Let’s talk about Durable Upholstery – it seems we’ve all had the experience at least once – purchasing a sofa or chair in what appeared to be a really durable fabric, and having it look worn and stained surprisingly fast. It’s impossible to tell from looking at a fabric whether or not it will stand up to the everyday stress of family living. A silk sofa may be fabulous in a decorator’s eyes, but it doesn’t make sense in most homes. In fact, some very durable fabrics are not especially thick, and some expensive grade fabrics are not durable at all. Here are a few things to look for when purchasing new upholstery, or recovering your existing frame.
Abrasion Resistance: this indicates how many times you can rub a fabric back and forth before it shows visible signs of wear. Known as the Wyzenbeek rating, one “rub” would be equal to one instance of a person sitting down and sliding back into the cushions, or sliding forward and getting up. You can imagine how many times your furniture will be “rubbed” in a busy area like a family room. A popular industry standard for a fabric that would last well in a family room is 25,000 rubs. For example, heavy cotton that has a 25,000 rub rating (like a Pottery Barn sofa) will look tired and worn after about 7 years. If you have a high traffic room, I like to recommend 50,000 rubs or more. An upfront investment in a durable fabric saves money, since it doubles the length of time to the next upholstery purchase. Many furniture manufacturers don’t publish the rub rating of their fabrics, and to keep prices down it’s common for many of them to rate at 15,000 or less – so be sure to ask! This Peacock Blue velvet has a 40,000 rub rating and was perfect for a formal sofa in a home with young children:
Stain Resistance: clients will often ask me if a fabric is treated to resist stains. Many fabrics are pre-treated at the factory, with a shield that forms a barrier between the stain and fabric so the stain will easily lift off when the furniture is cleaned. Pre-treatment does not mean that stains won’t appear! But they should release easily with professional cleaning, and the treatment should be reapplied every few years. Our favorite product for fabric protection is called ForceField, and it’s easy to re-apply yourself.
Many fabrics are inherently stain-resistant because they’re made of a material that won’t easily absorb stains. Sunbrella and solution dyed acrylics fall into this category, but there are also many other options. These wonderful woven patterns were designed by Joe Ruggiero for outdoors or in:
I’ve had great success with 100% polyester chenilles and low-pile velvets, such as our Charisma Velvet, which comes in many colors. Another advantage of 100% synthetic fibers is that many are intended for use in hotels and restaurants, and can be washed occasionally without visibly fading the fabric.
While all fabrics fade over time, if your furniture is upholstered in acrylic or polyester and has a high rub rating, you may be able to toss the cushion covers in the washer occasionally (drip dry) and easily spot clean the rest of the piece of furniture between professional cleanings. This is a great option if slipcovers are not right for your room. Order a test swatch of the fabric to launder if you are not sure. This sectional is outdoor acrylic canvas, which can be washed without fading:
Construction: the weave of the fabric does make a big difference in wear and tear. There are many synthetic chenille fabrics that appear to be thick and sturdy, but a rubberized backing can be an indicator that the fabric needed to be stabilized and was actually not a very durable choice. Some fabrics made for commercial use feel rather thin, but are so tightly woven that they have a 100,000 rub rating or more. They can be a great choice for a lived-in sectional or the recliner that seems to be occupied all the time. A helpful trick is to hold a 6” square section of fabric in your two hands, pulling it tight and flat. Then try to pull the fabric in a diagonal direction – if the threads move easily to a slant, or you can see your fingertips through it, it’s not going to be a long lasting fabric. My favorite resort fabric, Brisbane upholstery fabric has a 50,000 rub rating and is 100% polyester for easy cleaning:
Pets and Children: Choose a tighter weave for homes with pets, since flat fabrics are less likely to catch on claws and unravel. The smaller the animal, the smaller the claws, so choose the smoothest fabric you can if you have cats or small dogs that jump on the furniture. Our 8 oz. Acrylic Canvas has a 50,000 rub rating and is smooth like cotton, so claws don’t pick it easily. Some clients have said that it doesn’t seem to have much appeal for cats since they prefer a chunkier texture.
We’ve also had success with Charisma velvet for larger dogs, because the low-pile texture does not mark easily.
Of course, any pet that digs or claws the furniture will eventually cause damage, but the right fabric can extend the time between replacement.
The ideal piece of furniture would arrive from the factory with a durable, stain-resistant fabric, but this is so often not the case. My policy is to provide durable upholstery fabrics directly to our frame manufacturer, so we can create custom furnishings that meet the needs of today’s busy families.