Acrylic and polyester are both man-made fabrics with a long history. The first acrylic fibers were offered in a proprietary product -- Orlon -- generated by the DuPont company and marketed as a wool substitute in the 1940s. DuPont also bought the rights to the polyester fibers created by some British scientists in 1946, naming their version of the polyester Dacron, which the company marketed in the 1950s.
Both of these fibers, sometimes combined together, have been used to make hard-wearing upholstery fabrics. Polyester is commonly blended with other natural or synthetic fibers, as is acrylic, when used on upholstery.
Pros and Cons of Acrylics
Acrylic fibers can offer advantages and disadvantages when used on furniture:
- Vivid colors.
- Sun-safe fabrics for outdoor furniture.
- Soft fabric.
- Tend to develop excessive pilling.
- Melt easily when exposed to heat or flame.
- Can cause allergic reactions in some people.
Pros and Cons of Polyesters
Polyesters are rarely used alone as an upholstery fabric. Some of its advantages and disadvantages include:
- Blends well with natural fibers for a quality upholstery fabric.
- Recyclable fabric.
- Does not stretch out of shape.
- No pilling.
- Resist mildew and bug damage.
- Can compact and toughen with use.
- Absorb perspiration and body oils easily.
- Does pill when blended with wool.
Upholstery Fabric Choices
Homes with pets or children or both are well served when choosing acrylic and polyester upholstery fabrics. Acrylic fabrics do extremely well on outdoor furnishings made with them. They're easy to wash or hose down and dry quickly.
Polyester fabrics blended with cotton, rayon, wool or other synthetics take on the characteristics of the other fiber, though they do tend to absorb bodily oils or perspiration. Both fabrics clean up well with upholstery cleaners or homemade solutions. But acrylic fabrics usually require chemical fire retardants to make them safer for use in the home -- something you may not want to expose your family too. Fabrics made with polyester fibers, on the other hand, are recyclable and can offer a greener option, but like acrylic fibers, polyester has low thermal resistance.
In the end, personal lifestyle, family needs and the fabric's overall appeal and wearability may be the deciding factors when choosing between polyester or acrylic upholstery fabrics. The good news is both fabrics maintain their coloring well even with repeated use.
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.