When shopping for a new piece of furniture, one of the biggest concerns is inevitably going to be durability; fabric being the “skin” of the piece, its ability to take a beating is undoubtedly the most important factor, especially for high traffic areas. Still, most people have no clue how to go about picking the most durable fabric, and that’s ok! We’re here to help.
First thing to know is, how exactly is a fabric’s durability measured? Most fabrics go by one of two test methods, known as Wyzenbeek and Martindale, to give the fabric an “abrasion” or “double rub” rating. Essentially, the fabric is pulled tight and rubbed in two directions by a standard weight fabric; if two yarn breaks occur, or if noticeable wear is observed, at that point the number of rubs is recorded as the abrasion rating. 30,000 double rubs is considered minimum durability for commercial use; hotels, conference rooms, etc. Between 30,000 and 100,000 is considered heavy duty. Although these tests are only used as tools for predicting wear, it can help when looking at fabrics, to know that the higher the abrasion rating number is, the better it performed on the durability test.
There are definitely other factors to consider, though, when picking a fabric based on durability. Most fabrics come with standard levels of durability across the board, based simply on what they are made out of. The most all-around durable materials are leather and micro-denier (“micro-fiber”). Leather is tough and easily vacuumed, wiped clean, and conditioned for long life. Micro-denier, made of 100% polyester, is extremely tightly woven, making it very difficult for dirt and/or liquids to penetrate its surface, as well as making it very difficult to tear, rip, or pill. Cotton, depending on the weave (canvas is the best!), is also very durable in terms of wear, fade, and pilling, however it tends to wrinkle and will absorb stains; a cotton-polyester blend is a great compromise to help avoid the wrinkling, and a stain treatment can make up for its absorbent properties. Wool, although usually very warm, is extremely resistant to pilling, fading, soil, and fading. A blend with polyester or rayon can make it more skin-friendly. Manufactured to imitate wool, acrylic fibers will not fade, soil, or wear easily, although less expensive versions will usually display a certain amount of pilling after some time of heavy use. Rayon can go either way – high quality rayon can be extremely durable, but be careful when looking for rayon at a very low price – it’s likely to wrinkle and can sometimes absorb water stains. Other very durable fabrics include olefin, nylon, and vinyl; all very good choices for heavy use pieces of furniture.
Among the least durable fabrics are linen and silk. Don’t get me wrong – both can be gorgeous and luxurious additions to a beautiful piece of furniture – but they should probably be used only in “adult” areas, where food and drink don’t go, as they soil (and wrinkle) easily. They both must be professionally cleaned if stained, and will not withstand heavy wear. However, they both breathe nicely, and resist pilling and fading.
Whatever fabric you happen to fall in love with, there will almost always be a more durable alternative. If you want leather but don’t have the time to care for it, opt for vinyl or micro-suede. If you love linen but you need a kid or pet-friendly fabric, opt for synthetic linen (either a cotton/poly blend or 100& polyester). If you love the formal and fancy feel of silk and velvet but you’re not living in a formal environment, try micro-velvet instead. A good piece of furniture should fit your tastes, but it also needs to fit your use of it; make sure you are honest with yourself from the beginning about how you treat your sofa, and it will be smooth sailing!