Upholstered furniture used in heavily trafficked rooms of the house, such as the living room and family room, require upholstery that is durable and will hold its shape and color. Pieces that receive daily wear need to be covered in tough, durable, tightly woven fabrics. As a general guideline, fabrics that have their pattern woven in to the design will be more durable than printed fabrics.
Natural and Synthetic
There are two types of upholstery fabric: natural and synthetic. Natural fabrics come from plants or animals, while synthetic fabrics are man-made. Durable natural fabrics include cotton canvas weaves like duck and sailcloth, leather, and wool. Durable synthetic fabrics include polyester and microfiber.
The heavier the cotton weave, such as in duck, sailcloth, or denim, the more durable the fabric will be. Lighter cottons like chintz are not as durable. Cotton can also be subject to stains, but applying a stain-resistant finish will protect the furniture.
One of the most popular and durable fabrics, leather is a great choice for upholstery. It actually becomes softer with age and wear. Easy to maintain and keep clean, leather is one of the best all-around great upholstery fabrics. According to Cherry Dobson in "The Complete Guide to Upholstery," leather is "tough, long lasting, and versatile." Leather does need to be properly conditioned to prevent cracking. Leather is one of the most expensive fabrics as well.
Wool from sheep is also very durable. However, it can be difficult to clean. Wool blends, which is wool blended with synthetic fabrics, is the best of both worlds: easy to clean and durable.
Polyester has many great qualities, besides its tough durability. Make sure the fabric is 100 percent polyester and not blended with another fabric, and this upholstery will stand up to rigorous daily living.
Microfiber is one the most durable fabrics, besides leather. Check to make sure it is 100 percent polyester so that it does not stain, fade, or leave water marks if you splash water on it. It is easy to clean and stands up well.
While shopping for upholstery fabrics, look for a high thread count. The more tightly woven the material, the more durable the fabric. To test the strength of the fabric weave, hold the fabric sample tight in one hand and pull with the other, then reverse directions. Check the threads to make sure they are tightly woven. You can also test durability by sitting on the furniture. If the fabric is durable, the impression will spring back into place. It's a simple way to test in a furniture store.