What is the best choice for your furniture?

With so many options, selecting a sofa fabric can quickly become overwhelming to the average furniture shopper. Many factors determine a fabric’s overall characteristics and general appropriateness for a specific application. As you begin your search for the “perfect” sofa, chair or sectional keep the following in mind when choosing the upholstery:

Key Factors to consider:

  • Your lifestyle, e.g., Do you have kids or pets? Do you eat on your sofa?
  • A fabric that is more expensive is not necessarily “better” than a less expensive one.
  • A fabric’s fiber content can provide clues as to how it will wear.
  • Thicker fabrics tend to upholster “neater” than thinner fabrics.
  • Fabrics that stretch less when you pull them diagonally at opposite corners will stay more taut over time than stretchier fabrics.
  • Larger weaves are more likely to be snagged by jewelry and pet claws causing unsightly pulls or loops.
Fabric choices
Fabric Spools

About Fabric Price

If you are choosing fabrics for a sofa that ranges in price from $2000 – $3000 it is safe to assume that the fabrics offered are going to be of a better quality than those available on a $500 – $1000 sofa. While the total base cost of a sofa, chair or sectional will give you some indication of its overall quality, the cost within a range is usually determined by the fabric selected. The most expensive fabric choice or “highest grade” within a range may not necessarily be the best fabric for your needs.

The “grading” systems on fabric samples at most furniture stores are price categories assigned by the manufacturer and refer to cost only. They are not grading the fabric in terms of quality. Every grading system is unique to each manufacturer and has no relation to another. One manufacturer’s lowest grade may be of better quality than a another manufacturer’s highest grade.

The price of a fabric is primarily determined by the cost to produce, not its “durability” (which can mean different things to different people). Factors affecting fabric production costs include the expense of the fibers used (natural fibers usually cost more), the dyeing process, the complication of the weave, etc.

To determine if the upholstery you select is appropriate for your needs, look or ask for information on cleaning codes, fiber content and abrasion resistance.

Fabric Cleaning Codes (CC)

W  Water based cleaners only
S  Solvent based cleaners only
WS  Water or Solvent based cleaners. (sometimes listed as SW)
X  Vacuum only

See our “Upholstery Cleaning Tips” for more information on cleaning your furniture.

Cleaning Code Considerations

W and WS fabrics are best for high use areas such as family rooms because they are generally more stain resistant and easier to clean with readily at hand products such as mild dish soap.

Just because the fabric can be cleaned with soap and water does not mean every spill is removable with soap and water. Fabric content affects stain resistance.

If you have kids and pets, S and X Cleaning Code fabrics should be avoided or treated with some type of fabric protection preferably by the manufacturer (although you can apply it yourself as well).

Many W and WS fabrics may also benefit from fabric protection particularly if they are made from natural fibers such as cotton or linen.

Fabric Content – Why does it matter?

There are many types of fibers used in the manufacture of upholstery fabric and their individual characteristics affect the performance of the fabric. Some of the most common fibers and their traits are listed below.

Fabric Content


Linen is a strong natural fiber but wrinkles easily. It has a relaxed “shabby chic” appearance and tends to have occasional slubs in the weave that some mistake for defects.
Stain risk: High | Pilling risk: Low to Medium


Cotton is a strong natural fiber but the durability of cotton can vary greatly depending on the weave. For the best outcome, any cotton fabric selected for furniture should be thick with a very tight weave.
Stain risk: High | Pilling risk: Low to Medium


Wool is a natural fiber made from the fleece of sheep. (It may also come from other animals such as alpacas.) It is thick and upholsters neatly and is naturally fire resistant.
Stain risk: Medium | Pilling risk: Low to Medium


Acrylic is a strong synthetic fiber that has a wool-like feel. It is typically blended with other fibers such as cotton or linen to add stain and fade resistance.
Stain risk: Low | Pilling risk: Low to High (there is a great variance in manufacture quality)


Rayon (or Viscose) is a man-made, cellulose-based fiber that is breathable with a soft, silk-like feel. It has a low elastic recovery and is usually blended with more resilient fibers to add a silky touch.
Stain Risk: Medium | Pilling risk: Medium to High


Polyester is a strong synthetic fiber that typically wears well alone or blended with other fibers. It resists stretching, fading and is stain resistant.
Stain risk: Low | Pilling risk: Low to Medium


Nylon is a strong synthetic fiber similar to polyester in resisting stains but is more susceptible to stretching. It is often blended with other fabrics to add strength and stain resistance. High exposure to sunlight should be avoided.
Stain risk: Low | Pilling risk: Medium


Olefin (or Polypropylene) is a strong, man-made fiber that resists fading, stains, mildew and insects. It is sensitive to heat so steam cleaning is not recommended. Long term sun exposure can cause the fabric to become brittle and break down.
Stain risk: Low | Pilling risk: Low

Fiber Summary:

  • Natural fibers are typically more susceptible to staining.
  • Synthetic fibers are usually more stain and fade resistant.
  • If you have kids and pets but prefer the look and feel of natural fibers consider one blended with a synthetic fiber.
  • All fibers can stain or pill.

Abrasion Resistance

In the United States, upholstery fabrics are assigned a “double rub” rating using the Wyzenbeek Abrasion Resistance test. This rating is used to assist interior designers with assessing a fabric’s appropriateness for a given application with regards to how it withstands abrasion. It does not test pilling or tensile strength.

