A Beginner's Guide to Choosing Upholstery Fabric

Item # X-HT-300710

The steps are:

Step 1: Environment & Use
Step 2: Essential Fabric Features
Step 3: Available Fabric Materials

You can revisit this framework every time you start a new upholstery project. Ready to learn how easy upholstery fabric selection really is? Let’s dive in!

Step 1: Environment & Use

The first step is to ask yourself two questions about where and how you’ll use your project:

  • Will you use your upholstery piece indoors or outdoors?
  • How often will you use your upholstery piece?

Why are these two questions so critical? Because they will tell you two major things:

  • Whether a natural or synthetic material is best.
  • Whether to choose a printed or solution-dyed fabric.

Let’s break these considerations down to see why they’re important.

Natural vs. Synthetic Material

Sailrite® carries a selection of natural and synthetic fabrics. The choice between natural and synthetic partly depends on where and how much you'll use your upholstered item.

Indoor or Outdoor Use

Natural fabrics can add warmth and a luxurious feel to various indoor settings. However, they can be susceptible to damage from water, UV rays and other elements. Because of this, they should not be used for outdoor upholstery.

Synthetic fabrics are versatile and can also be used indoors. They’re generally better suited for outdoor conditions than natural fabrics as well. They’re often more resistant to water, UV rays and mold — especially if they’ve been treated for outdoor use.

So, synthetic fabrics usually perform better outdoors, but both varieties are good for indoor use. The deciding factor will be how often you'll use the indoor item.

Light or Heavy Use

Natural fabrics work well for light use. While they can be comfortable and breathable, they may not hold up well under heavy use.

Synthetic fabrics are well suited for light use. And since they’re often designed to be very resistant to wear, stains and fading, they’re a great choice for heavy use.

So, while both natural and synthetic fabrics can be used for light-duty pieces, synthetic fabrics are better for heavy use.

Now you know whether you should use a natural or synthetic fabric. Next, we’ll discuss two common fabric coloring methods to help you decide which is best for you.

Printing vs. Solution Dyeing

Printing and solution dyeing are two methods of coloring fabric. Each method has its pros and cons.

How to Choose Upholstery Fabric 6It's easy to see the difference between printed and solution-dyed fabrics.


Printing is exactly what it sounds like — applying color to a finished fabric’s surface. Only one side of a fabric is printed, leaving the other side blank.

Because the color is only on the surface of the fabric, it’s prone to stretching and fading. When that happens, you can see the undyed fabric beneath. But don’t count this dyeing method out yet!

Printing allows for very intricate designs with lots of eye-catching colors. These fabrics also tend to be budget friendly. They’re great for outdoor pieces that will get light traffic and be stored inside when not in use. You can also use them for indoor décor pieces.

Solution Dyeing

Solution dyeing is the process of dyeing a raw material before it’s spun into yarn and then woven into fabric. This means that the color penetrates to the core of every fiber and becomes an inherent part of the fabric.

Because of this, solution-dyed materials tend to be more expensive than printed materials. But if you need a fabric with excellent environmental resistance, the improved performance is worth the higher cost.

Solution-dyed fabrics are extremely colorfast. They’re highly resistant to fading and UV rays. They're also much less likely to degrade from harsh weather and other environmental factors. Solution-dyed fabric is the way to go for high-use or outdoor upholstery.

Now that you know what material type and dyeing method you should look for, it’s time to move onto the next step!

Step 2: Essential Fabric Features

Once you figure out usage, you’re ready to consider what properties your fabric should have. Here are the top features to look for when shopping upholstery fabrics:

  • Durability: High-traffic pieces like couches need sturdy materials with high abrasion resistance. Decorative or occasional-use pieces can get away with more delicate fabrics.
  • Stain Resistance: Spills and stains are common in living areas — especially in homes with kids or pets. Choose stain- and water-resistant fabrics for items that may be exposed to spills, such as dining chairs. Decorative items may be safe with less spill-resistant fabrics.
  • UV and Fade Resistance: Fabrics with high UV resistance are essential for projects that will be exposed to excessive sunlight. Indoor projects don’t need to be as UV resistant. Likewise, solution-dyed fabrics are much more fade resistant than printed fabrics.
  • Maintenance Level: Different fabrics need different levels of care. You can clean some fabrics with just a damp cloth, while others require professional cleaning. Choose a fabric that aligns with your maintenance preferences.
  • Breathability: In some climates or settings, breathability can be important. Natural fabrics are generally more breathable than synthetics. Consider where and how you'll use your project to determine if you need a breathable fabric.
  • Environmental Impact: If you want to use sustainable materials, look for fabrics with eco-conscious certifications. OEKO-TEX® and GREENGUARD® Gold are two common ones. Also, look for solution-dyed fabrics. Solution dyeing does not use water, making it more environmentally friendly than printing.
  • Price: Upholstery fabrics come in various price ranges. Balance budget friendliness with your quality and feature requirements. Higher-quality fabrics often come with higher price tags, but their durability makes them cost-effective in the long run.

