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Types Of Upholstery Fabric

Types of Upholstery Fabric: A Comprehensive Guide

As a DIY enthusiast, one of the most daunting tasks of any furniture overhaul is selecting the right fabric for the project. Knowing the types of upholstery fabric on the market and their respective characteristics is key to making the best choice in upholstering furniture. With so many options – from synthetic fabrics to natural fibers and from specialty upholstery fabrics to finishing options – it can become a little overwhelming. This article is meant to curb this confusion and provide insight about the types of upholstery fabric and materials, to help you make the perfect choice.

Types of Upholstery Fabric & Materials

When it comes to equipping furniture with appropriate upholstery, it’s important to understand the types of fabrics and materials available. Whether you’re looking for a durable synthetic fabric or a more luxurious natural fiber, there’s sure to be something to suit your needs. There are many types of fabrics and materials to choose from, and each one will bring its own set of benefits and features. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester, vinyl, and acrylic offer durability and versatility, while natural fibers like cotton, linen, leather, wool, and silk are luxuriously soft and inviting. Specialty upholstery fabrics such as Sunbrella, hemp, microsuede, and outdoor fabrics can also be used to create beautiful furniture. In addition, finishing options such as being fire retardant, performance finishes, and stain repellent finishes can be applied to upholstery fabrics for added protection and care. Understanding the different types of upholstery fabric and materials available can help you find the right fabric for your furniture.

Synthetic Fabrics

Synthetic fabrics are among the most popular options for upholstery, and with good reason. Synthetic fabrics are lightweight, durable, and easy to care for while offering a wide range of colors, textures, and patterns. Here are some of the most popular synthetic fabrics:

  • Polyester: A synthetic fiber that is known for its colorfastness, strength, and affordability. It is also resistant to wrinkles and static, making it a great option for furniture upholstery.
  • Vinyl: A synthetic fabric with a strong, waterproof film. Vinyl upholstery is often used in outdoor furniture and in other high-moisture areas. It has a shiny appearance and is available in a range of colors.
  • Acrylic: A lightweight fabric with a high resistance to fading, shrinking, and pilling. It is also known for its luxurious feel and is available in a wide range of colors. It is often used in furniture upholstery, as well as in pillows and window treatments.

Synthetic fabrics offer a great value for the money and can withstand heavy use, making them a great choice for furniture upholstery. They are also low-maintenance, quick-drying, and often offer UV protection, making them great for outdoor use. Some synthetic fabrics can also be fire retardant or have a performance finish, which helps protect them from spills and stains.


Polyester is one of the most common upholstery fabrics available. It is a synthetic material, meaning it is not made from natural fibers, and is thus highly durable and resilient. In terms of care, polyester is relatively easy to maintain and clean. It is often treated with a protective finish, making it resistant to wrinkles, mildew, and fading. Due to its flexibility and strength, polyester is used in a wide range of upholstery fabrics, including drapery, slip covers, and furniture covers. For heavier fabrics, however, polyester may not be the ideal choice.

Polyester can be used in all types of upholstery designs. It is known for its vibrant colors, making it a great choice for printed fabrics, or fabrics with intricate designs. In addition, because it is so durable, polyester can be used both indoors and outdoors, varying in weight depending on the application. For long-term use, polyester may not be the most cost-efficient choice, as it can become matted and faded over time. However, when used properly, this fabric can provide a great look while also lasting a long time.

When selecting a polyester material for upholstering furniture, it is important to keep in mind the amount of wear and tear it will undergo. For more heavy-duty applications, such as outdoor furniture, it is best to choose a fabric with a higher weight, as it will be more resistant to wind, rain, and even sun. In any application, the fabric’s color should be considered, as some colors may fade over time. Additionally, it is often best to choose a finish that protects the fabric from water, stains, and even dirt.