The Wyzenbeek test consists of a mechanical arm covered with a cotton duck fabric that rubs back and forth across the test fabric. One cycle of the back and forth movement is a single “double rub”. This double rub roughly simulates the abrasion that occurs when one sits and rises from a sofa seat cushion. The number of double rubs are counted until two yarns break and that number is the fabric’s abrasion resistance rating.

Keep in mind that a fabric’s durability is affected by a combination of many factors such as fiber content, weave, cleaning and maintenance. A high double rub rating does not automatically guarantee that a particular fabric will hold up better than another in a given situation. A high double rub rating provides no protection against spills.

Although there does not appear to be universal agreement regarding how the rating correlates to particular situations, in general:
8,000+ double rubs   =   Medium Traffic Residential Use

15,000+ double rubs   =   High Traffic Residential Use / Light Traffic Commercial Use

30,000+ double rubs   =   High Traffic Commercial Use

View the Association for Contract Textiles Wyzenbeek Information Sheet

Key Factors:

  • Fabrics with a 15,000+ double rub rating are considered appropriate for high traffic use in a residential setting.
  • A high double rub rating has no bearing on stain resistance or cleanability.
  • Of equal importance to a fabric’s longevity is the fiber content, weave, proper maintenance and cleaning.
Fabric Tight Weave
Fabric Large Loose Weave

Specialty Fabrics – The best choice for kids and pets.

Some fabrics have been specifically engineered to resist stains, abrasion and fading. These specialty fabrics are typically the best options for high use areas such as family rooms.


Microfiber upholstery is usually made from Nylon or Polyester and will have the associated characteristics described above in our “Fabric Content” summary along with the additional benefits that the microfiber technology provides.

Microfibers are extremely strong, fine fibers many times smaller than human hair, and even smaller than silk, which is one of nature’s strongest fibers. Microfibers typically offer superior stain resistance and easier cleaning than non-microfiber polyester and nylon fabrics.

Key characteristics:

  • Has a soft, suede-like feel
  • Has a nap or “direction” that appears darker or lighter depending on which way the fiber is laying, similar to the vacuum lines you see on carpet
  • Stain resistant and easy to clean
  • Abrasion resistant
  • Fade resistant
  • Can attract pet hair or lint, however, because the surface is not penetrated by hair* it is easy to remove with a vacuum or lint brush. (*non-woven microfiber only)
  • Oily stains can cause the fabric to appear darker or shiny, although oily build up can be mitigated with regular and appropriate cleaning on better quality microfiber fabrics.

Microfiber quality can vary greatly so it may be found on both “high end” and “low end” furniture. The overall price that you are paying for the sofa will sometimes give you some indication of the microfiber quality, but not always.

The best microfibers will:

  • be made from 100% polyester
  • have a WS cleaning code
  • be non-woven and heat-fused
  • be thick and have a heavy backing

Solution Dyed Acrylic:

Synthetic fibers, such as acrylic, can be dyed in one of two ways: after the fiber is produced and spun into a yarn; or during the production of the fiber. With solution dyed acrylics, the dye is added before the fiber is extruded and the yarn produced, which means the color goes all the way through the yarn. The most oft-cited example for illustrating the difference between solution-dyed and yarn-dyed fiber is to compare the carrot with the radish.

When you slice a carrot, the color on the inside is identical to the outside, whereas with a radish slice, the inside is white while the outside is red. This difference makes any solution-dyed fabric extremely fade resistant and cleanable with many options that might otherwise remove the surface color from traditionally-dyed yarn fabrics.

Key characteristics:

  • Tightly woven fabrics with a cotton-like feel and appearance
  • Fade resistant
  • Stain resistant and easy to clean
  • Mold and mildew resistant

The two most well-known brands of solution dyed acrylic fabrics are Sunbrella®  and Outdura®.

Although better known for outdoor upholstery, both of these American companies produce beautiful indoor residential fabrics. For information on how to clean Sunbrella fabric: visit https://www.sunbrella.com/en-us/how-to-clean, for Outdura fabric: visit https://www.sattler-global.com/suntex-site/static_files/images/content/Care_and_Cleaning_Insructions.pdf

Crypton® Stain Resist and Release Fabric

The Crypton® company was founded by husband and wife team Craig and Randy Rubin in 1993. The Rubins have created a unique formula for producing fabrics that provide exceptional protection against stains, odors and mildew. Unlike, after-market fabric protection treatments such as scotchguards, Crypton is infused in every fiber used to create a fabric and never wears off or needs to be reapplied.

Key Characteristics:

  • Fabrics are made from a wide variety of fibers, both natural and synthetic
  • Stain resistant and easy to clean
  • Oil repellent
  • Mold and mildew resistant

For more information on Crypton fabrics visit: http://crypton.com/

You now have the knowledge you need to make an informed choice for the upholstery on your next sofa, chair or sectional. Keep in mind that regardless of the fabric you choose, it will wear better and last longer when applied over a sufficiently-padded and well-made underlying structure. For more information read “How to select a quality sofa”.

Additionally, every fabric will look better and last longer when vacuumed and appropriately cleaned on a regular basis. There is no replacement for proper care and maintenance.

Fabric Patterns