How to Choose an Outdoor Fabric

Item # X-HT-300030
Beautiful patio with pergola with curtains and chairs sitting out in front.

Photo and projects by customer Chris S.

Outdoor fabric is a broad, diverse category full of everything from Morbern® Allsport Vinyl to Sunbrella® Marine Grade to Waverly® Sun N Shade. Not every outdoor fabric is suitable for every outdoor application, so how do you know which fabric will work best for your project?

Take a look at our Outdoor Fabric Selection Guide. In this guide, we have ranked all of Sailrite’s outdoor fabrics by six key criteria: breathability, water resistance, abrasion resistance, UV resistance, colorfastness and cleanability. Let’s take a closer look at those six features.

6 Factors to Consider When Selecting an Outdoor Fabric

Breathability

The level of breathability is determined by how easily air can pass through a fabric. Breathability is important to consider for any outdoor project but is especially key for two applications: covers and seating. In airtight enclosures and covers, a non-breathable fabric could lead to mold and mildew. For seating, a breathable cushion will be more comfortable (less sticky), especially during hot summer months.

Water Resistance

Water resistance measures how much water will bead and roll off the fabric surface. Often, water resistance and breathability are trade-offs. Typically fabrics that don’t breath well are more water resistant and those that do not breathe at all are considered waterproof (generally vinyl-coated or laminated fabrics). Water resistance is more important for applications like awnings, covers and speedboat interiors than it is for patio furniture, where cushions can be brought in and out of the rain.

Abrasion Resistance

Abrasion resistance describes how well a fabric will hold up to abrasion under tension. Abrasion-resistant outdoor fabrics for marine and outdoor cover applications are usually heavy, stiff and often coated with vinyl or other resins. For abrasion resistance with a softer look and hand, go with an outdoor upholstery fabric.

Customer-made bimini top, dodger and sail cover

Photo and canvaswork by customers Rudy and Cheryl G.

UV Resistance

UV resistance is perhaps the most important factor in an outdoor fabric and the simplest. The higher the UV resistance the longer the fabric will last when exposed to sunlight. The importance of UV resistance increases for applications that will see more sunlight as opposed to applications that would stay in the shade the majority of the time.

Colorfastness

The more colorfast a fabric, the less likely the pattern or color will fade or bleed. A fabric’s colorfastness is determined by how well it holds color over years of exposure to sun, rain and snow. Colorfastness is more of an aesthetic factor but is important to consider if using vibrant colors for awnings, covers and cushions. Some outdoor fabrics with a printed pattern may stretch or fade over time if used heavily, or if left outside uncovered for long periods of time.

Cleanability

While cleanability might seem less important for outdoor fabrics as opposed to indoor, cleaning your outdoor fabrics is crucial to their longevity. Cleanability stands for how well a fabric releases dirt from the weave. Mold and mildew can grow on dirt that is trapped in the fabric weave. In general, fabrics with a single-side coating do not release dirt well. To combat this, inspect those fabrics frequently and clean them often.

Canvas awning over a dock

Awning and photo by customer Charles L.

Selecting the right fabric for your outdoor project can be a balance of weighing the pros and cons of each choice. This Outdoor Fabric Selection Guide aims to make the process easier with its quick 5-star ratings system. If you’re still unsure, there’s also a cheat sheet of Sailrite fabric recommendations based on application.