Upholstery,

Types of Upholstery Fabrics and Their Uses (10 Kinds)

When it comes to sprucing up your furniture, upholstery fabric is a game-changer. It’s more than just aesthetics; it’s also about the fabric’s durability, comfort, style, and maintenance requirements.

Quick Summary: I broke down below some popular fabric types and their uses, which are perfect for spicing up your home’s interior design and giving your furniture a fresh look.

Type of FabricUses
🌿 CottonEveryday furniture, versatile decor
🎀 SilkLuxury decor, formal settings, occasional furniture
🐑 WoolFormal settings, low-traffic areas, sustainable choice
🐄 LeatherDurable seating, luxury furniture, high-end decor
🌾 LinenFormal living rooms, adult areas, high-end decor
🧶 PolyesterHigh-traffic areas, everyday furniture
🌀 Olefin/PolypropyleneDurable upholstery, outdoor furniture, high-traffic areas
✨ RayonVersatile upholstery, semi-formal settings
🕸 VelvetLuxury furniture, statement pieces
🍂 SuedeLuxury seating, upscale decor

Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of natural and synthetic fabrics. Whether buying a new sofa or giving an old armchair a new lease on life, understanding the world of upholstery fabric can make all the difference.

Natural Fabrics

Let’s start with Natural Fabrics. You’ve probably heard of some of these – cotton, linen, wool. They’re the old favorites! These fabrics come from nature’s bounty, woven from the fibers of cotton plants or the soft threads of silkworms.

A blue couch with cotton fabric
Video | Wooden Street

Cotton is the most widely used natural fiber for upholstery. Cotton is often praised for its softness, durability, and breathability. It’s also hailed for its resistance to wear, pilling, and fading.

This resistance and durability allow cotton to hold up better in harsher conditions, allowing the fabric to fade slower than other materials. No wonder cotton is a clear favorite when upholstering your favorite couch or chair!

A couch with stripe pattern cotton fabric
Video | Wooden Street

Cotton is also a champion when it comes to versatility. Thanks to the ease of dyeing, cotton upholstery fabric can be found in various colors and patterns. This makes it a great choice for those looking to add a pop of color or a unique pattern to their decor.

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows regarding cotton. Despite its many advantages, cotton does have a couple of downsides. It’s important to note that cotton is not resistant to stains, meaning spills can quickly become stubborn.

Additionally, cotton fabric tends to catch dust and dirt, which can make it a less ideal choice for everyday use furniture. Nothing that a good stain-resistant treatment and regular cleaning can’t handle, right?

Silk

An ornate gold chair upholstered in gold silk fabric
Video | KOVI Fabrics

Let’s talk about a fabric that screams luxury – Silk.

This natural and authentic fiber is one of the priciest in the market, but boy, is it worth it! With its sensual feel and glamorous appeal, silk instantly elevates any interior setting. It’s perfect for those massive mansions or formal decors that demand a touch of elegance and luxury.

Silk isn’t just about the looks; it’s functional too. It’s got an anti-wrinkle and anti-crush resistance that makes it ideal for upholstery. You can easily use it for sofas, throws, and bedding without worrying about unsightly wrinkles or crushed areas.

But there’s a flip side too. Silk is strong, but it can snag easily. So, it might not be the best choice for areas with high use. You might want to reserve it for rooms used on special occasions rather than everyday lounging spots.

Historically, Silk has been the fabric of choice in royal households. It’s been used in dresses and upholstery, making it a versatile fabric. When you touch a piece of furniture upholstered with silk, you’ll instantly feel the classic and luxurious vibe it gives off.

If you’re looking for a statement piece and don’t mind a bit of extra maintenance, a silk sofa could be just what you need. Remember, silk is spun from natural fibers from silkworms and other bugs.

There’s nothing softer, shinier, or more lush than silk. However, remember, what you gain in style, you might have to sacrifice in durability.

Wool

Wool is a natural wonder and a fabric that’s been around for centuries. It’s the perfect choice for those who seek a blend of durability and luxurious comfort.

Made from sheep’s fleece, wool is resistant to wear, tear, and wrinkling. Plus, it’s easy to clean and maintains its soft, cozy feel even under heavy use.

But don’t let the coziness fool you. Wool is a tough contender in the world of upholstery fabrics. Its natural fire resistance and overall sustainability make it a great choice for any home.

One of the unique characteristics of wool is its versatility in weaving patterns. From the traditional weave to the characteristic twill diagonal patterning, wool can take on any form.

Even stitch-bonded wool, more technically known as felted woolen fabric, doesn’t have a weave, making it easy to fit around all the curves and shapes of any furniture design.