Vinyl is one of the most resilient synthetic fabrics used for upholstery and offers an attractive look for furniture and home decor. Because of its durability, vinyl fabric is a great choice for high-traffic areas in the home like living rooms, dens, and family rooms. It is also often used for pieces in an area with kids and pets due to its resistance to stains and wear. Vinyl fabrics are made from a blend of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resins and plasticizers that are woven together to create a strong and versatile material. They come in various styles, textures, and colours and are also available in both solid and patterned designs. Vinyl upholstery also has some additional benefits, such as being water resistant, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal, making it a great choice for family homes, where spills are common. Vinyl fabric is relatively inexpensive and easy to clean and maintain. Vacuuming and occasionally spot-cleaning with a mild soap and water should be sufficient to keep it in top condition.


When it comes to synthetic fabrics, acrylic is a popular option for its durability and affordability. It’s a synthetic fabric manufactured from oil-based chemicals. Acrylic is a lightweight, soft and comfortable fabric that is also resistant to stretching and colour fading. It is a good choice for upholstery that’s used frequently such as dining room chairs and sofas, as it offers a good blend of comfort and durability.

When it comes to cleaning, acrylic is the most easy fabric to care for and keep looking new. The fabric is very resistant to fading and can be vacuumed regularly to keep it clean. It can also be machine washed on a gentle cycle, although it is recommended to use a mild detergent with cold water to avoid shrinkage.

One of the great benefits of using acrylic is that it is breathable and comfortable, so you don’t have to worry about it trapping heat inside the furniture. This is great for rooms with warmer climates as it will help to keep the room cooler.

Overall, acrylic fabric is an excellent choice for upholstered furniture because of its durability, affordability and easy maintenance. It is comfortable and breathable, so it can be used in any room regardless of climate. Plus, it comes in a variety of colors and textures, so you are sure to find the perfect material to match your existing furniture and décor.

Natural Fibers

When it comes to natural fibers for upholstery fabric, there are four common fibers used: cotton, linen, leather and wool.

Cotton is a versatile, durable and soft upholstery fabric that is usually blended with other fibers for added stability and texture. It’s often used on furniture such as sofas, chairs, and ottomans, as well as on decorative pillows and cushions. Cotton is easy to clean and can often be spot-treated with warm water and a mild detergent.

Linen is another popular natural fiber used in upholstery fabric due to its cool, lightweight and airy feel. It is naturally resistant to wrinkles, holds its shape well, and drapes beautifully. Linen upholstery fabric is often used on living room and bedroom furniture to add texture and a natural look. It is also a great choice for slipcovers and other light-use upholstery projects.

Leather is the perfect choice when you’re looking for a luxurious look and feel. It is a stylish, classic material that adds an air of sophistication to any room. Leather is a durable upholstery fabric that can last for years with proper maintenance and care. Keep in mind that leather requires upkeep in the form of occasional conditioning to keep it soft and supple.

Wool is also an excellent choice for upholstery fabric due to its soft, luxurious feel and look. Wool upholstery fabric is extremely durable, making it a great choice for furniture that is used often. It is also resistant to wrinkles, so it will keep its shape well. It is important to note that wool upholstery fabric may be prone to pilling, so regular brushing and vacuuming are important to maintain its appearance.

These four natural fibers are just a few of the many types of fabrics available for upholstery use. Different fabrics have different properties that make them suitable for different types of furniture and areas in your home. It’s important to consider the intended use of the fabric, as well as your personal style and preferences, before making a selection.


Cotton is one of the oldest, most trusted, and most widely used upholstery fabrics in the world. It is available in a wide range of weaves, including plain-weave, twill, and sateen. Cotton is renowned for its softness and breathability, making it an ideal fabric for furniture upholstery in hot, humid climates. It is also very durable and can last longer than most other fabrics if given proper care.

Cotton upholstery is resistant to dirt, dust, and mildew, making it easy to maintain. It is also very easy to clean; spills or stains can be wiped away with warm soapy water. Cotton fabric is also very strong, often stronger than other fabrics, meaning it can stand up well to wear and tear.

When choosing a cotton upholstery fabric, it is important to consider both the type of weave used and the weight of the fabric. A heavier cotton will be more durable, while a lighter cotton is more breathable. Cotton can also be blended with other fabrics, such as polyester, to make a blend fabric with more strength and durability.

