There are many different types of upholstery fabric, but some of the most common are acrylic, cotton, linen, nylon, polyester (a.k.a. microfiber), polypropylene (a.k.a. Olefin), polyurethane (a.k.a. PUL), and rayon (a.k.a. Viscose). Upholstery fabric can consist of a single fabric composition or blended from more than one. Choosing the correct fabric type can greatly increase the life, and reduce the wear and tear on an upholstery piece. The list below will hopefully make the choice more clear.
Acrylic is a synthetic fiber mostly used in upholstery fabric blends. It imitates wool and is generally a more affordable option. Acrylic is easy to clean and resists fading, stains, wrinkles and soiling. Acrylic upholstery fabric resists most other problems of upholstery fabrics, but important to get higher quality to avoid chemicals. It is often blended with natural fibers to create more durable upholstery fabric and is an excellent choice for outdoor furniture.
Cotton is a 100% natural fiber used commonly in upholstery fabrics. Cotton is typically the most popular, affordable, durable and comfortable fabric. It is also fade resistant, abrasion resistant, breathable, soft and can be dyed to almost any color, which also makes it more susceptible to stains, dust, and dirt. It is more prone to wrinkles, but also hypoallergenic, and therefore excellent for people with sensitive skin and allergies (assuming it's kept clean). Cotton can be blended with synthetic fibers for added textures and durability. It is simply a best choice for every day use upholstery fabric.
Linen is an extremely popular natural fiber that has been around forever and stems from the flax plant. It is typically blended with other natural fibers to create a more wrinkle resistant fabric. Linen is smooth, soft, and therefore extremely comfortable. It gets stronger when wet and is antibacterial, abrasion resistant, mildew resistant, fairly fade resistant, does not pill, and is generally considered eco-friendly. Linen upholstery fabric is a natural, soft, beautiful, and all around great fabric for any number of upholstery fabric applications.
Nylon is a strong synthetic fiber that was originally produced as a replacement for silk and is rarely blended alone to create some of the most durable blended upholstery fabrics. Nylon is also resistant to abrasion, wrinkes, stretching out, insects, fungi, many chemicals, and can be lustrous, semi-lustrous or dull. Since it is generally always blended, Nylon upholstery fabric is typically used to enhance the characteristics of any other fabric it is blended with.
Polyester, also known as microfiber, is a synthetic fiber very commonly used in upholstery fabrics. It is soft, comfortable and very easy to clean. Polyester fabric is often blended with other natural or synthetic fibers generally to increase durability. Polyester upholstery fabric is an all around great choice for upholstery applications that comes in a variety of colors and designs with an expensive feel that is long lasting if cared for properly.
Polypropylene, also known as Olefin, is a synthetic fiber made of thermoplastic polymer that has the look and feel of wool and is super strong, fade-resistant, and inherently stain resistant. It is soft and easy to clean because polypropylene has no active dye sites, which also means it can be cleaned with bleach without fear of changing even the darker colors. Polypropylene upholstery fabric is perfectly suited for rough and excessive wear due to its extreme durability, which makes it one of the longest lasting upholstery fabrics.
Polyurethane, also known as PUL, is fiber laminated in polyurethane and known for its waterproof or water resistant qualities. It is hypoallergenic, breathable, lint free, abrasion resistant, and stretchable to complete recovery. Polyurethane upholstery fabrics are a very durable fabric and great for faux leather and other water and stain resistant upholstery fabric applications.
Rayon, also known as Viscose, is a semi-synthetic fiber made from wood pulp and typically blended with other fibers and close to the comfort of natural fibers. It is extremely affordable, breathable, durable and made to mimic silk, cotton and linen fabrics. Rayon upholstery fabric is best suited for upholstery fabric applications that require natural fibers at a more affordable cost.