Picking the Perfect Performance Fabric

It’s been almost nine years since I first wrote about performance fabrics and bringing them inside from their common use outdoors.  My blog back then was about Sunbrella and nanotech technology and how you could have kids, pets and even drink red wine, and still be able to have light colored upholstery!   Slowly manufacturers started offering it on their upholstered pieces and we didn’t have to order COM (customer’s own material) to have a sofa or chair made with performance fabric.  As the word about performance fabrics has gotten out, and the demand stronger, many more brands of these have come on the market and the options are really exciting and diverse.  However, this can all be confusing because the fabrics have different benefits and attributes so you have to decide how you are going to use them.

Woven for Texture

The performance fabrics available now are no longer flat colors but have mixed weaves to create texture.  There is a handcrafted artistry look that is tactile and visual, as well as boucles, jacquards, chenilles, velvets and outdoor leathers for texture, and patterns of all sorts that offer beauty, comfort and durability.  The fabrics can now be moisture wicking, antimicrobial, anti-odor, quick dry, antistatic, wrinkle resistant, self-cleaning, flame retardant and even have protection from ticks and mosquitos.

Traits to Choose From

So where do you start and how do you decide which one to choose, other than just the color and texture?  You need to know more than just “it’s a performance fabric.”  Each one will have different benefits and attributes, as previously mentioned, so you have to decide where they are going to be used: indoors, outdoors in the sun or even indoors in windows which receive a lot of sunlight.  Next, ask yourself, are you using them for upholstery or window coverings?  Look at some of the possible traits:

  • Stain Resistant
  • UV & Fade Resistant
  • Durability/Abrasion Rating/Double Rubs
  • Mold & Mildew Resistant
  • Bleach Cleanable 
  • Odor Resistant
  • Solution Dyed
  • Breathable
  • Environmentally Friendly
  • Various Warranties 

Fabrics for the Outdoors

We all expect the stain resistance from performance fabrics, but a select few will have UVA resistance that is perfect for us where there is sun exposure, inside or out.  The double rubs (amount of wear) will vary from maybe 12,000 – 15,000 count on some Sunbrella fabrics, but can go up to 100,000, or even more, with other brands.  You may also want to inquire about pilling (small balls of fiber on the fabric surface) on some fabrics.  Solution dyed usually indicates you can use bleach because the yarns were dyed before the manufacturing.  Breathability can be important if you are upholstering something and have to incorporate a vent for air to go out when you sit, like on a bench.  Mold and mildew can grow on fabrics if you do not keep the dirt and soil removed from them because leaving it there is what allows this to happen.  Some performance fabrics do have the mold/mildew resistance attribute to alleviate this issue.

Cleaning Your Fabric

Let’s talk about how to clean performance fabrics.  Remove any debris first and don’t let it stay on the fabric for a long time.  Don’t ignore it and think you will get back to it later.  You should apply clean water and blot it, but don’t rub it.  Next, you can wash the fabric with soap and water and blot it again.  This should do a sufficient job cleaning the fabric.  It’s possible that you could still have something visible on it.  I did when some raccoons got into our outdoor fireplace and partied with soot all over their feet on some red Sunbrella cushions.  When I washed them in soap and water there were still some little black spots leftover from the footprints.  I took a Q-tip and applied some bleach to the spots and they disappeared with no difference in the red color.  I did rinse it so not to leave the bleach on the fabric forever.  Another story I have is about a client whose engineer husband didn’t believe what we said about the performance fabric we were recommending for their sofas.  He applied mustard to the sample and his wife wiped it off with a damp cloth.  She brought it back clean, although the paper it was attached to was yellow.  It’s always best to check with the manufacturer, though, just in case.

Available Fabric Types

Due to the growing popularity of these forgiving fabrics, whether you have pets, children, love red wine or just want to have that white seating without the worry that someone might spill something, make your life a lot easier and check out what is currently available.  The list has grown from the few fabrics available when I did the first blog to now, and I’m sure there will be more and more than the list I will supply you below; but at least this shows you many options to look into.  Most of these are available, either as cut yardage through Fabric House, or from upholstery lines at Design House.  So here’s to happy, more carefree living for you!

  • Alfresco
  • Alta
  • Bella Dura
  • Brisa
  • B/Strong
  • Convington
  • Crypton
  • Endurosilk
  • FibreGuard
  • Inside Out
  • Live Smart
  • Metallic
  • Nanotech
  • Never Fear
  • Novasuede
  • Nu Leather
  • Outdura
  • Para Tempotest
  • Performance by Regal
  • Performance Leather
  • Powered by Crypton-Leather
  • Revolution
  • Solarium
  • Sta Kleen
  • Sunbelievable
  • Sunbrella
  • Ultra Fabrics

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