Overall, cotton is a great choice for upholstery fabrics. It is durable, comfortable, and easy to maintain, making it a favorite for those looking for furniture fabrics that will last for years.


Linen has been a popular choice for upholstery fabric for centuries, due to its durability, softness, and luxurious look. A perfect option for creating a timeless style, linen is composed of natural fibers that come from the flax plant. It is great for high-traffic areas and has incredible longevity. As one of the strongest natural fibers available, linen can be used to create breathable and comfortable upholstery fabric to fit any décor.

Linen is naturally wrinkle-resistant and breatheable, making it well-suited for hot and humid climates. It also offers a light and airy feel, making it an ideal choice for linen upholstery. The fabric is not only durable, but also has a luxurious sheen and drapes beautifully. Additionally, linen is incredibly versatile and can be used to create a variety of upholstery styles, from traditional to contemporary.

Linen upholstery fabric is also considered environmentally friendly, as linen is a natural fiber. The fabric is known for its resistance to moths and insects, as well as its fast drying capabilities. As for maintenance, linen fabric can be easily vacuumed, dry cleaned, or spot treated with mild detergent.

Linen upholstery fabric comes in a variety of colors and patterns to fit any style. Its traditional look is hard to replicate and creates a timeless look that adds character to any piece of furniture. With its softness and unparalleled durability, linen will bring a warm and inviting touch to any room in the home.


Leather is one of the more expensive types of upholstery fabric, known for its durability and luxurious feel. It’s an ideal choice for furniture to be enjoyed for generations, since leather is a natural material that can actually become more supple with age. Leather is also naturally fire retardant, so it’s great for use around kids or pets. But it can be susceptible to scratches and doesn’t do well in humid climates. Plus, leather requires regular maintenance and a special cleaning solution to keep it looking its best. As with most types of fabrics, there are various finishes available to customize the texture, look, and feel of leather. Consumers should take into account the overall wear and tear of an area, as well as their lifestyle, when making their choice. That way, they can enjoy their leather furniture for many years to come.


Wool is a natural type of upholstery fabric that is popular for its durability and comfort. It has been used in upholstery applications for hundreds of years, and is well known for its soft feel and natural appearance. Wool fabric is made from animal hair, usually from sheep or goats. It has a coarse texture, with a natural crimp (wrinkle) that helps it retain its original shape. Wool is also resistant to fading and wear over time, and is relatively easy to clean.

When choosing a wool upholstery fabric, it’s important to consider the quality of the fabric. Higher quality wool will be softer and have more natural crimp, while lower quality wool may be stiffer or have less crimp. It’s also important to consider the density of the fabric. A higher density wool fabric will be more durable and less likely to pill or mat, while a lower density wool fabric may be more prone to pilling and matting.

When it comes to care and maintenance, wool upholstery fabrics need to be treated with care. They should be vacuumed regularly and spills should be treated immediately. Some wool fabrics also need to be professionally cleaned on a regular basis in order to maintain their original look and feel. With proper care, wool upholstery fabrics will last for many years.


Silk is a naturally occurring material often used to upholster furniture. It is a luxurious, soft fabric that is lightweight yet extremely strong and has a unique shimmery appearance. It is more expensive than other fabrics and requires careful cleaning, but it is worth it for its natural beauty and lasting qualities.

Silk also has many benefits as an upholstery fabric: it offers an unparalleled level of comfort, flexibility, and breathability. Its lightweight quality makes it great for upholstering furniture, as it adds a soft layer without adding too much weight. As it’s naturally hypoallergenic, silk is great for those who suffer from allergies or skin sensitivities.

Silk is also a natural insulator, retaining heat in the winter and keeping it cool in the summer. It’s also fire-retardant and generally stain-resistant. It has a good lifespan and will last for years as long as it is kept away from direct sunlight, minimizing fading.

Silk upholstery fabric can be used on various kinds of furniture, from sofas and chairs to bed frames and headboards. In addition, due to its flexible qualities, it is possible to customize it for a unique look in any room. Choose silk if you’re looking for an upholstery fabric that is luxurious and comfortable, and be sure to invest in good cleaning products and follow the cleaning instructions given to ensure the fabric’s longevity.

