What Is a Performance Fabric?

Item # X-HT-300541

When it comes to upholstery, one of the few things more important than the fabric’s look and feel is its durability. You need a fabric that looks good and will stay that way. Enter performance fabrics: woven, synthetic fabrics designed to keep up with life, both indoors and out. Read on to learn more about what makes performance fabrics stand out from the crowd.

the same performance fabric used for an indoor and outdoor application

Performance fabrics are meant for both indoor and outdoor upholstery applications — this includes everything from patio cushions to interior throw pillows. They’re even suitable for your boat, car or RV! Because performance fabrics are so durable, they’ll retain their shape and color no matter what you throw at them. These fabrics take on messy hands and dirty paws without breaking a sweat; most messes clean up with soapy water and a soft brush.

All of the performance fabrics Sailrite® carries share the same basic features:

  • Solution-dyed synthetic fibers for higher color saturation.
  • UV resistance to prevent fading.
  • Water, mold and mildew resistance.
  • High abrasion resistance for increased toughness.
  • Easy cleanability and stain resistance.

You can browse our collection of performance fabrics here.

Below, we’ll go into more detail about these criteria, how they affect performance, and how the brands we carry live up to our exacting standards.

Fabric Construction

Performance starts with the weave of the fibers. All of our performance fabrics are made from synthetic materials that give the fabrics their key features. Since the materials are man-made, they are manufactured to be more durable and easier to care for than natural fibers like cotton or wool. Sunbrella® Upholstery Fabrics and Fortress® by Richloom Fabrics Group are both 100% acrylic, a popular choice for fabric because of its durability and surprising softness. Bella-Dura® fabrics are made from their proprietary polyolefin fibers, which they’ve engineered for peak performance without sacrificing softness or style. Covington Outdoor Sun Protected Fabrics (SPF) are constructed from polypropylene fibers for a material that is durable with a soft hand. P/Kaufmann Outdoor fabrics are woven from 100% olefin fibers, so they’re durable enough for your boat, car or RV, or your home.

five rolls of performance fabrics

Sailrite carries five performance fabric brands: Sunbrella Upholstery Fabric, Bella-Dura, Covington SPF, Fortress and P/Kaufmann.

All of these companies solution dye their fabrics. This unique dyeing process means that the color penetrates to the core of the fiber rather than simply being applied to the top layer. Solution dyeing offers several benefits over traditional dyeing methods, most important being more vibrant and vivid colors in both single-color wovens and jacquard patterns. These patterns are woven into the material itself rather than being printed on top so the pattern won’t fade or rub off, extending the life of the fabric. Because the color penetrates into the structure of the fiber itself, solution dyed fabrics are colorfast and incredibly UV resistant.

UV Resistance

The most common measure of UV or sun resistance is the number of hours it takes a fabric to fade. While solution-dyed fabrics have an inherent degree of UV resistance because the dye is saturated to the core of the fiber, which means color will naturally take longer to fade, fabrics can also be treated to withstand UV rays by using UV-stable pigments. Sailrite considers fabrics with a UV fade rating of up to 1,500 hours to be highly UV resistant. With a rating of 1,500 light hours, Sunbrella Upholstery Fabrics, Bella-Dura and Fortress fabrics are all highly UV resistant. Covington SPF fabrics are also highly UV resistant up to 2,000 hours; Covington even guarantees their outdoor fabrics won’t fade for up to three years! P/Kaufmann is fade resistant up to 1,000 light hours, meaning it isn’t as UV resistant as the other fabrics on this list. For this reason, we recommend bringing P/Kaufmann fabrics indoors when not in use.

Water, Mold & Mildew Resistance

Acrylic is naturally hydrophobic, meaning it doesn’t absorb much water. For this reason, Sunbrella and Fortress fabrics are inherently water resistant. Bella-Dura’s polyolefin fibers are also inherently water resistant. Covington SPF and P/Kaufmann fabrics, on the other hand, are treated with a water-repellent coating after the fabric is woven. Both kinds of water resistance — fiber-based and coating-based — can be re-treated with topical products, such as 303® Fabric Guard (#481100).

water droplets on sunbrella fabrics

Sunbrella Upholstery Fabrics are highly water resistant.

Water resistance contributes to a fabric’s mold and mildew resistance. For Sunbrella and P/Kaufmann, water resistance combines with the fabric’s breathability to increase the material’s resistance to mold and mildew growth. Fortress, Bella-Dura and Covington SPF are actually antimicrobial, further decreasing the likelihood of these fabrics developing mold or mildew.

Abrasion Resistance & Durability

When it comes to choosing a fabric for an upholstery application, it needs to hold up to life’s daily wear and tear: being sat on, napped on, walked on. A fabric’s durability is measured in what’s known as “double rubs.” All the performance fabrics we carry at Sailrite have medium- and heavy-duty ratings. High abrasion resistance (30,000+ double rubs) means your fabric will take longer to wear and fray, making them suitable for high-traffic areas.

Sunbrella and Bella-Dura manufacture their synthetic fibers to resist pilling, so these fabrics are more likely to withstand wear and tear than other upholstery fabrics. Sunbrella’s upholstery fabrics start at 15,000+ double rubs (cotton) and range as high as 50,000+ double rubs (cotton). Bella-Dura fabrics all carry a 50,000 double rub (wire) rating. Covington is similarly heavy duty, rating at 30,000+ double rubs (cotton). P/Kaufmann and Fortress are more medium-duty fabrics, with 17,000 double rubs (wire) and 12,000+ double rubs (cotton), respectively.

You may be wondering, "What’s the difference between cotton and wire double-rub ratings?" To learn the answer and so much more about fabric wear ratings, see our "What Is a Fabric Wear Rating?" blog (#300100XHT).

Cleanability

tea splashed on a sunbrella fabric

Spilled tea has nothing on a performance fabric; it cleans up with just a towel and mild soap!

Messes happen. Dirt, spills and more (we’re looking at you, four-legged friends) are a fact of life. One of the great things about performance fabrics is that most are easily cleanable with mild soap and water. Sunbrella, Fortress and Bella-Dura are all inherently stain resistant, since they won’t absorb much water. Bella-Dura and Covington both add a stain-resistant coating to their fabrics for increased protection.

Final Thoughts

Life’s toughest, messiest moments — rain or shine, inside or outside — have nothing on these tough fabrics. No matter where you intend to use it, you can rely on a performance fabric to, well, perform. The best part about performance fabrics? Their excellent durability means you won’t have to replace them as often, making them a more environmentally friendly choice for your upholstery projects — and a money-saver for you in the long run. Sunbrella’s upholstery fabrics are GREENGUARD® Gold Certified, meaning they don’t emit any toxins or carcinogens into the air so they’re perfectly safe to use in your home. Bella-Dura and Sunbrella even commit to eco-friendly and clean manufacturing processes and offer programs to recycle old fabrics.

Ready to put some performance fabrics to the test? Shop our performance fabrics here.

If you still aren't sure what performance fabric you need, the project specialists at Sailrite are here to help — just give us a call, shoot us an email or send us an online chat. And don’t forget to show us what you’re making! Tag us on social media using #Sailrite to share all your DIYs with us.