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Olefin furnishing fabric: everything you ever needed to know

  • December 6th, 2022

Olefin is a man-made fabric that is extremely durable. The fibres are created using heat, pressure, and a catalyst. In fact, olefin often goes by another name: polypropylene. This chemically created fabric is often considered to be more environmentally friendly than cotton, silk, and other natural fibres.

Olefin fabrics and fibres can be used in many different textile applications, but what is its origin and how is it produced?

What kind of fabric is olefin, anyway?

Olefin is a man-made fabric that is extremely durable and so it’s often used in upholstery, carpets, and other applications where durability is important. It’s also used in packaging products like high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles and garbage bags.

In its fabric form, olefin has a soft feel but it's very tough. Production of it was in full swing in the USA by 1960, only two years after it was first created.

How olefin fabric is made

The fabric has been making quite a comeback in the outdoor world in recent years, yet it has been around for decades. For the origins of Olefin, we must go back in time to Italy. Around 1957, chemist Giulio Natta, together with his partner Karl Ziegler, developed a method to convert polyolefins into fibres by using titanium as a catalyst. For this, the gentlemen received a Nobel Prize in 1963.

One of the products that could be made in this way was Olefin. During the production of Olefin, the fibres were dyed in a solution, making the fabric colourfast. UV inhibitors were also added to counteract the effects of UV radiation.

The production process was continuously improved over the years and the Olefin fabric became better and better with it. Today, Olefin is one of the best outdoor fabrics, especially when it comes to value for money.

Read more: The Definitive Guide to Choosing Outdoor Textiles >

Time for some olefin fabric science

The chemical reaction that produces olefin yarns is known as polymerisation. It involves the linking together of many small molecules (monomers) to form larger molecules (polymers).

The catalyst for this polymerisation reaction is usually a metal compound, such as tin or titanium tetrachloride; it can also be an acid or base. The catalyst can be added to the olefin resin before it's reacted with ethylene monomer, or it can be added directly to the ethylene monomer once it's been converted into pellets by way of cracking and distillation processes.

Natural materials, such as soybeans and corn, can also be used to create olefin fibre or ‘bioplastics’

Natural materials, such as soybeans and corn, can also be used to create olefin fibre. Soybeans are a major source to produce ‘bioplastic’ olefin fibre. The oil from these natural sources is converted into ethylene, which is then processed into polymers that can be made into fabrics.

Natural materials have been used in the production of garments since ancient times, but modern industrialization has refined this process greatly—so much so that it’s hard to tell where natural ends and artificial begins!

The primary benefit of natural olefins is that they are biodegradable, meaning they can be broken down by microorganisms in the soil. In recent years, bioplastic has recorded widespread application in the making of curtains and other home textiles.

Explore: The impressive reasons performance fabrics are invaluable to the contract market >

The advantages of olefin fabrics

They're also known for being soft and strong at the same time—which makes them ideal for upholstery applications as well as even clothing applications such as jackets, pants or shirts (depending on the type).

It's a great choice, especially for outdoor upholstery, because it doesn't absorb stains or moisture. This means that it doesn't need to be cleaned as often. Olefin is also stain-resistant which makes cleaning easier and reduces the risk of staining. Olefin fabric is available in a wide variety of colours and patterns, so you're sure to find something that matches your style. And since olefin is easy to care for, you won't have any trouble keeping it clean and looking like new.

Some of the other main advantages of olefin fabrics for furnishings are:

  • Comfortable. Olefin fabric is remarkably soft and smooth.
  • Durable. Olefin fabrics are highly durable and is particularly resistant to abrasion.
  • Colourfast. Dyeing is done using a solution during production, giving olefin fabrics incredible colourfastness.
  • Mould and mildew resistant. Olefin fabrics are resistant to mould, chemicals and insects and are easy to clean and maintain.
  • Versatile. With olefin fabric, a wide variety of structures and weave patterns is possible. You could say: the sky is the limit. The fabric is so versatile that it is even used for indoor applications (e.g. as curtain fabric and blinds).

All these properties make Olefin one of the best types of outdoor fabrics.

What does olefin fabric fabric feel like?

Olefin fabric feels soft and smooth, just like cotton. It's lightweight, breathable, and durable—excellent for outdoor use.

Why are olefin fabrics so durable?

  • Olefin generally has good elasticity and high abrasion resistance. It has excellent flame-retardant properties and is highly stable against oil and moisture exposure so it can be used in many different applications including upholstery fabrics.
  • Olefin dries quickly after being washed or exposed to water due to its low ability to absorb moisture; this makes olefin an ideal choice for those who want something quick drying without worrying about shrinkage or fading after washing.
  • The strength of olefins also allows them not only last longer but also less prone to tearing when they're stretched out over time.

Drawbacks and disadvantatges of olefin fabrics

Olefin fabrics are popular because they're inexpensive to produce and have low environmental impact when compared with traditional materials like wool or cotton. However, environmental sustainability in the textiles industry is a huge, layered topic, and there are no easy solutions to the climate change issues that are forecast to increase.

So yes, while olefin fabrics are technically more ecologically sustainable than silk or cotton, for example, this does not mean that they can be hyped as a 100% ‘eco-friendly green’ fabric.

There is no silver bullet when it comes to choosing the “right” fabric - there's no fabric yet that has zero impact on the environment.

That's why, to assess the impact of our products, we use the Higg Index. From our research, this is the most comprehensive tool available, providing a wide range of environmental metrics, based on a large variety of textile compositions and manufacturing processes used.

When compared to fashion, interior and exterior household furnishing fabrics are more durable, require fewer washing cycles and have greater longevity. However, we are committed to our responsibility to ensure we find solutions for better products and product life cycles. Read more about our sustainability commitment here.

Other disadvantages of olefin include:

  • Olefin fabrics should not be tumble-dried. Machine washing is allowed up to 30 degrees. Afterwards, let the fabric dry outdoors to keep its nice shape.
  • Ironing is not a good idea either.

Olefin furnishing fabric: that's a wrap!

If you're looking for a fabric that can withstand the elements and offers an inviting, easy-to-clean texture, olefin is the answer. Therefore, we are currently using solution-dyed polyolefin fibres in our FibreGuard Outdoor ranges.

FibreGuard fits your project specifications perfectly, on time and within budget. Our fabrics are easy to clean, hassle-free, eco-conscious and crafted in-house. Your business needs are central to our business ethos. Your project is our passion. Contact us today.