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Our simplified guide to shopping durable upholstery

There can be a lot to remember when choosing sofa upholstery fabrics, and it can be hard to know where to start. In this guide, we’re diving into the world of textiles and durability, sharing valuable insights to help you make informed decisions for your furniture. We’ll touch on the most common questions and provide practical consumer tips to ensure your upholstery stands the test of time. Ready?

Upholstery durability: basic guidelines

Understanding the levels of fabric durability is essential in selecting the right upholstery for your specific needs. The first step in choosing a high-performance upholstery that fits your requirements is to identify the level of durability it needs, depending on where it’s going to be used. There are three main categories: residential, commercial and contract. Each level has its own set of requirements for how long the fabric will last and how it can be cleaned. So, which is which?

  • Residential fabrics are designed for use in the home and are typically used on furniture, drapery and bedding. They are not meant to be cleaned as often as commercial or contract fabrics. Residential fabrics can be spot cleaned, and frequently can be machine washed at specific temperatures.
  • Commercial fabrics are designed for use in high-traffic areas such as hotels and restaurants. They must meet specific durability standards set by organisational bodies such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
  • Contract fabrics are designed for use in public spaces such as airports and hospitals.

How are the requirements met by each level? Through mechanical testing by textile engineers in laboratories! Mechanical textiles testing is a process that involves the use of various machines to measure the performance of fabrics.

The machines are designed to simulate real-world conditions, such as wear and tear, so that manufacturers can determine how well their products will hold up over time. Mechanical testing is also used to determine whether a fabric meets specific standards set by organisations, such as we mentioned earlier.

Related read: Key features of performance fabrics for sofas

Durability in upholstery can't be determined in only one test though

The two abrasion testing methods (Martindale, the international standard and Wyzenbeek, the US standard) aren't the end-word in whether an upholstery fabric is really durable or not. Actual performance is determined by many factors in combination, including:

  • Fibre content
  • Weaves
  • Finishes
  • Maintenance
  • Cleaning
  • Usage

Abrasion tests don't necessarily equal each other

Both the Martindale (International) and Wyzenbeek (American) tests assess a fabric's resistance to abrasion, which is defined as scuffing, scratching, wearing down or rubbing away. However, even though they're commonly lumped together, good performance in one test doesn't mean that it will score the same results in the other one.

For example, just because an upholstery fabric scores 30,000 Wyzenbeek doesn't automatically mean it will definitely score 40,000 Martindale. The Martindale could be higher or lower, and the only way to find out is to run more tests to know for sure.

For a Heavy Duty grade upholstery, we frequently see specifications of 30,000 double rubs in the Wyzenbeek test OR 40,000 rubs in the Martindale method - even though, to a layman, these tests look basically the same.

What are the differences between Martindale and Wyzenbeek testing?

Both Wyzenbeek and Martindale are abrasion/rub tests; however, they measure different properties of a textile. Wyzenbeek involves rubbing along the warp and weft of fabric whereas Martindale is a figure-8 rub.

Double rub counts are a good way to gauge the durability of upholstery fabric because they mimic someone sitting down on the fabric and then standing up again. An easy way to get started is to remember that a higher double rub count signifies denser weave and greater durability.

Related read: Performance Fabrics and Quality Assurance: Ensuring Optimal Textile Standards

Fibres: another thing to consider for upholstery durability

The type of fibre that the fabric is made from plays a role in upholstery durability too. For example, if you have a pet that might sometimes accidentally scratch your furniture, then it’s best to choose a fabric that is made from synthetic fibres like polyester. These materials are more resistant to damage than natural ones like pure silk or wool.

Learn all about different fibre types here on our Fabrics Academy blog.

How to pick the best upholstery fabric for your furniture

This is a lot to remember – it can be really hard to know where to start and which information is the most important. Our best advice for shoppers is to look at your living space, and the furniture in question, to start determining what level of durability you need in an upholstery.

If you have a busy household with children and pets, you may want to consider a high-performance fabric (such as FibreGuard!) that is more durable. Daily-use items like your family room sofa require hardy, tightly woven materials that offer superior resistance to stains and wear. This high-level of textile engineering guarantees that the item will last for many years without needing replacement.

Related read: Here's what cat owners need to know about choosing furniture upholstery

If you live a more relaxed lifestyle, or don’t have many people in the house, then you can choose from a more 'delicate' range of fabrics for your furniture. For example, sofas and chairs that are used less often (like those in bedrooms or formal living rooms) may be upholstered with materials like pure silk, to use the example we mentioned earlier.

Related read: 13 Things About Textile and Fabrics You May Not Have Known

Time to go upholstery shopping!

In this guide, we've emphasised the importance of investing in durable upholstery that can withstand the demands of daily life. We really hope these practical tips and no-nonsense information helps you make informed decisions for long-lasting furniture.

Whether you're furnishing your home or designing outdoor spaces, FibreGuard's versatile upholstery collections adapt to different environments and lifestyles. Our innovative approach, backed by research, ensures that you're getting the best in both functionality and style. With FibreGuard's range of fabrics, you can have furniture that complements your style while also withstanding the rigors of everyday life. So, make the smart choice and choose fabrics that are built to last.

Your furniture, and your home, deserve nothing less.

Get in touch with our team to find your nearest stockist.

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