And let’s not forget about its temperature-controlling properties. It’s excellent in hot weather, too, so you’ll find wool comfortable, whatever the climate.

Despite all these benefits, wool isn’t the most common upholstery fabric. It carries a higher price tag than cotton but is more affordable than leather. It’s best used in formal or low-traffic areas where its elegance can truly shine.

So, if you’re looking for a fabric that can withstand a lot of wear and tear and add a touch of elegance to your space, consider wool upholstery fabrics. They’re not just for sweaters anymore.

Leather

Let’s dive into the world of leather upholstery. There are two main types of leather used in upholstery: bonded leather and genuine leather.

Bonded leather is a smart choice for families with children and pets. It’s made by using leftover scraps, which helps to reduce waste. It’s just as versatile as genuine leather, available in a wide array of colors and textures, and has the bonus of being highly durable and flame-resistant. Bonded leather looks and smells like the real deal without the hefty price tag.

When it comes to genuine leather, it’s been around for a long time. It’s sturdy and resilient and is a popular choice for upholstery. However, it tends to crack and peel when exposed to direct sunlight. So, if you’re considering genuine leather, keep your furniture out of the sun’s path.

Next up, let’s talk about artificial leather. PVC leather is a favorite among artificial leathers due to its affordability and variety in color, texture, and grain. It’s also resistant to cleaners and disinfectants. The best part? It uses no animal products, making it a better choice for those with ethical considerations.

So, when choosing your upholstery, consider what is most important to you— affordability, durability, or aesthetics. With all these options, there’s a type of leather for everyone.

Linen

Let’s discuss a fabric that’s been a go-to choice for many designers – Linen. Derived from the flax plant, linen is an all-natural fabric that’s not only environmentally friendly but also adds a stylish yet relaxed look to your furniture. It’s especially popular in shabby chic and Belgian decorating styles.

One thing I love about linen is its breathability. Similar to cotton, it offers a cool, comfortable feel, which is perfect for those hot summer days. Plus, it’s stronger than cotton, making it a great choice for upholstery.

But what sets linen apart is its versatility. It can be dyed and woven into countless patterns, giving you endless design possibilities.

I’ve got to be honest with you. Linen does have its downsides. It can easily stain and wrinkle, so it might not be the best choice for high-traffic areas like the family living room. But here’s a tip. Opt for a performance linen. It holds up better in high-traffic areas and can be easily dry-cleaned.

And if you’re a fan of that earthy-shaded soft upholstery you’ve seen in a friend’s house, you can create the same look with linen. Its smooth and alluring texture is sure to draw compliments from your guests.

However, remember that linen is best suited for formal living rooms or adult areas. It soils and wrinkles easily and won’t withstand heavy wear. But the good news is linen resists pilling and fading. And if it gets soiled, it can be professionally cleaned to avoid shrinkage.

And because they’re natural fibers, they have inherent dirt-repellant properties. Plus, they can be machine-washed. So, if you’re looking for a fabric that’s affordable, easy to care for, and softer with each wash, linen could be just what you need.


Synthetic Fabrics: A Durable and Affordable Choice

As we transition from natural fabrics, let’s dive into Synthetic Fabrics. Crafted through the synthesis of chemicals and natural products, synthetic fibers are woven into fabrics we see and use daily. You might know some of them – polyester, olefin, nylon, acrylic, or rayon.

Polyester

Polyester is a go-to synthetic material recognized for its durability and resistance to wrinkles and fading. Moreover, it holds its shape well, never stretching or sagging like other fabric options. If you need strong, durable upholstery for high-traffic areas, polyester is your guy.

But wait, there’s more! Polyester is a proper synthetic fiber made from oil. While we often encounter it in blends, the polyester strengthens the party and is a real champ to increase resistance.

However, I’d advise against going for pure polyester fabric. Why, you ask? Well, its production isn’t exactly environmentally friendly, and it’s highly flammable, requiring chemical treatment for upholstery use.

But fear not! Recycled polyester fabrics are gaining popularity and make a stellar choice for commercial upholstery, where the need for incredibly durable fabric is a high priority.

Polyester doesn’t only play well on its own, but it also plays well with others. Especially with cotton, it lends its wrinkle protection superpowers, making the fabric more resilient. Plus, polyester holds onto dyes like a champ, making it an early favorite for outdoor upholstery yarn.

On top of being soft, comfortable, and versatile, polyester is perfect for households with kids and pets. Why? Simply because this upholstery fabric is not easily damaged. However, when blended with wool, polyester could lead to pilling problems. So, keep that in mind.