Specialty Upholstery Fabrics

Specialty upholstery fabrics are fabrics that are designed to be used in particular environments, or with specific goals in mind. These fabrics often have specific characteristics, such as increased durability, increased protection against water and other elements, or improved strength.

For these reasons, specialty upholstery fabrics are popular choices for commercial and residential applications that require specific features. These fabrics can provide greater protection for furniture and upholstery, improve the look and feel of any area, and can be easier to clean and maintain than other types of fabrics.

Sunbrella is one of the more popular and well-known specialty upholstery fabrics. Sunbrella is a high-performance fabric that’s designed to withstand the harsh effects of ultraviolet light and to resist fading, staining, and mildew. This fabric is perfect for outdoor furniture, and is commonly used in patio and porch furniture, as well as umbrellas and awnings.

Hemp is another specialized upholstery fabric that’s gaining in popularity. This fabric is naturally insect-resistant, as well as being durable and lightweight. It’s also ecologically responsible; hemp is made from sustainable and renewable resources, such as the hemp plant.

Microsuede is a specialty upholstery fabric that’s made from ultra-fine synthetic fibers, giving it a soft texture that’s similar to velvet or suede. Microsuede is popular for resisting stains and for being easy to clean and maintain.

For outdoor applications, there are also specialized upholstery fabrics designed specifically for use in these areas. These fabrics are made to resist water, fading, abrasion, and mildew, and are also designed to be easy to clean. They can also provide protection against wind, sun, and rain.

These specialty upholstery fabrics provide a great way to add style and durability to any space, while also providing protection and increased performance. Whether you’re looking for a fabric for outdoor furniture or a fabric that will hold up to a busy commercial setting, there are plenty of options to choose from.


Sunbrella is an acrylic-based performance fabric that is often used in upholstery. Originally a solution dyed acrylic fabric that was developed to be used in awnings and umbrellas, Sunbrella has expanded its applications and remains one of the best performance fabrics for upholstery. Not only is it fade-resistant and highly durable, but Sunbrella fabrics offer a luxurious look and feel, as well as a rich array of colors and textures that provide numerous design choices. Sunbrella fabrics are also highly flame-resistant, as well as mildew, water, and soil-resistant, and many of their fabrics have received certification by the United States Department of Agriculture for meeting the highest standards in both indoor and outdoor performance.

Sunbrella is great for outdoor furniture and upholstery, as it has a high resistance to fading under the sun’s UV rays and is designed to resist mildew, mold, and stains. It also has the convenience of being easily wiped clean with a mild soap and water solution, and can act as an insect repellent due to its tightly woven fibers. Sunbrella is also extremely versatile and can be used to create a wide range of looks — from a classic pattern to a modern, tailored design — while still standing up to some of the toughest weather conditions. Its breathability and comfort also mean it is well-suited for indoor furniture applications, as it won’t retain moisture and remains comfortable for longer periods.

Overall, Sunbrella is a highly versatile, durable, and comfortable performance fabric often used for upholstery projects both indoors and out. Its flame-resistant and stain-resistant properties, coupled with its vibrant color and texture choices, make it a smart and affordable choice for home furnishings.


Hemp upholstery fabrics are becoming increasingly popular among those looking for eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives when decorating their home or outdoor spaces. Unlike other materials commonly used for upholstery, hemp is a rapidly renewable resource, making it the perfect choice for those who want to reduce their carbon footprint.

Hemp is a durable and long-lasting fabric that stands up to wear and tear. Its breathability and natural insulation capabilities make it ideal for upholstery fabric, as it is less likely to retain heat or cold, making it comfortable in all weather conditions. Additionally, hemp fabrics are naturally resistant to mildew, mold, and water, making it a great choice for use on upholstered chairs, sofas, and ottomans that may be exposed to moisture.

In addition to its many practical benefits, hemp materials come in a variety of beautiful patterns and colors that can give any space a unique and stylish look. Like all upholstery fabrics, hemp needs to be carefully cleaned and maintained to ensure a long-lasting lifespan. Regular vacuuming and spot cleaning can help keep hemp upholstery in good condition for years to come.