How to Choose Upholstery Fabric 5Have kids, pets or frequent social gatherings? Water- and stain-resistant fabrics may be for you.

Now that you’ve decided on the most important features for your project, you’re ready for the final step. It's time to find out which fabric materials have the features you want.

Step 3: Available Fabric Materials

Before you buy fabric for your project, it’s best to learn about the types of fabric that Sailrite offers. Let’s talk a little about each fabric’s features, as well as a few pros and cons. Our inventory includes fabrics made of natural, semi-synthetic or fully synthetic fibers.

Natural Fibers:

  • Cotton: Cotton is soft, breathable and easy to clean. It comes in various patterns and colors, making it versatile for different DIYs. However, it can wrinkle and fade over time, so it’s not ideal for high-traffic areas or homes with pets.
  • Linen: Linen is made from the flax plant, which gives it its luxurious, natural look. This highly breathable fabric is great for formal furniture or low-traffic areas. The downside is that it’s prone to wrinkles, stains and fading.
  • Leather: Elegant, long lasting and easy to clean, leather is perfect for both formal and high-traffic areas. However, it can be expensive and may not be the best choice for those who prefer a more fabric-like feel.

How to Choose Upholstery Fabric 3Natural fabrics (like this printed cotton from Magnolia Home) are best for light-use items such as formal dining chair covers.

Semi-Synthetic Fibers:

  • Rayon: Rayon is made of plant cellulose fibers, usually derived from bamboo or eucalyptus. During manufacturing, these natural fibers undergo various chemical treatments. The result is a semi-synthetic fabric. Rayon has a silky appearance and is often blended with other fabrics. This versatile material comes in many types, including standard rayon, viscose and lyocell. On the downside, it wrinkles easily and isn't as stain resistant as some fully synthetic materials. Rayon is best for low-traffic areas or decorative use.

Synthetic Fibers:

  • Polyester: Polyester is durable and easy to clean. It also resists wrinkles and fading. It's a budget-friendly choice for high-traffic furniture. However, it’s not as breathable as natural fabrics and may feel less luxurious.
  • Acrylic: Acrylic is known for its resistance to moisture, mildew and fading. It can mimic the look of wool or other natural fibers and is often used outdoors. While it's durable and weather resistant, it may not be as soft as natural materials.
  • Vinyl: Vinyl is an excellent choice for areas that require easy cleaning and maintenance. It's waterproof but not breathable. Some people find vinyl less comfortable than other fabrics, and it may not be suitable for formal or high-end furniture. PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a type of vinyl.
  • Nylon: A strong and abrasion-resistant material, nylon is great for heavy-use furniture. It's known for its durability and easy maintenance. However, nylon may not be as stain resistant as other synthetics. It can also pill or fade with prolonged sun exposure.
  • Polyethylene: Polyethylene resists moisture, UV rays and weather conditions. It's a type of polyolefin. It may not offer the same comfort and softness as other fabrics, making it more suitable for outdoor use.
  • Polypropylene: Polypropylene is a tough and stain-resistant fabric perfect for high-traffic areas. It's also a type of polyolefin. It's easy to clean and maintain, but can lack the softness and breathability of natural materials.
  • Polyurethane: Polyurethane is a versatile material often used for faux leather. It's easy to clean, durable and more affordable than genuine leather. However, it may not offer the same luxurious feel as real leather.

How to Choose Upholstery Fabric 4These synthetic Crypton fabrics are ideal for durable cushions in high-traffic areas like living rooms and offices.

Sailrite’s huge inventory of upholstery fabrics includes natural materials, synthetics and blends. Remember, the material you choose depends on your intended use and must-have fabric features.

Wrapping Up

Selecting the best upholstery fabric is an exciting part of the DIY process. It ultimately depends on your unique circumstances and personal preferences. Prioritize the qualities that matter most to you and your lifestyle. Then, pick the fabric that checks the most boxes on your list of must-haves.

When you shop Sailrite for all your DIY needs, you never have to wonder where to buy upholstery fabric. Did you decide on an indoor-only upholstery piece in step 1? If so, our inventory of indoor upholstery fabrics is sure to delight.

Shop Indoor Upholstery Fabrics

Is outdoor upholstery on your to-do list? Our selection of outdoor and marine upholstery fabrics has just what you’re looking for.

Shop Outdoor Upholstery Fabrics

Shop Marine Upholstery Canvas

Shop Marine Upholstery Vinyl

We hope this blog helps you make an informed decision on fabric for every upholstery project. Take your time, explore your options and have fun giving your furniture a fresh, stylish new look!