Olefin or Polypropylene

A person is adding upholstery polypropylene fabric to a wooden bench
Video | Bale Living

Olefin, known as polypropylene, is a game-changer in the upholstery world. It’s not just your run-of-the-mill synthetic fabric. Nope, olefin is the second most produced synthetic fiber, following closely behind our old friend, polyester.

But what sets olefin apart is its durability and easy-clean nature. You won’t even need protective stain treatments, like Scotchgard, for this tough guy. This fabric’s resilience comes from its unique creation process – made from melted plastic!

One of the things I love about olefin is that it’s highly resistant to water, heat, and fire. It’s like the Superman of fabrics! Water-based stains? No problem. They’re easily removed from olefin.

You can even use bleach to clean it without worrying about discoloration. That’s because the dye is blended with the molten plastic during creation, making the color resistant to fading.

Not only is this fabric tough, but it’s also environmentally conscious. Olefin is the second most produced plastic, yet it produces less waste by weight than any other plastic. Plus, it’s readily recyclable in almost all recycling programs within the United States.

Because of these impressive properties, olefin isn’t just for indoor furniture. It’s an ideal fabric for outdoor use as well. It’s mostly stain-resistant, easy to clean, and resistant to abrasion, chemicals, and fire. It does check all the boxes.

Rayon

Although it’s been around for over a hundred years, Rayon has continually evolved. Today’s versions are relatively durable but don’t expect them to look new for long.

Regular reupholstering might be a part of your relationship with rayon furniture. It’s also prone to scratch easily from sharp objects or pet claws, so it’s better suited for households without kids and pets.

One of the oldest synthetic fibers, rayon, was first developed to imitate silk, cotton, and linen. While it’s not as popular today, it’s still used in combination with other fabric types. It shares many qualities with natural fibers, making it an ideal pick for your sofas, couches, and armchairs.

But here’s the catch: Rayon is not water-resistant. It loses its original appearance when wet or moist, and it stretches easily with a low elastic recovery. Therefore, it won’t look new for long if not maintained well.

Rayon is incredibly budget-friendly to manufacture, making it a highly cost-effective upholstery choice.


Specialized Upholstery Fabrics

Let’s dive into the world of specialized upholstery fabrics! They’re not just materials; they’ve been crafted with great skill and precision for hundreds of years.

The level of craftsmanship is truly astounding; we’re talking about details like diamond tufting, top stitching, channels, webbing, or coil springs. This isn’t your grandma’s sewing circle!

Faux Leather

Two chairs with green upholstered seats
Video | Sailrite

Faux leather, or artificial leather, is my go-to when I’m looking for a top-notch alternative to real leather. It’s either the cost or moral reasons that drive some people towards this choice.

Trust me, the modern synthetic ones are so hard to tell apart from the real deal, and they offer just about the same functionalities – but for a lot less. So, if you’re planning a high-end sofa for your room, this could be it.

Just like genuine leather, faux leather isn’t perfect. It’s prone to cracking, and while it’s vegan, it’s not the best buddy for our planet due to the waste it can create. But let’s not forget it’s a champ when resisting food and drink stains.

Mixing wool with polyester upholstery can give you a comfort level off the charts. But remember, every rose has its thorns. PVC, used in some faux leathers, isn’t as breathable as other upholstery fabrics. While durable, faux leather might lose its shine sooner than expected. Sharp objects are also a no-no—they could put your artificial leather upholstery at risk.

Certain fabrics seem to be best friends with specific couch shapes. Club or Ottoman-style couches and faux leather or real leather upholstery are a match made in heaven. Others, like linen or cotton, prefer the company of looser, more casual styles.

Velvet

Velvet is a hybrid fabric of natural fibers like silk and cotton and synthetic fibers like polyester. This unique combination creates a texture that is plush, soft to the touch, and presents an ambiance of opulence.

This luxurious fabric adds softness and richness to furniture while providing a warm, inviting appearance. Available in various colors, velvet is out there to match your furniture.

But remember that while it’s liquid-resistant, it doesn’t repel dirt and stains. Over time, it’s common for velvet to flatten or wear out. So, it might not be the best choice for a family sofa, but it’s perfect for more formal settings or low-traffic areas.

For centuries, velvet has been synonymous with luxury. It owes its soft characteristics to silk, from which it was originally made. These days, real luxury velvet, made entirely from silk, can be quite pricey.

I bet you’re wondering why velvet is so ‘in’ right now. Well, it’s all down to its high performance. Contrary to what you might think, velvet is pet-friendly, kid-friendly, and rich in color. This fabric provides warmth on a rainy day, making it a popular choice in many interior design magazines.