Microsuede is a type of upholstery fabric that is incredibly soft and luxurious to the touch. It has the look and feel of real suede, but unlike real suede, it is breathable, durable, and easy to care for. Often used to make home decor items such as pillows, window treatments, and furniture covers, microsuede can instantly give a room a warm and inviting feel.

Microsuede is a man-made fabric, usually made from polyester or nylon fibers. It is usually easy to clean and most types are machine washable. It is also less likely to crack and fade than genuine suede. However, because of its synthetic material, microsuede may not be as comfortable against the skin as real suede and can also be thinner than genuine leather.

While microsuede can certainly provide the look and feel of real suede without the larger price tag, the longevity of the fabric may not match up to real suede. Microsuede can be prone to piling, fading, and cracking with prolonged use, so it is important to take good care of it. With proper care and maintenance, microsuede can look just as beautiful and last just as long as genuine suede.

Outdoor Upholstery Fabric

Outdoor upholstery fabric is designed to withstand the outdoor elements better than other fabrics. It’s a great choice for pool decks, patios, and other open-air areas. It also provides an attractive finishing touch to outdoor furniture and other items. There are many different types of outdoor upholstery fabrics available, so it’s important to take the time to select the right one for your needs.

When selecting outdoor upholstery fabric, it’s important to consider several factors such as:

• UV protection. Look for fabrics that provide UV protection to keep your fabrics from fading or deteriorating over time.

• Water resistance. Rain or snow can quickly damage unprotected fabrics, so look for fabrics with a water-resistant finish.

• Durability. Take into account how much use the fabric will receive. High-density fabrics will last longer, while low-density fabrics are more likely to wear down quickly.

• Color. Choose a color that won’t easily fade in the sun. Darker colors are more likely to retain their original color over time.

• Texture. Different textures add visual interest and provide unique tactile experiences. Choose a texture that will compliment your outdoor space.

Outdoor upholstery fabric options include:

• Acrylic: Acrylic outdoor upholstery fabric is lightweight, resists fading, and is resistant to water. It is often treated with a flame-retardant finish for added protection.

• Polyester: Polyester outdoor upholstery fabric is very durable and resistant to stretching. It is also resistant to fading and water, making it a great option for outdoor applications.

• Olefin: Olefin outdoor upholstery fabric looks and feels similar to wool, but is much more durable. It also boasts excellent water and stain resistance.

• Vinyl: Vinyl outdoor upholstery fabric is resistant to moisture, UV damage, and mildew. It is also easy to clean and can last for years with proper maintenance.

• Sunbrella: Sunbrella outdoor upholstery fabric is the industry gold standard when it comes to outdoor fabrics. It offers a wide range of colors and patterns, is resistant to fading, and is easy to clean.

When selecting outdoor upholstery fabric, it’s important to keep your specific needs in mind, as well as the climate in which your fabric will be used. With the right fabric, you can create a beautiful and comfortable outdoor space that will last for years.

Finishing Options for Upholstery Fabrics

The finishing options for upholstery fabrics are the types of treatments used to protect them from everyday wear, spills, and stains. Upholstery fabrics are available in a variety of textures, patterns, and colors, and the proper finishing will ensure that they look as good as new for longer.

  • Fire Retardant Finish: Fire retardant upholstery fabric is designed to protect against flammability and provide a fire-resistant barrier. It is often treated with a fire retardant chemical that adds an extra layer of protection.
  • Performance Finish: Performance finishes are designed to protect against water, oil, and other liquids, and help the upholstery fabric perform beyond basic requirements. This type of finish is often used in commercial settings and will help extend the life of the fabric.
  • Stain Repellent Finish: Stain repellent upholstery fabrics are treated with a chemical that causes liquids and dirt to bead on the surface of the fabric, making them easy to clean. This type of finish is ideal for high-traffic areas and for those who have children or pets.

