What You Need To Know About Upholstery Fabric

You sit on it, stand on it, maybe sleep on it, let the dog curl up on it, and you try to stop the cat from clawing it. It gets drinks spilled on it. You expect it to withstand all of this abuse and keep looking like new. What is truly amazing about good upholstery fabric is that it can meet your expectations.

What It Is Made Of

It starts with the fibers.The softest, most breathable fibers are natural ones such as cotton, linen and silk. They take dye very well but they crease, will shrink in cleaning and are very susceptible to the damaging rays of the sun.

The most durable upholstery fabrics are constructed of man-made fibers such as nylon and polyester. Both of these take dye well, are crease and stain-resistant, resist sun-fading and are fairly inexpensive to produce. Their drawbacks are mostly in their feel and lack of breathability -- they assume the temperature of the room. On a hot day, a polyester-covered sofa will feel warmer than a cotton-covered one.

Manufacturers of upholstery fabric blend man-made fibers with natural ones, producing a fabric that has the best of both worlds. A "60/40 cotton/poly" fabric, for example, has sixty percent cotton fiber and forty percent polyester. It will be fairly breathable and stay cool to the touch, and it will wear fairly well and clean reasonably well.

How Long It Will Last

To help you know how long your fabric may last manufacturers may include the rub count on their label. One rub is equivalent to someone sitting down. A double-rub is equivalent to someone sitting down and then getting back up. A double-rub rating of 30,000 indicates the fabric is well suited to residential wear. The least suited is 15,000 rubs or less. Over 50,000 is commercial grade and may be overkill for your living room sofa.

You will pay more for a higher rub count which does not necessarily add to the durability of the fabric. Each manufacturer also has their own grading system, specific to their products only, and therefore grade doesn't mean much to the consumer. 

What the Pattern Tells About the Fabric

You may find fabric by the bolt in a fabric store that you would love to use in an upholstery project, but the label doesn't specify the fabric usage. By looking at the direction of the pattern you can determine the intended end use of the fabric.

If you know this trick, you may find some super markdowns on upholstery fabric; putting the often expensive fabric within your reach. The pattern on upholstery fabric runs perpendicularly to the long edge. For example, if you lay a length of the fabric out as it would be on the back of a sofa, the pattern will run across the back of the sofa. This is called "railroaded" patterning. If the pattern runs parallel to the long edge, ("up the roll"), it is drapery fabric -- the pattern is printed such that it runs up the length of a curtain. 

How It is Cleaned 

Upholstery fabric is not meant to be washed and most cannot be dry-cleaned either; the manufacturer's label will stipulate the cleaning process. If in doubt, don't clean it.

The slightly sticky backing may disintegrate if the fabric is washed. The backing, which is applied to the fabric during manufacturing, helps keep the fabric from shifting around on the foam underlay and may also be part of the weave --  helping fibers stay in place.  

A factory-applied stain-resisting finish will also be removed with cleaning.  Dirt and grime will wear on the fibers and cause disintegration, so quick blotting up of spills  and occasional professional cleaning will help keep the fabric in prime condition. To learn more, contact a company like Brandt's Interiors & Workroom for help.