Upholstery Fabric Durability Ratings
Having durable upholstery fabric is very important. Reupholstering furniture can be a big investment and you need to know that your furniture, particularly its upholstery, is going to last a long time.
This is where the upholstery fabric durability ratings come in handy. Most fabric producers do make their textiles as durable and robust as possible to keep them in good shape for constant use, and this is helped by new milling techniques and synthetic fibers.
But how can you tell how durable upholstery fabric is? What is the upholstery fabric durability rating?
It comes down to something called rubs. Fabric durability is almost always tested based on abrasion. For example, think of how often the butt of your jeans rubs across surfaces. You’re sitting, getting up, and rubbing your butt all over everything. Your jean fabric must withstand a certain number of rubs to be considered durable.
The same can be said for upholstery fabric. Abrasion resistance is important when people are rubbing all over the furniture. A rub durability rating is based on, in essence, a single butt sliding onto and then off of the fabric. This is called a double rub count. It equals two rubs – one onto the couch and another coming off the couch (back and forth motion).
When purchasing new fabric, there will always be a rub rating on the tag along with the country of origin, fabric material, dry cleaning only, and the amount of rubs the material can withstand.
Upholstery Fabric Durability Guidelines
Fabric durability is based on lab testing. There is a reliable guide that connects the lab durability tests to everyday use. Here is what you can expect when looking at “rub” ratings. Also, keep in mind we’re talking about a double rub. Almost all guidelines will be stated as a double rub rating.
Light Use Upholstery Fabric:
Light use upholstery fabric is used for things like bedroom furniture, accent chairs, curtains, and other things that won’t see a lot of physical interaction. For light use fabric, a solid rating is between 9,000 and 12,000 rubs.
Medium Use Upholstery Fabric:
Medium use upholstery fabric is often used in everyday furniture. Chairs at the dining room table, ottomans, sofas, and side chairs. For this kind of upholstery fabric, anywhere between 12,000 and 20,000 rubs is sufficient.
Heavy Use Upholstery Fabric:
Heavy use upholstery fabric is something like light commercial seating. This means the upholstery for your car seat. Expect over 20,000 rubs when dealing with heavy use textiles.
Commercial Use Upholstery Fabric:
Commercial use upholstery fabric is when things start getting serious. These types of fabrics will be found at train stations and airports, in restaurants, and anywhere that sees a significant amount of traffic. Heavy commercial upholstery fabric should be able to withstand over 35,000 rubs.
For commercial seating, we start at 35,000 rubs however we recommend 50,000+ and typically sell many of our materials at 100,000+.
The most important thing to remember is that a reliable number of rubs to have with your upholstery is going to be around 15,000. If the upholstery fabric of your kitchen chair is rated for 15,000 double rubs, it means you can sit in the chair four times a day, every single day, for 10 years straight before the chair fabric begins to show wear and tear.
To make things even simpler, think of residential upholstery fabric as being between 10,000 and 25,000 rubs while commercial fabric ranges from 35,000 double rubs up to 250,000 double rubs!
What Upholstery Fabric is the Most Durable?
Some fabric is just stronger. For example, cotton is stronger than silk. Silk is not going to stand up to any kind of long-term abrasion when used to upholster a couch. Silk is better for things like sheets and tablecloths. At the same time, cotton is great for pillows and bedding but not sofas.
The best and most durable fabrics for upholstered furniture is going to be a combination of cotton and polyester, usually with some rayon thrown in as well. This is the ideal fabric for a family couch and everyday wear. You’ll get about 15,000 rubs, meaning it will stand up for over a decade.
But if you need something even more durable, upwards of a 15,000 double rub that can stand up to seriously heavy use, you’ll probably need some kind of commercial blend of polyester and synthetic fiber. Synthetic fiber, or microfiber (both man made), is extremely strong and can be mixed with many fabrics to make textiles tougher and more durable making them a great choice.
Chenille is another great durable fabric for in the home. Chenille is similar to velvet, offering great comfort and abrasion resistance.
For more information about cotton upholstery, refer to our Cotton Upholstery Fabric article.
Can Upholstery Fabric be Too Durable?
One thing you never want to do is use commercial-grade upholstery fabrics in your home. Fabrics that are too heavy won’t typically be nearly as comfortable as medium-grade household fabrics.
Plus, heavy-duty fabrics with a higher abrasion rating cost way more money. Heavier duty fabrics should only be used for commercial settings. When dealing with living room furniture, stick to normal fabrics with ratings of around 15,000 rubs.
How is Upholstery Fabric Graded?
Every manufacturer has their own grading system when it comes to fabric. Besides the rub ratings, fabrics are also graded on their resistance to stains, their thread count, how tight the weave is, and the colourfastness. Colourfastness is how well a particular fabric will keep its colour over a period of time.
Are Synthetic Fabrics More Durable Than Natural Fabrics?
Synthetic fabrics are not necessarily more durable than natural fabrics. The one thing that really counts when choosing a durable fabric for upholstery is the rub count. Natural fiber and synthetic fabrics can be woven in such a way that either one can be more durable. It’s the rub rating that tells you how long a particular fabric will last, whether natural and synthetic.
Many people believe natural sustainable fabrics do not have great durability and they are more of a delicate fabric compared to other fibers. However, there are many sustainable fabrics that have 50,000 double rubs or greater! Durable natural fabrics are a good choice for upholstery.
At the end of the day, the durability of your upholstery fabric should be chosen based on your needs. Whether you’re putting together office furniture or reupholstering your living room furniture, choosing a right fabric that suits the room and that has a reasonable double rub rating is what really matters when it comes to furniture upholstery.
And besides, there’s a lot more that goes into a fabric’s durability than just how it resists wear. You have to consider if it is stain resistant or has a stain resistant finish, if it has wrinkle resistance, colourfastness (reduce fading), easy to clean, good for every day use, and overall style. There are many different fabrics, we suggest taking a fabric sample home from us or a furniture store as a test fabric. Upholstery fabrics also can look very different in each type of room whether it be in a family room or formal spaces.
If you would like more information on durable fabrics for upholstered furniture, check out the this guide to upholstery article – How to choose upholstery fabric where you can find the best upholstery fabric selection that suits your needs.