These finishing options are designed to give upholstery fabrics a longer life and protect them from damage. To make sure that the fabric is treated correctly, it is important to read the manufacturer’s instructions on how to care for the fabric. Upholstery fabrics are designed to last, and with the proper finishing, they can look new for years.

Fire Retardant Finish

Fire retardant finish is a popular option when it comes to upholstery fabrics. This finish is designed to prevent or slow the spread of fire and reduce the amount of damage caused by it. The finish works by creating a barrier between the fabric and the fire, allowing it to burn more slowly and with less intensity. It is most commonly applied to synthetics such as polyester and vinyl, as well as natural fibers like cotton and wool.

This type of finish is often used in commercial and public spaces such as hotels, restaurants, and office buildings where fire safety regulations are more stringent. It is also often required in residential settings where the occupants may be more vulnerable in the event of a fire. The finish is available in many different treatments, from traditional flame-resistant to the newer fire-resistant coatings.

When selecting a fire retardant finish for your upholstery fabric, it is important to consider its durability and washability. Some of the most popular fire retardant finishes are water-based, so they can stand up to regular cleaning and laundering. However, you should always check the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure that the fire retardant finish is appropriate for the item in question. Some finishes may also contain chemicals or solvents that could be toxic or hazardous if handled improperly.

Finally, remember that fire retardant upholstery fabrics are not fireproof. They are designed to provide a measure of protection in the event of an emergency, but it is important to make sure that other fire safety procedures such as smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and evacuation plans are in place. With the right fire retardant upholstery fabric, you can increase the safety of your home or office and have a little peace of mind.

Performance Finish

Performance finishes are a type of upholstery fabric treatment designed to enhance the fabrics’ durability and resistance to wear and tear. These treatments often add water resistance and can aid in sanitation as well. Most performance finishes also provide resistance to staining, fading, and are often treated with fire retardants.

When choosing performance finishes, it’s important to consider the fabrics’ intended use and unique features. The following list details common performance finishes and their benefits:

  • Water Repellent Coating: Protects fabrics from liquid spills and helps contain any pet accidents.
  • Stain Repellent Coating: Guards fabrics against spillage of food, drinks, and greasy substances.
  • Antimicrobial Coating: Used for fabrics in medical, hospitality, and high-traffic areas, this helps reduce bacteria and other bacteria-associated smells or stains.
  • Fire Retardant Coating: Adds protection from flames, helping to slow the spread of fire to fabrics, but also helps protect fabrics from fading due to sunlight or other UV rays.
  • Mildew Resistant Coating: Ideal for fabrics in a humid environment such as outdoor furniture, the mildew resistant coating prevents fabrics from becoming moldy over time.

Performance finishes are an important factor to consider when selecting upholstery fabrics as they can make fabric more durable and longer-lasting. Whether it’s protecting fabrics from fire, water, grease, or UV rays, performance finishes can offer protection that can help extend the lifespan of your upholstery.

Stain Repellent Finish

Stain repellency is an important quality for upholstery fabrics. It ensures that liquid spills and stains won’t set into the fabric fibers making it easy to clean and maintain. There are several ways that stain repellancy can be applied to fabrics.

  • Chemical coatings
  • Stain resistant coatings
  • Sealing back the fabrics

Chemical coatings are applied to the fabric to give it a waterproof, stain-resistant property. This works by creating a barrier between the fabric and any liquids, making it difficult for them to settle into the fabric fibres.

Stain resistant coatings are an effective way to make fabrics resistant to staining. These coatings can be applied as a finishing agent to the fabric, which then creates a barrier between the fabric and any liquids. This makes it easier to wipe up any spills and makes it more difficult for liquids to settle into the fabric fibres.

Sealing back the fabrics is another effective way of making them stain resistant. This involves using a special fabric sealer to coat the back of the fabric, creating a barrier which stops any liquids from seeping into the fabric. It also strengthens the fabric, making it more durable.

Making sure your upholstery fabrics are as stain-resistant as possible is important to ensure they look their best for longer. Striking a balance between style and practicality, while also choosing a fabric that is easy to maintain, is key to creating a look you will enjoy in years to come.