Wearabilty of cotton upholstery vs. polyester

Updated April 17, 2017

Many different factors come into play when you are upholstering a piece of furniture. One of the most important questions to ask yourself may be what kind of use will the furniture have to handle? The piece may need to be functional or could just be decorative. If you are looking to upholster a piece that will need to handle heavy use, wearability becomes an important consideration in choosing the proper fabric.

Fabric Options

Cotton has long been a traditional choice for upholstering furniture. Lightweight, easy to work with, attractive and affordable, cotton might seem like the obvious choice. Cotton, however, can wear in certain ways that polyester does not. Lately, people have been leaning more toward cotton-polyester blends than pure cotton fabrics, trying to take the best properties from each to create the most durable fabric.


Cotton wrinkles far easier than polyester, which is manufactured and treated to be wrinkle free. This may not be a big consideration if you are, for example, upholstering the seat of a chair so that the fabric is always stretched out. If you are making a slip cover for a couch, however, wrinkles can be quite frustrating because large pieces of upholstery are difficult to iron. Polyester-cotton blends or exclusively polyester fabrics will not have this same problem.


Everyday wear and tear includes the possibility of stains. Again, the amount of concern over this problem depends on the piece you intend to upholster. Going back to the simple living room couch or even the dining room chair, however, stains do become an issue. Natural fibres absorb stains far quicker than synthetic fabrics, which are often treated by the manufacturer to be stain resistant. Although there are some methods for treating cotton to prevent stains, they are not as effective and can be costly.


Especially important when creating slip covers or other removable upholstery projects, the way a fabric holds up in the washing machine is a major factor of its wearability. Spills, dust, pen marks and so on can all require you to wash your upholstery. Pure cotton fabrics cannot be put in the dryer or they will shrink, so you must have the space (and climate and time) to hang dry them. Furthermore, the more you wash cotton, the weaker the fabric becomes. Polyester blends and polyester fabrics, however, are machine washable and resistant to shrinkage, so most can be machine dried. Because of the strength of the fabric, they can easily survive the washing machine.


If you wish to have a bright coloured fabric, cotton may not be the best choice. Coloured cotton fabric tends to fade if exposed to too much sun or from numerous washings. Polyester, both because of the way it is dyed and the fade-resistant treatments often applied by manufacturers, will not lose its colour as quickly as a natural fabric.

Strength of Fibers

Cotton's natural fibres can hold up to some use, but consistent use of certain pieces (such as seats) will lead the cotton to fray and thin in places. Polyester fabric is made from much tougher synthetic fibres, and concentrated use does not put the same strain on the upholstery. Cotton-polyester blends allow for these strong polyester fibres to be woven with the cotton fibres to create a much more durable fabric that can very closely resemble pure cotton but holds up much better to wear.

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About the Author

Andrea Whyte has worked as an academic and commercial writer since 2005. She has contributed to the "Canadian Film Encyclopedia" and written informative articles as a copywriter for a major Internet-marketing firm. Whyte holds a Master of Arts in cinema studies from the University of Toronto.