The Best Fabric for Tablecloths

Updated February 21, 2017

Though tablecloths are primarily a functional means of protecting tables from damage, they are also an opportunity to add colour and style to a kitchen or outdoor living area. Tablecloths are manufactured in a variety of materials including cotton, polyester, linen and vinyl; speciality tablecloths for weddings and events may be made out of silk or organza. The purpose of the tablecloth determines which material will best suit your needs, but each material offers benefits and drawbacks in terms of functionality or style.


For every day use in an eat-in kitchen or informal dining room, cotton tablecloths are an excellent option. Cotton is easy to produce and process, which keeps the price low on most cotton options. Most cotton tablecloths are machine washable, though some tablecloths with multicoloured patterns may show some colour bleeding after washing. Cotton tablecloths can also be spot cleaned with a damp rag or sponge. In terms of durability, few fabrics compare to long-lasting cotton. Cotton tablecloths are available in a wide range of colours, patterns and sizes which also contribute to their popularity. Though cotton tablecloths can be used outdoors, they can mould or deteriorate after long periods of exposure to extreme weather or moisture.


For semi-formal indoor dining or outdoor parties, polyester table cloths offer similar benefits of cotton as well as some additional perks. Polyester is a synthesised material that is used to make fabric and can be combined with other fabrics like cotton to create a polyester blend. Like cotton, polyester is durable, machine-washable, relatively inexpensive and available in many colours and patterns. Unlike cotton, polyester will not shrink if it is placed on a long cycle in a dryer. Polyester has a slightly silkier and shinier appearance than cotton which makes it better suited for more formal affairs like weddings or birthday parties. Some people have sensitivities to polyester because it is made from chemicals.


For informal outdoor dining or picnics, vinyl tablecloths offer weather resistance and easy clean up. Vinyl resists damage from stains, light, water or air exposure. Vinyl tablecloths are commonly associated with informal and outdoor dining, so they may not be ideal for formal weddings or events. Vinyl tablecloths are available in several colours and patterns to match any colour scheme or theme. Vinyl is also one of the cheapest fabric options for tablecloths.

Speciality Fabrics

For formal events like weddings, tablecloths are available in numerous speciality fabrics like silk or organza. Silk and organza are more expensive tablecloth options, but they offer a more luxurious appearance and a number of formal style options including embroidery. Speciality fabrics require more delicate washing and care but most speciality tablecloths are only used on occasion. Consider renting speciality linens to avoid the cost of purchasing them in large quantities.

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About the Author

Hannah Wahlig began writing and editing professionally in 2001. Her experience includes copy for newspapers, journals and magazines, as well as book editing. She is also a certified lactation counselor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Holyoke College, and Master's degrees in education and community psychology from the University of Massachusetts.