability to withstand a bouncy toddler, and built-in protection against water, look no further than leather. Long-lasting and child-proof, a good quality leather fabric on your couch will outlive the terrible twos and last until they’ve moved out and gone to college.
Of course, if you ask your child what the best kid-friendly fabric is, they’ll probably go for chenille. With its super-soft caterpillar texture, it’s the one the kids will vote for, hands down. I don’t blame them either. Who can resist chenille’s teddy-bear soft surface?
How to Choose the Best Couch Fabric
Although this article can help you identify the best couch fabrics, the one you choose is ultimately down to you. It’s not just down to the type of material. There are a lot of other factors to consider too.
The first and possibly the most important is where your couch will be located. Are you looking for a material to cover an indoor couch or one for outdoors? It would be pointless to go for a rayon textile for a couch on your patio. Rayon doesn’t react well to water and is easily damaged when wet.
What’s your climate like? Trust me, a leather couch in 100°F heat can be unbearable to sit on. It’s not much fun when the temperature dips to zero either. But then, neither is polyester. You might find a cotton fabric would be a better choice for hot or chilly regions.
You also need to look at the room’s current décor. Unless you’re planning on a complete revamp, you’ll need the sofa fabric to match what you already have. A living area with a persona of modern, lightweight, chic isn’t going to be a good fit for a heavy leather couch with a large wooden frame.
Another area to keep in mind is your lifestyle and the other people who live with you. Kids and pets require a couch fabric to be positively bullet-proof. The last thing you need is to replace your sofa coverings every 6 months because they didn’t have the durability to survive the rigors of family life.
There are upholstery fabrics better suited to formal use. Rather than in a high traffic area like a family living room. Really consider how much or how little your sofa will get used before selecting a couch fabric for it.
Above all, whatever fabric you decide on, it needs to be durable, snag-resistant, and can maintain its shape. It also needs to be comfortable to sit on. Try to steer clear of rough textures like jute, particularly if you will be sitting on it for long periods.
Always check the double rub figure before purchasing any fabric for upholstery. You need to look for a figure in the range of 10,000 – 25,000 double rubs. Check with your local retailer, or call the online store, to make sure the material you choose will be the right one for your couch.
Best Material for Outdoor Couches
The best material for an outdoor couch needs to be waterproof and weather-resistant. Being bug-proof and mold resistant are also important factors for an external fabric.
To prevent your couch fabric from fading, UV resistance is something you should be looking out for too. This will help stop your couch covers from degrading in direct sunlight.
A top choice for outdoor use is olefin. Although it has a strong resemblance to wool, olefin is essentially melted plastic. It can withstand daily or heavy use and is completely resistant to wet weather conditions.
Olefin doesn’t stain. Nor does it suffer from color fading, making it the perfect choice for patio furniture.
Good alternatives to olefin are polyester and duck cloth. Polyester is synthetic and will stand up well to outdoor conditions if you treat it with a UV-resistant product.
Duck cloth is a heavy woven material made from cotton. It can also be found in the more traditional linen. It’s a type of canvas named after the Dutch word for linen canvas, doek. Incredibly hard-wearing and slightly burn resistant, Duck cloth won’t snag or tear.
Where Can I Buy Upholstery Fabric?
You can buy upholstery fabric from your local fabric retailer. However, you might not be able to take it home with you.
Due to the limited space available in local stores, you may find they don’t stock many couch fabrics. Instead, they are likely to have swatches or sample books showing the different upholstery fabrics they offer.
All you need to do is look through the book. Samples allow you to touch and feel the fabric, knowing how soft or flexible the textile will be. Then, simply order from the sample book and wait for the upholstery fabric to be delivered to the store. It can mean a couple of trips, but for the right material, it’s worth the effort.
Home décor stores and some department stores also stock upholstery fabric. Or at least have sample books for you to look through.
Alternatively, you can buy upholstery fabric from an online store like Fabric.com. The process is the same. You look at the images on the screen and make a choice. However, with an online store, you only have pictures and a written description of the material.
Upholstery Fabric by the Yard
Upholstery fabric by the yard can vary in price depending on the type of material you are purchasing. Natural fiber textiles like wool will be more expensive than a synthetic alternative.
A canvas fabric or duck cloth can be anywhere between $7 and $15 per yard. While a polyester material is likely to be closer to $6-$13 per yard. The actual price you pay will vary according to where you are located and where you are buying the fabric. Brand names and high-end fabric retailers will charge more than a discount store online.
An exception to that is real leather. Actual leather can be hard to find locally. In fact, your local retailer is unlikely to have any. You might have to travel to a specialist store in another area. Or purchase it online. Its lack of availability makes leather an expensive option wherever you buy it from.
With leather, your starting price could range from $25 per yard and up. Some higher quality leathers can have a starting price as high as $45 per yard.
There are a lot of different couch fabrics available. You can use natural fibers like cotton or wool. Or synthetic options like polyester and olefin. Whatever fabric you choose, it needs to be durable and long-lasting. But, more importantly, make sure it’s soft and comfortable to sit on.
I hope this article has helped you find the right fabric for your couch. Which one suits your needs best? Will you be going for traditional leather? Or how about a plushy feel with chenille? Let me know in the comments.