The best wearing upholstery fabrics display a natural strength and resilience. They resist stains and fading, maintain their lustre and stand up to abrasion. Abrasion occurs when a fabric rubs against itself or another surface. Over time, abrasion weakens fabric and causes it to tear. If durability is high on your list of priorities, these factors will influence your purchase.
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Among the most durable natural materials are cotton, linen and leather. Cotton and linen provide strength and abrasion resistance but wrinkle easily, unless treated or blended with other fabrics. Leather offers abrasion resistance but can dry out if not properly maintained.
The most durable synthetic fabrics include polyester, nylon and olefin. All are strong and resist abrasion, although sunlight can fade them. Out of direct sunlight, they provide excellent options for long wear.
While each fabric displays its own characteristics, the quality of the weave determines its ultimate lifespan. Poorly made fabric will have loose, low-twist yarns and an unbalanced weave. Avoid fabric that you can see through when held up to the light. Tight twill-weaves will hold up to heavy use better than soft yarns.
Fabric that snags, such as satin, damask and brocade, wears more quickly than high-quality twill, velvet or linen. Plastic fabrics, such as vinyl, come in flat and "expanded-fabric" types. The expanded fabric will last longer. Look for "top grain" leather that will last for many years.
The National Association of Furniture Manufacturers has a labelling system for fabrics that allows customers to check colour code and triple-letter designations on labels to determine the quality of fabric. The most durable upholstery has a rating of "hhh" and a green colour code. This fabric stands up to use by active families with children. Fabrics with a blue-coded label and an "mmm" rating suffice for medium-duty use. A yellow label with an "lll" designation signifies a light-duty fabric, while a "ddd" rating with a red label denotes delicate cloth suitable only for display.
Some labels also advise on a fabric's care. Labels displaying a "W" denote that a water-based cleaning product is safe for the fabric. An "S" on the label advises the consumer to use a solvent, rather than a water-based agent. Labels marked with an "X" caution the consumer against using cleaning products. Brush or vacuum these fabrics to clean them.
Stain resistant properties add to the durability of a fabric. Olefin resists waterborne stains and offers one of the best overall materials for durability and stain resistance, when placed in a location away from direct sunlight.
Wool makes a poor choice for upholstery unless blended with another fabric. While it delivers a fair amount of resistance to abrasion, insects, such as moths, may ruin it.
If you place your upholstered furniture near a heat source, make sure it is made of slow-burning materials such as leather, nylon, polyester or modacrylic.
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- Iowa State University; Consumer Choices; Understanding apparel and furnishing textiles; Janis Stone
- Cooperative Extension Service; University of Kentucky College of Agriculture; Selecting Upholstered Furniture
- Utah State University Cooperative Extension; Selecting Upholstered Furniture; Dr. Leona Hawks; 1987
- Colorado State University; Selecting Upholstered Furniture for Your Home; Tremblay and Williams; 12/07