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Fabrics Buying Guide

The fabric you choose for your furniture should do more than just look good. How it feels, how long it lasts & how it cleans are also key factors to consider.


A furniture’s fabric or upholstery can account for a third or more of its total materials cost, so you’ll want to choose wisely. Most likely you’ll be living with this fabric for a few years, so along with appearance you need to think about how it wears, how it cleans and how environmental factors such as sunlight and moisture affect it. Will it be used on indoor or outdoor furniture? Will it get a lot of daily use? Do you have kids or pets? Answering these questions can help you make an informed furniture purchase.

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Types of Fabric


This natural fibre is the most used in decorative fabrics for a number of reasons. It is strong and durable, resists piling, and dyes well. It can be used on its own or blended with other types of fibres. Cotton’s main disadvantage is that it’s easily soiled.

Acrylic (aka Dralon)

A great outdoor fabric, acrylic is fade-resistant and mildew-resistant, plus it is easy to clean. Soft and lightweight, it offers superior wear, keeps it shape and dyes well.


Soft and lustrous, nylon is used in a number of printed fabrics since it dyes well. Although it offers superior wear, it is prone to pilling and fading so avoid placing it in direct sunlight.

Olefin (aka Herculon)

Olefin is a soft, woolly fabric used in blends. It is durable with superior wear, plus resists mildew and soiling. It can be damaged by sunlight, so avoid direct exposure.

Polyester (aka Dacron)

A familiar name, polyester is found in blended fabrics and suedes due to a number of its strengths. It can take on a variety of looks, resists wrinkling and fading, and is strong and durable. While it is a good outdoor fabric, take care since it is prone to soiling and piling.


While rayon is smooth and lustrous, it is also a versatile fabric that can be made to resemble cotton, silk or wool. It is best used in blends since it dyes well and resists piling but can be fragile on its own.


Although not technically a fabric, leather is a popular choice in furniture coverings. Great looking, luxurious and low maintenance, leather makes a style statement. To learn more about what to look for, read our Leather Furniture Buying Guide.

Fabric Care & Cleaning

How to Clean a Spill
  • Gently blot the spill with a clean (preferably white) towel.
  • Do not rub vigorously as this may cause the stain to go deeper into the weave of the fabric.
  • If the spill is a thick substance (e.g. mud) let the spill dry, then pry off most of the substance and brush off the remainder
Fabric Care Tips
  • Treating the fabric with a stain-repellent may extend the life of the fabric since these finishes cause liquid spills to bead up on the surface, which you can then blot away before a stain is created.
  • Take note that a stain repellent’s effectiveness decreases over time due to normal wear. Plus stain repellent does not equal waterproof.
  • Seat and back cushions should be flipped and rotated occasionally for more even wear.
  • Never remove the cushion covers from sofas or chairs for separate washing. They may shrink or look different from the rest of the piece after cleaning. The zipper is there to make it easier to put the filling in or if you need to get to the underside of the fabric if applying a local cleaning agent.
  • When in doubt about how to clean your furniture’s fabric, use a professional service.
Fabric Cleaning Codes

Listed below are among the most common codes that manufacturers provide for upholstery cleaning and care, with accompanying instructions for each code.

S: Spot clean the upholstery fabric with a water-free product, such as a mild water-free solvent or dry cleaning product.

W: Clean the upholstery fabric with a water-based detergent such as mild detergent and water mixture or a foam upholstery cleaner.

WS: Clean the upholstery fabric with either a water-based detergent or a water-free solvent, depending on the type of stain. Use a professional furniture cleaning service if the fabric is heavily soiled.

X: This upholstery fabric must be professionally cleaned. Never use any type of upholstery or water-based cleaner on the piece yourself. You should only vacuum and brush upholstery with this designation.