How to Choose Upholstery Fabric for Easy Care of Your Furniture

A lot of people opt for wool or cotton blends for the sofa in the family room because these mixed fabrics are very durable and easy to maintain.

When buying new furniture, you should know the upholstery fabric’s durability, cleanability, and resistance to soil and fading. We have put together a guide to different fibres used for soft furniture so that you can find the perfect fabric for your needs and land with an easier sofa cleaning routine.

Here are the most popular natural and synthetic upholstery materials. We hope this will be helpful to make an informed choice when getting your new sofa.

Read also: Learn to Read the Upholstery Abbreviations Before Buying a New Sofa

Natural Upholstery Characteristics & Maintenance

Natural upholstery refers to those fabrics woven from plant fibres and materials derived from animal products. Here are a few of the most common natural fabrics used to upholster sofas and armchairs.


Wool is a protein fibre used for centuries for clothes, carpets and upholstery. This natural thread is derived from the fleece of sheep, goats, camels, alpaca and other animals. Wool upholstery is durable and sturdy. It provides good thermal insulation and strong resistance to pilling, wrinkling and fading. Also, because the fibres have irregular scales, they are good at hiding the soiling. 

When used as an upholstery material for sofas or armchairs, wool is often blended with synthetic fibres. Such blends are easier to clean, and the synthetic component in these types of fabric helps to reduce the felting of the fibres. The mixed fabrics also dry faster than sofa upholstery containing just wool.

Cleaning and Maintenance of Wool Sofa

  • Wool readily absorbs water, making it a poor choice for humid rooms as it is susceptible to mould and mildew. 
  • As with other natural upholsteries, wool can be attacked by moths. 
  • White wool fibres can turn yellow in direct sunlight over time, so placing a white wool sofa in a sunny room isn’t the best way to keep its appearance. 
  • Bleach destroys all wool fabrics, so avoid using it on your upholstery.  
  • Enzyme cleaners can deteriorate the wool upholstery, so make sure to rinse thoroughly.


Cotton is a plant-based cellulose type fibre used as clothing and furniture material. Cotton upholstery is resistant to wear, fading, and pilling. However, the material doesn’t provide very good resistance to soil, wrinkling, or flames. The durability and use of cotton upholstery depend on the fabric’s weave and finish. Damask weave is better for furniture used in formal rooms. The canvas weave (sailcloth and duck) goes for more casual areas and is more durable.

Blending cotton with other fibres often compensate for its flaws. Cotton blends are life-friendly fabrics and can stand up to stains, small kids, and pets depending on the weave. After a deep upholstery cleaning, applying a stain-resistant finish, such as Scotchgard, makes these materials more resilient to heavy use.

Cleaning and Maintenance of Cotton Upholstery

  • When cleaning this cellulose fibre upholstery, cellulosic browning (brownish discolouration) is a common problem, so it’s best to turn to professional upholstery cleaners.
  • The fabric is very susceptible to shrinkage.
  • The upholstery made of cotton is very absorbent and dries slowly, and is prone to mildew, so don’t place it in humid rooms.
  • As with other natural fabrics, cotton can be attacked by moths. 
  • Cotton furniture stains and soils easily, so it’s better to be used in households with no pets or small children.
  • Treating dirt topically will leave a water stain, so it’s better to clean the whole upholstery instead.
  • Acids can damage cotton upholstery as they rot the fibres, so be careful when using detergents containing vinegar or citric acid.
  • Apply a stain-resistant finish, such as Scotchgard, after every deep sofa cleaning.

Velvet, like other natural fabrics in their pure form, is more suitable for soft furniture in adult areas.

Silk / Silk Velvet

Silk is the only natural fibre produced in a continuous filament, and it’s sourced from the caterpillar of the silk moth. The fabric is beautiful, luxurious, and delicate. It is suitable only for furniture in the adult areas of the house, such as a formal living room, offices or reading rooms. 

Cleaning and Maintenance of Silk Sofa

  • Silk furniture must be treated by professional sofa cleaners when soiled. A lot of the common detergents contain substances that damage the fibres.
  • Silk is a protein fibre, so you should never use enzymatic cleaners on this type of upholstery as they will weaken and ruin the material.
  • Acids, bleach, and alkalis easily damage the fabric.
  • Silk upholstery is extremely absorbent, so it dries up quite slowly.
  • Sunlight and perspiration will rot the fibres of silk upholstery.


Linen is a long, strong fibre derived from flax stems, and it is a cellulose type fabric. Linen upholstered sofas are best suited for adult areas as the fabric wrinkles easily and don’t withstand heavy wear. On the plus side, linen has good resistance to pilling and fading.

Cleaning and Maintenance of Linen Upholstery

  • Linen doesn’t soil very easily, and the stains stay on the surface, so it isn’t difficult to remove them.
  • Treating dirt topically will leave a water stain, so it’s better to clean the whole upholstery instead.
  • However, overtime linen will soil. It’s best to call a professional to clean the upholstery when to avoid shrinkage of the fabric.
  • Although the material readily absorbs water, it dries up fairly quickly. 
  • Linen upholsteries are easily damaged by bleach for the same reason the cotton ones do.
  • Unlike other natural fabrics, linen won’t be attacked by moths.
  • Furniture upholstered with linen is prone to mildew, so avoid placing it in humid rooms.
  • Sunlight won’t help fade the colours, but eventually, it will weaken the fibres.
  • Linen upholstery is easily damaged by acids, but not as much – by alkalis.

