How to make better sofa fabric choices that will last with kids and pets?
One Sunday morning my phone rang. A young man’s voice sounded grim. He asked me to come over to consult since he couldn’t stand his wife’s yelling every time he played with kids on the living room couch. He said that they’ve bought a new sofa and since that time they all play on the floor. So, is there anything for the floor now to make it softer? Umm, sure there was. Here is something to think about: it’s easier to make sound sofa fabric choices than being stressed about stains and spills all the time. We all want a sofa or a sectional that is comfortable and reasonably priced. And we don’t want hot polyesters, scratchy nylons, uncleanable, pilling fabrics.
You’d say, “How do I know which one is good?” No worries. I’ve got you covered. And if you feel that you need more, you can do two things: Read my post
How to Choose Quality Sofa Upholstery Fabric like a Pro and/or Download my List of stores and manufacturers with a good reputation. It’s in a yellow box all the way down at the end of this post.
Below I am giving the insights on choosing upholstery fabric that is durable and pretty. I hope this post will save you some legwork and drama. Important: Don’t forget to download a bonus guide with the names of manufacturers, stores and suggested prices.
Factors that determine the durability of the upholstery fabric:
- Fabric weave – tight weave or loose weave
- Fabric content, percentage of synthetics and natural fibers
- Durability testing, aka double rubs testing
- Fabric Weave. Tight weave is good construction. Loose weave is a bad construction.
How do you know if it’s tight or loose? Test it, and test it again, darling!
Test it, and test it again, darling! Get a fabric sample. Use fingernails to rub a fabric several times to see if the yarns shift or the fabric marks.
For example, a twill weave resists wear less than a plain weave. Check if the yarns have a balanced weave, meaning all yarns in the fabric are about the same size and strength. These fabrics will wear better than ones with heavy yarns in one direction and thin yarns in the other.
Don’t buy the fabric where heavy yarns go in one direction and thin yarns in the other.
Wet the sample in one area, rub it, bend it, put a weight on it and observe what happens to it. For fabrics without visible yarns, like microfiber. Can you remove a stain easily? Does the shape of the fabric change?
Velvets and Mohair: If you want to test velvet or mohair, bend it on the diagonal. This will show if it’s tightly woven. Visible ‘rows’ indicate lesser quality. Tighter weaves have less visible rows, indicating better quality.
Here are some better sofa fabric choices:
2. Fabric Content
- Cotton velvet
- Ultrasuede & Sensuade
- Distressed Leather (not fabric)
Advantages: durable and beautiful, soft to touch. People swear by cotton velvet. Good quality cotton velvet will hold up well. Some people say they had it for 30 years and it wouldn’t die.
Drawbacks: can be expensive but if you need it for those 30 years, could be worth it.
Advantages: not to be confused with Angora wool, which comes from the Angora rabbit and is used in sweaters, mohair is noted for its luster and warmth. It is culled from the long, silken fleece of the Angora goat, it’s an extremely durable and long-lasting upholstery fabric. Mohair works beautifully as upholstery because it feels soft, plush and insulating in the winter while providing natural moisture wicking in the summer.
Drawbacks: make sure that it’s not scratchy to touch. If you are wearing shorts it could be annoying. Ask for a sample before you buy. There are many types of mohair, and some synthetic, commercial fabrics can be too warm for hot climates. Ask for a sample if possible.
Advantages: Sunbrella is the trade name for a solution dyed acrylic. In a traditional dyeing process, color is on the surface of the fiber, so they easily fade. Sunbrella fibers are saturated to the core with highly UV-stable pigments, making them resistant to fading. Not only that. Sunbrella fabrics are made without any identified harmful substance that could be a danger to health, skin and the environment. They are Greenguard certified for reducing air pollution,
Not only that. Sunbrella fabrics are made without any identified harmful substance that could be a danger to health, skin and the environment. They are Greenguard certified for reducing air pollution, OKEO-TEX label for no harmful contact to the skin. In addition, they are mold and mildew resistant and bleach cleanable. The new Sunbrella Upholstery Collection has an enormous amount of fabric choices to life. This collection of over two hundred styles can match any taste. You can find lightweight and similar to wool, have luxuriously soft textures, intricate jacquards, linen-like fabric, and soft “dupioni” silk.
Drawbacks: Not many manufacturers have it yet. You might want to consider COM (Customer Own Material), and that’s usually more expensive. The cost of the sofa can increase by 20-35%.
Advantages: Crypton is not a fiber, but rather a treatment process. It was originally developed for healthcare design as anti-bacterial fabric finish. Fabrics have unbelievable stain repellency and release. Stain, like lipstick, crayon, ketchup, mustard and wine are lifted with a simple soap and water solution and a toothbrush. The stain-resistant property is chemically fused with each individual fiber in Crypton, in much the same way as acrylic fibers can be solution-dyed at the fiber level. Though it’s a chemical process, the fabrics are Greenguard-certified and considered safe to use in nurseries and family spaces. Some of the newer versions function like vinyl and feel like velvet. They’re oftentimes no more expensive than acrylics and are offered in a variety of patterns and textures.
