A Guide to Different Types of Upholstery Fabric for Furniture ๐Ÿ›‹

From durable linen to fade-resistant polyester, pick the best upholstery fabric for your furniture. Discover the different types and choose the right one ๐Ÿค”

Types of Upholstery Fabric: A Guide to Choosing the Best Fabric for Your Furniture

Selecting the ideal upholstery fabric is a crucial decision that will determine the look, feel, and durability of your furniture. With so many options available, it can be challenging to decide which type of fabric is best suited for your needs. This guide will walk you through the major categories of upholstery fabrics, outlining the key characteristics, pros and cons, and best uses for each material.

What are the Different Types of Upholstery Materials?

Upholstery fabrics generally fall into two main categories: natural fibers and synthetic fibers. Common natural fibers used in upholstery include cotton, linen, wool, silk, and leather. Synthetic options include polyester, olefin, acrylic, nylon, and microfiber. Beyond these basic fiber types, upholstery fabrics come in a wide variety of weaves, prints, and finishes.

Natural Upholstery Fabrics


As one of the most widely available and affordable natural fibers, cotton is a very popular upholstery fabric. Key features of cotton include:

  • Soft, breathable feel
  • Available in a huge range of colors and patterns
  • Strong and durable
  • Resistant to pilling
  • Prone to wrinkling and staining

Cotton works well for casual upholstery that sees everyday use. It’s easy to dye vivid colors. But the tendency to show stains makes cotton less than ideal for formal furniture.


Valued for its natural luster, linen makes an elegant upholstery choice. Considerations for linen include:

  • Smooth, luxurious feel
  • Strength and durability
  • Fades and wrinkles easily
  • Prone to soiling
  • Expensive compared to cotton

Linen excels at adding a touch of simple refinement. But it requires more maintenance and may not suit high-traffic areas.


Known for its warmth and softness, wool has natural properties that make it well-suited for upholstery:

  • Insulating and breathable
  • Naturally stain and flame resistant
  • Prone to pilling
  • Can felt and shrink when washed
  • Costly compared to synthetics

Wool brings comfort and an upscale look. But it’s best reserved for adult spaces since it can pill with heavy use.


Extremely refined yet delicate, silk upholstery carries an air of luxury. Considerations include:

  • Very expensive
  • Luxurious look and feel
  • Easily damaged and stained
  • Often dry clean only
  • Best for formal, low-traffic furniture

With proper care, silk upholstery imparts matchless elegance. But it’s not child or pet friendly.


The epitome of refined durability, leather has been used for centuries to upholster fine furniture, despite the fact that it can obviously be called a fabric very nominally. Benefits include:

  • Extremely strong and durable
  • Improves with age
  • Resists most spills
  • Expensive, especially for high quality
  • Not vegan/vegetarian

Leather stands the test of time. But lower quality leather may crack or peel.

Synthetic Upholstery Fabrics


A go-to synthetic for upholstery use, polyester offers ease of care and durability:

  • Colorfast and stain resistant
  • Retains shape well
  • Easy to clean
  • Low cost
  • Not as breathable as natural fibers
  • Can be hot for warmer climates

Polyester resists spills and everyday wear. But it may not be as comfortable for year-round use.


Known for its stain fighting abilities, olefin makes an extremely durable upholstery choice:

  • Made from polyethylene plastic pellets
  • Highly resistant to stains
  • Easy to clean with bleach
  • Prone to sun damage over time
  • Limited color and pattern options

Olefin stands up to heavy use. But it may not suit more refined decors.


A synthetic fabric noted for its versatility, microfiber combines softness with sturdy performance:

  • Made from finely woven synthetic (usually polyester) fibers
  • Feels plush like velvet
  • Stain, water and fade resistant
  • Prone to pilling with friction
  • Static cling is a downside

Microfiber looks lush but resists spills. Be sure to test for static cling.


Known for its solution-dyed option, acrylic brings colorfastness to outdoor upholstery uses:

  • Mimics the feel of wool
  • Resists fading with solution-dyed fiber
  • Not as breathable as natural fibers
  • Can pill without premium quality fiber

Acrylic suits poolside furniture. But lower grades may pill.


Valued for its blendability, nylon is frequently added to other fibers:

  • Makes velvet and chenille more crush resistant
  • Adds durability to natural fiber blends
  • Poor resistance to sunlight and heat
  • Prone to pilling

Nylon helps bolster the performance of other fibers. But alone, it is too prone to pilling.

What is the Highest Quality Upholstery Fabric?

The finest upholstery fabrics combine the luxury of natural fibers with the durability of synthetics. For example, a linen and polyester blend marries the elegance of linen with the wrinkle resistance of polyester. High-end wools offer unparalleled comfort with integrated stain protection. And premium leathers feel supple for years while resisting cracks. Test samples of any fabric you’re considering to ensure the quality and feel suit your vision.

What Are the Different Grades of Upholstery Fabric?

Upholstery fabrics are graded based on their durability, as measured by the Martindale rub test. The grades include:

  • Light duty: Martindale rub test under 15,000. Best for decorative items like throw pillows.
  • Medium duty: Martindale rub test 15,000 to 25,000. Suitable for residential upholstery.
  • Heavy duty: Martindale rub test above 25,000. Ideal for commercial upholstery applications.

Fabrics with higher Martindale rub test results will better withstand abrasion and pilling. Choose the duty level suited to your specific uses.

Which Upholstery Fabric is Best for a Sofa?

For sofas and other well-used furniture, look for durable medium to heavy duty fabrics with stain resistance. Cotton, linen, polyester, nylon blends, microfiber, and leather are excellent choices. Wool and silk look divine but may not withstand heavy use. Make sure to test fabric samples on your preferred furniture frame before committing.

What is the Most Durable Upholstery Fabric?

If your top priority is durability, synthetic microfibers and olefin score highest for resisting wear, stains and sunlight. For natural fibers, linen rates well for strength while top-grain leathers surpass all other upholstery fabrics in enduring years of use. Correct grain alignment is key when selecting leather.

Is Leather or Fabric Better for a Sofa?

Leather and fabric both make excellent upholstery options with some key tradeoffs:

  • Leather is more durable but fabric offers more variety.
  • Fabric breathes better, while leather resists spills.
  • Quality leather costs more than most fabrics.
  • Leather improves with age, while fabrics gradually wear.
  • Fabric can be removed for cleaning, leather needs specialty care.

Choose leather for enduring sophistication or opt for fabric to match your precise decorative vision.

What Upholstery Fabric is Best for Pets?

Pet friendly upholstery fabrics include microfibers, leather, denim, canvas, chenille, polyester, nylon blends, and olefin. Avoid delicate, loosely woven fabrics that can snag on claws. Look for fabrics with integrated stain protections. Tightly woven textures also help conceal pet hair.

What Couch Fabric is Best for Families?

For active families, performance is a must for upholstery fabric. Durable microfiber and polyester stand up to heavy use. Olefin and nylon resist stains. For comfort, soft chenille and cozy microplush work well. Just be sure to test for pilling. Crisp linen looks tailored but may wrinkle. Avoid silks or velvets that show every touch.

The Key is Choosing the Right Fabric for You

With proper selection, there are many excellent upholstery fabrics for any situation. Focus on texture, feel, maintenance and durability for your needs. Order samples to make an informed decision. And consult upholstery pros if you need guidance. Taking the time to choose the perfect fabric will result in furniture you’ll enjoy for years.

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