Check also: How to Choose a Rug for Your Living Room

Synthetic Upholstery Characteristics & Maintenance

Synthetic upholstery is a fabric or material containing artificial fibres, which are designed using chemical processes. They are usually more durable and less expensive than natural fabrics used for upholstered furniture. Some of the synthetic fibres can’t be found in a pure form when used as upholstery material because they are too fragile on their own.


Developed from wood cellulose pulp acetate is a semi-synthetic fibre that can resist mildew, shrinking and pilling. However, it soils relatively easily and fades in the sun, so it’s usually blended with other fibres.

Cleaning and Maintenance of Acetate Fabrics

  • Acetate upholstery can be wet or dry cleaned.
  • Cleaning with detergents containing oxygen bleach can damage the fibres.
  • Acetate fabrics can melt when heated.
  • Acetate upholstery isn’t very absorbent and dries fast.


This is a synthetic fibre used as a wool imitation. Low-quality acrylic upholstery may pill excessively in the spots receiving a lot of abrasion, but high-quality acrylics pill significantly less. Acrylic fabrics withstand wear and tear very well; they are also resistant to soiling and fading, making them quite a popular upholstery option.

Cleaning and Maintenance of Acrylic Fabrics

  • Acrylic fibres have high resistance to alkalis, acids, bleaches, and solvents, which makes the fabrics easy to clean.
  • Acrylic upholstery is not attacked by microorganisms.
  • This fabric is resistant to fading.
  • Acrylic is very flammable. 
  • Modacrylic is modified acrylic consisting of a considerable amount of chlorine within the structure, making it much less flammable.

Synthetic upholstery is quite a popular sofa fabric choice among big families and people with pets in general.


This trendy fabric is made from polyester, and it’s often used as an imitation of velvet. It has a smooth texture, but it is more durable than the natural velvet made from silk. Microfibre is resistant to water, stains, and fading, so it’s ideal for high-use living rooms.

Cleaning and Maintenance of Microfibre

  • Microfibre upholstery is strong and resistant to wear.
  • The fibres have good resistance to soiling.
  • Microfibre doesn’t absorb water readily, so liquid stains are easy to remove.
  • Oil and grease stains are absorbed quickly, making them more difficult to clean.
  • Microfibre furniture is resistant to fading by prolonged sunlight exposure.

Nylon (Polyamide)

One of the strongest fibres in use today, nylon is very resistant to abrasion. On the plus side, nylon doesn’t soil or wrinkle readily. However, the fibre tends to fade and pill quite easily. Nylon is rarely used alone, it’s mostly blended with other materials to make very durable upholstery fabrics.

Cleaning and Maintenance of Nylon/Polyamide Fabrics

  • Nylon doesn’t retain much moisture, which makes it very suitable for wet or steam cleaning.
  • The fibre can be cleaned with bleach, but only after first testing the solution on an inconspicuous area of the sofa.
  • Nylon won’t be attacked by microorganisms.
  • The fibres can be weakened by prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.
  • Easily flammable material.

Olefin (Polypropylene)

Olefin has become a popular fibre used in upholstery as it withstands heavy wear with ease. It’s highly resistant to abrasion, mildew, stains, and sunlight so that it can be used as an indoor or outdoor furniture fabric.

Cleaning and Maintenance of Olefin/Polypropylene

  • Olefin is stain-resistant and easy to clean and maintain.
  • Upholstery containing olefin dries relatively fast.
  • The material doesn’t shrink.
  • The fibre has low resilience when pressed, so it might wrinkle.
  • Oil attaches very easily to olefin and it is almost impossible to remove. 
  • The fibre has a low melting point 


Although it is strong and resistant to abrasion, polyester is rarely used alone in furniture. The material is blended with other fibres to add wrinkle resistance and reduce fading. When combined with wool, the material leads to pilling.

Cleaning and Maintenance of Polyester Fabrics

  • Polyester isn’t a very absorbent fibre. It dries up fast and can be wet or steam cleaned.
  • The fibres are fairly resistant to soiling.
  • Water-based stains are easy to remove. However, oils are easily absorbed in the fibres, making grease stains more difficult to clean.
  • Polyester is resistant to alkalis and bleaches. Still, such detergents should be used cautiously.
  • The fibres are resilient to sunlight exposure.
  • As with most synthetic fibres, polyester won’t be attacked by microorganisms, and it is also easily flammable.

Viscose Rayon

Viscose Rayon or Rayon is a cellulose fibre often used instead of silk in clothing and upholstery fabrics. Although it wrinkles, it is a very durable material, however, it isn’t a practical choice for the sofa in the family room.

Cleaning and Maintenance of Rayon

  • The strength of rayon fibres decreases when wet, and they can also shrink. That is why you should turn to a professional for the deep cleaning of the furniture.
  • Weak acids easily damage rayon.
  • Not harmed by weak solutions of alkalis, but strong alkalis cause swelling, and the fabric can lose its strength. 
  • Rayon is a very absorbent fabric that needs more time to dry.
  • Prolonged sunlight will weaken rayon upholstery.
  • The fabric is susceptible to mildew, so not a good option for humid rooms.
  • Rayon doesn’t stand heat very well, and it is very flammable.