Drawbacks: There are fewer selections. Calico Corners sells them and some others. Crypton’s website is www.Crypton.com.
Advantages: Microfiber has a good reputation for being easy to clean. It is durable, looks good and has a nice comfy hand to it. Maintenance is easy as well. Vacuum and use white or light colored cleaning cloths – because you do not want to transfer color. Dampen the cloth and then put alcohol on the dampen cloth. Rub the area you want to be cleaned. My mother always told me to rub in a circular motion.
Drawbacks: It’s directional which means that every time you touch it there will be some sort of mark on the fibers. Microfiber is nice for cleaning spills, but I do find it tends to fade depending on what color you get. You also have to consider if you like the feel of microfiber–some find it itchy and uncomfortable.Again, ask for a sample.
Advantages: Distressed leather is a good choice, easy to clean and durable. If your pet scratches, no problem. It will add more patina. Always look for top grain leather, that’s leather treated before it is made into furniture. It is tougher, stands up to anything. Top grain leather uses aniline dying process of soaking the hides in transparent aniline dyes which allow the color to absorb into the natural hide. Without all the synthetic topical coatings, it breathes naturally making it comfortable for seating. It is soft, supple, durable and pliable.
Drawbacks: A leather sofa could be 30-40% more expensive than fabric. Also, it has a colder feel in the winter. In rare cases, excessive sweat may leave a permanent mark. Certain medications can come through the skin and damage to the leather. Dust weekly with a damp microfiber cloth. Test on a hidden spot to be sure that your dye is not affected. If you use a natural process, the leather will stay supple and wear better overall.
Be careful when shopping for leather goods and make sure to ask if it is “Bonded” or real leather. There is a reason that some stores can sell a sofa and loveseat for $1,500. It is because it is “Bonded” and not real. The difference, bonded is basically leather fibers put on a backing. While it has the appearance of real leather, it is way cheaper for manufacturers to use as it comes in standard widths like 54″ so it is easier to cut and creates way less waste for the manufacturers and upholstery makers. Another question to ask with real leather is if the entire sofa is all real leather. Some cheaper manufacturers will use a matching bonded or even a vinyl material to upholster the seat decks and sometimes backs, as there is a lot of material wasted on those two areas on a sofa.
Ultrasuede and Sensuede
Advantages: here’s one performance fabric that has become a sofa standby material. Neither woven nor knit, Ultrasuede is a textile made of intermeshed fibers. It achieves its uncanny resemblance to the real suede via a finishing process. It stays cool and comfortable no matter the climate. Sensuede is a branded Ultrasuede well known for its brilliant colors and stain resistance. What you might not know is that it also carries no risk of shrinkage, pilling, fading or cracking, and is resistant to mildew as well as stains.
Drawbacks: it’s a matter of style. If you are looking for a more textured look, it’s not that. Like microfiber, it can leave directional temporary marks. Ultrasuede is easy to clean with a damp cloth with a mild liquid soap. Blot it over and over till stain is gone. It will look like it has a water stain as it dries but once it is dry just brush over it with your hand. Test it someplace where you won’t see it first just to make sure. Some people put it in the washing machine and then air dry.
Advantages: Fabrics of 100% polyester are budget-friendly alternatives that mimic silk’s sheen and feel, for example, and the fiber is frequently blended with cotton to offer added protection against wrinkling, fading and abrasion. Many people still proclaim a bias against polyester, but this synthetic has come a long way and deserves a second chance
Drawbacks: Can feel hot in warm climates. can feel scratchy or rough. Test it, try it before you buy.
A good slipcovered sofa can be a life saver when you have kids and pets. Lee Industries, for instance, offers a great selection of furniture with slipcovers that wash beautifully.
Fabrics to avoid are silk, viscose, linen, cotton, nylon, bonded leather.
VISCOSE- Please avoid at all costs as you cannot wet clean at all! It is basically ground up pulp fibers and about 40% weaker when it gets wet. Once wet, it folds over and will not stand back up creating what looks like a melted or shiny spot.
Check the cleaning code on the fabric.
S- solvent cleaners
W- water based cleaners
W/S for both, water based and solvent cleaners
Durability Measure – DOUBLE RUBS
Look for at least 15,000 double rubs for decent durability. Even better 30,000 or more is ideal. Anything over 30,000 double rubs is not necessary. If they tell you 100,000 double rubs, it’s hardly possible.
The Wyzenbeek machine tests the fabric in both the warp direction (up and down) and the fill or weft direction (right to left). A sample of the fabric is cut into two pieces and each is pulled tight in a frame where it is held stationary. A piece of cotton duck fabric is used and is rubbed back and forth over the fabric, known as the “double rub.When wearing has become evident or two yarn breaks have occurred, the end point has been reached, and the fabric is rated.
You’re here for a treat. I’ve prepared a comprehensive guide chock full with great sources for better sofa fabric choices.
Download it, use it, save money- live better.
And don’t ever be shy to ask questions. I’ll be thrilled to serve you!