Cotton & Cotton Blend: Looking for something casual, family-friendly, or for high-traffic areas? Cotton is always a safe (and relatively inexpensive) bet. This fabric provides good resistance to wear, fading, and pilling. Its downside is that it’s susceptible to soiling, wrinkling, and fire. There are many weaves available, from formal (Damask) to casual (duck and sailcloth).
Wool: Sturdy and durable, modern wool and wool blends offer good resistance to pilling, fading, wrinkling, and soiling. Generally, wool is blended with a synthetic fiber to make it easier to clean and to reduce the fibers from bonding together. Wool can be spot-cleaned when necessary.
Linen: Linen is great for its refined texture, versatility, and earthy elegance. Linen is best suited for formal living rooms or adult areas because it soils and wrinkles easily, plus it won't withstand heavy wear. However, linen does great in resisting pilling and fading. To avoid shrinkage, linen upholstery must be professionally cleaned.
Leather: Leather, cowhide, and suede provide a rich and luxurious texture, plus adds a natural element to the room. Leather is great because the dying and tanning processes yield unique results. Leather can be gently vacuumed, damp-wiped, and cleaned with a leather conditioner.
Vinyl: Low maintenance and less expensive than leather, vinyls are ideal for busy family living and dining rooms. All you need is soap and water to clean it up with. The durability depends heavily on quality.
Silk: This delicate fabric is only suitable for adult areas, such as formal living rooms. It must be professionally cleaned if soiled.
Acetate: Developed as an imitation of silk, acetate can withstand mildew, pilling, and shrinking. However, it offers only fair resistance to soiling and tends to wear, wrinkle, and fade in the sun. It's not a good choice for furniture that will get heavy everyday use.
Acrylic: This synthetic fiber was developed as imitation wool. It resists wear, wrinkling, soiling, and fading. Low-quality acrylic is much more susceptible to pilling than high-quality acrylic.
Nylon: Rarely used alone, nylon is often blended with other fibers to make them stronger and more durable. It doesn't readily soil or wrinkle, but it does tend to fade and pill.
Polyester: It is rarely used alone in upholstery, polyester is blended with other fibers to add wrinkle resistance and reduce fading. A 100% polyester piece may be uncomfortable to sit in.
Rayon: Rayon is a versatile fiber with the same comfort properties as natural fabrics. It can be made to imitate the feel and texture of silk, wool, cotton or linen. Ideal for humid climates, Rayon fabrics do well with moisture and don’t insulate body heat (they feel cool to the touch).
Olefin: This is a good choice for furniture that will receive heavy wear. It’s abrasion, stain, sunlight, fire, and chemical resistant. It provides warmth without the weight, plus it can wick moisture and dry quickly. It’s most lauded property is its strength. It’s only weakness it that it doesn’t dye very well.
Don't let large fabric racks or catalogs scare you. As you have a basic idea of what’s right for your space and what your style is (plus this guide), the process of picking a fabric will seem much less daunting. It's even easier with a little guidance from us at Brown & Beam.