Fabrics 101 – Learn about different types of fabrics for your home

fabric texture selection

For the everyday homeowner, selecting fabrics for a piece of furniture is like looking at the ingredients on processed food packaging. No one knows what they mean and no one really cares as long as it looks and feels good.

However, the selection of fabrics for furniture has a great deal of influence on its appearance, durability, and safety. Below is a quick guide to some of the most common fabrics grouped into natural and synthetic fibers. The natural fabrics can be further divided into cellulosic fibers (coming from plants) and protein fibers (coming from animals)

What is Wool? (Natural, Protein Fiber)

Wool is obtained from the fleece of a sheep and one of the best natural fibers for all types of fabrics including carpet. Wool is a durable fabric that is resistant to pilling and wrinkling that also repels moisture. Because the fabric springs back quickly and has resilient fibers, it will retain its shape and hold up well in regular wear making it great for drapery and upholstery. Wool has a rich texture that makes it a luxurious fabric. Having a wool sofa in your home elevates the level of sophistication while also making it a great spot to get comfy.

Cleaning Tips: Wool is a very absorbent fabric and speed is essential for cleaning. If you get it in time, the stain should disappear using a clean towel lightly damped in water. Never scrub away a stain on wool upholstery, make sure to wipe in circular motions while working inward making your way to the center of the stain.

Regular cleaning is very important for wool fabrics. Under normal conditions, an overhaul cleaning should be taken once every 6 to 12 months combined with your regular cleaning. Make sure to vacuum regularly to avoid dirt and dust build up.

What is Linen? (Natural, Cellulosic Fiber)

Linen is a natural fabric that comes from flax. By nature this fabric is strong and resistant to abrasion, pulling and fading, however, has poor elasticity, explaining why it is prone to wrinkles. It shouldn’t be used for high traffic upholstery because it lacks resilience and flexibility. Linen also has a tendency to resist colour and therefore is often found in more neutral colours such as ivory, beige or grey. As it originates from natural fibers, it’s sensitivity to sunlight isn’t ideal for your everyday sofa as it doesn’t stand up very well to regular use. However, linen fibers are suitable for drapery and wallcoverings. It may fall short in certain areas but makes up for it in terms of appearance. Linen is a great material for sofas that will be used in more a more formal setting with occasional use.

Cleaning tips: Maintenance is key with this type of fabric. If you end up with a stain on your linen sofa, you can clean the area with lukewarm water. Dabbing is the only form of cleaning you should be doing with water. Use a wet cloth and gently dab away at the stain.

What is Cotton? (Natural, Cellulosic Fiber)

Cotton is a natural fabric that comes from the seed hairs of the cotton plant and has been around for centuries. It’s one of the most durable natural fabrics on the market and can be easily dyed any colour. It is also relatively inexpensive. This fabric is prone to fading and wrinkling over time and can get dirty easily. Cotton has low elasticity but is resistant to pilling. The wear durability of cotton depends on the weave and the finish of the fabric. Cotton also has very good breathable characteristics which help keep your body cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Cotton is hypoallergenic, meaning it doesn’t irritate sensitive skin and is agreeable to the touch.

Cleaning tips: Be extremely careful around a cotton fabric, as it is highly absorbent. If you spill coffee or another substance, make sure to dab the area with a dye-free cloth and a bit of water and mild dish soap. Dab the area until the stain is no longer visible to the naked eye then wipe with a damp cloth. Make sure to use a clean dry cloth to dry the area.

When you give your cotton fabric an overhaul cleaning, make sure to remove the cushions and give them a good shake outside. Vacuum the sofa to make sure to remove any hairs or crumb residue.

What is Silk? (Natural, Protein Fiber)

Silk is obtained from fibers spun by silkworm larvae. It is very strong and has good resilience and flexibility. This finish and luster of silk are highly valued, but silk is very expensive and degrades in sunlight.

What is Jute? (Natural, Cellulosic Fiber)

Jute is a natural fiber that is incredibly soft and lightweight. Although not the most durable fabric, it does stand up very well to stretching. This is a great option for anyone who is environmentally conscious because it is both biodegradable and eco-friendly. As it’s a natural fiber, it is renewable and grows very quickly. As long as you keep this fabric away from harmful sunrays, it can be the perfect addition to your green home.

Cleaning Tips: Jute fabric is found in a lot of rugs, which means they can hold up to regular in-home use. To keep this fabric looking its best, bi-weekly vacuuming is recommended as dirt can easily build up.

What is Nylon? (Synthetic Fiber)

Nylon is one of the more popular man-made fibers. It is strong with great resilience and elasticity. Nylon is resistant to many chemicals, water, and microorganisms and is often combined with other synthetic or natural fibers to obtain the superior advantages of both.


What is Polyester? (Synthetic Fiber)

Polyester has many desirable qualities including good resilience and elasticity. There are different types of polyester blends that can be found in furniture upholstering. It is very durable and a great fabric for families with kids as it is not prone to wrinkle like many other fabrics but will absorb and hang on to oily materials.

Dacron (also known as Terylene) is a polyester blend that is very tough and elastic. This type of fabric is used for padding and upholstery. It gives a non-compressing wrap/finish to cut foam shapes or uneven areas. Dacron is not prone to crushing and is manipulated to fill in imperfections in a cushion once the fill is inserted. Dacron retains its shape better over time than down fill or some lower density foams.

Cleaning Tips: Vacuum on a regular basis. If you get a spill, do not use tap water. It can leave an unsightly ring that will look worse than the stain you originally tried to remove. Use distilled water to remove stains and do not let it sit too long.

What is Microfiber? (Synthetic Fiber)

Microfiber is a great choice for pet owners as it is very easy to maintain and incredibly durable because the fabric is closely woven together so claws will not get caught. Microfiber is a type of polyester fabric that is very strong and resistant to abrasion that doesn’t wrinkle. It is also breathable and has the similar comfort to natural fibers.

Cleaning Tips: a big issue with microfiber is that after a good cleaning it can start to get hard. If you have gotten to the point of no return, gently rub the hardened part of the fabric with a soft bristle brush.

What is Acrylic? (Synthetic Fiber)

Acrylic is often used as a replacement for wool because of its appearance. Unlike wool, acrylic is an artificial fiber and provides the same look and feel as wool while being highly durable. It can stand up great to everyday wear and tear and is resistant to wrinkling and staining. Acrylic can experience pilling depending on the quality of the fabric.

Cleaning Tips: only use soft damp cloths. The softer the better as acrylic is easily scratched. Avoid any solvents as it can damage the surface of the fabric. To avoid unwanted lines, use a different cloth than the one used for the rest of the home. Dirt grit and chemicals can leave marks on this fabric.

Final Thoughts:

Durability is one of the most important criteria for fabric selection and resistance to abrasion is the most important durability factor. Durable upholstery is achieved by using strong, smooth fibers like wool or nylon, having the yarn tightly twisted, specifying heavy or thick fibers, using close-set weaves, and employing relatively soft under cushions to allow the fabric to flex under use.

Natural fibers like silk, wool, cotton, and linen, while beautiful, are typically more fragile than man-made fibers and are susceptible to damage from factors like staining, wear and tear, and fading from sunlight.

The man-made fibers on the market today are technologically advanced and designed to withstand high levels of daily abuse.