Suede

Let’s shift gears and talk about suede. Now, suede is a type of leather with a napped finish. It’s known for its soft, velvety touch, and it’s a popular choice for upholstery. It adds a sense of luxury and comfort to any piece of furniture.

You see, suede comes from the underside of animal skin, which is softer and more pliable than the outer layer. Like leather, it’s a by-product of the meat industry, meaning it’s not the most ethical choice.

However, if you can find good quality vintage suede, you’re in for a treat. It’s a fantastic natural option for upholstery.

A close up of a couch in a room that uses upholstery suede fabrics
Video | Art of Clean

When it comes to durability, suede is rather sturdy and resilient. It’s an excellent option for furniture in high-traffic areas like family and living rooms. Plus, it’s fairly easy to clean, which is a bonus!

Despite its many advantages, suede does come with a unique set of challenges. It’s not as hard-wearing as other types of leather, so it might not be the best choice for homes with kids or pets. Also, it’s not water-resistant, meaning spills can be a problem.

But don’t let those caveats deter you! If you love the soft, warm texture of suede and can handle its maintenance, it can be a fantastic addition to your home. It’s just about finding the right furniture and place for it.


Maintenance Tips

Alright, folks! Let’s dive into some rock-solid maintenance tips to keep those fabrics looking as good as new. Here’s the lowdown:

Fabric TypeMaintenance Tips
CottonBrush gently weekly. Blot spills immediately; spot clean with cold water and mild detergent.
SilkAvoid direct sunlight. Blot spills promptly. Dry clean for deep stains.
WoolVacuum regularly. Blot spills and spot clean with lukewarm water and wool detergent.
LeatherWipe with a damp cloth. Use a mild soap for stains. Condition every 6-12 months.
LinenVacuum weekly. Blot spills. Consider dry cleaning for a thorough cleaning.
PolyesterLight vacuum or brush. Spot clean with warm water and mild soap.
OlefinClean with mild detergent and warm water.
RayonVacuum weekly. Spot clean with cold water and mild detergent.
VelvetBrush softly to remove dust. Blot spills. Professional cleaning is recommended for deep stains.
SuedeUse a suede brush for dirt and to restore naps. Blot spills. Use a suede eraser for tougher stains.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do You Have Any Quick Tips for DIY Upholstery Cleaning?
    • You bet! Mix a bit of mild detergent with warm water for a simple cleaning solution. Test it on an inconspicuous spot first. For tougher stains, consider a fabric-specific cleaner, but always read the label. And when in doubt, professional cleaning might be the way to go.
  • Can I Mix and Match Different Upholstery in One Room?
    • You’re speaking my language! Mixing and matching is like creating a symphony in your space. You can pair a leather sofa with velvet accent chairs. It’s all about balance and ensuring the colors and patterns complement each other.
  • How Often Should I Update My Upholstery?
    • It depends on the wear and tear, but a good rule of thumb is every 7-10 years. If you’ve got a favorite chair looking tired, sometimes it needs a fabric refresh. It’s like giving your furniture a mini makeover!
  • Is There a Difference Between Commercial and Residential Upholstery?
    • Yes, siree! Commercial upholstery is made to withstand heavy use – think hotel lobbies or restaurants. It’s tougher and might not have as many design options. Residential upholstery, on the other hand, offers more variety in patterns and textures but might not stand up to super heavy use.
  • Any Insider Tips for Picking the Right Fabric?
    • Sure thing! First, think about the room’s vibe – is it casual or formal? Next, consider the furniture’s use. If it’s a couch, everyone flops on daily, go durable. Lastly, let your personality shine! Pick colors and patterns that make you happy.


References

Organizations:

Books:

  • “The Upholstery Bible” by Cherry Dobson
  • “Fabrics: A Guide for Interior Designers and Architects” by Marypaul Yates
  • “Upholstery: A Complete Course” by David James

Website Resources:

Video References:

Wooden Street

KOVI Fabrics

Classic Care Services Inc.

Edinburgh Upholstery

Principle Volvo Cars San Antonio

FaceLiftInteriors

Katzkin Leather

Optimum Cleaning Services

For Clean Sake

Neighborhood Carpet Cleaners

Bale Living

ALO Upholstery

McArdles Corporation PTY LTD

Sailrite

WINIW International Co.,Ltd

Artisan Upholstery Studio

OnlineFabricStore

The Home Depot

Art of Clean

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About Shelly

ShellyShelly Harrison is a renowned upholstery expert and a key content contributor for ToolsWeek. With over twenty years in the upholstery industry, she has become an essential source of knowledge for furniture restoration. Shelly excels in transforming complicated techniques into accessible, step-by-step guides. Her insightful articles and tutorials are highly valued by both professional upholsterers and DIY enthusiasts.

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