What’s The Best Fabric for My Sofa?

This post about best fabrics for a sofa was updated in August 2022.

Best sofa fabric for neutral couch from Ballard Designs

If you’ve been listening to our podcast, you’ve likely heard one of our most common questions which is ‘where should I invest my decorating dollars?’ Nearly all of our guests are in agreement that a great, well-made sofa in the best fabric is an investment you won’t regret. The guts of any upholstered piece are important because that determines the lifespan and comfort of furniture, but equally as important is choosing the best fabric for a sofa. Today, we’re walking you through all of the options so you can make a timeless investment for your room.

In our episodes with Melanie Turner, Erin Gates, and Bunny Williams, all three of these designers recommend choosing a neutral fabric for your couch. They’re just more versatile for any redecorating you may do, they can easily work into any room should you move, and staying away from anything too bold means you won’t get tired of the fabric in a year or two. But even if you choose something neutral, there are lots of different options to consider.

1. Understanding Fabric Weaves

First let’s talk about weaves. Every fabric is created by weaving threads together, and the tightness of that weave can determine not just the way the fabric feels but it’s durability. Think about the way a loose-weave cheese cloth or drapery sheer looks and feels versus a thick pair of denim jeans. The threads in the cheese cloth aren’t pulled tight, they’re loose which allows the fabric to drape more elegantly and it lets more light through. A thick pair of 100% cotton jeans have as tight a weave as possible which makes them more durable, easier to wash, and they don’t loose their shape as quickly. Let’s apply that same thinking to upholstery fabrics.

Sectional sofa in neutral fabric in busy family living room

Linens typically have a looser weave without a lot of nubbiness. That means they drape more elegantly on your sofa (great if you’re buying a slipcover), but it also means the threads are more susceptible to wearing out because they aren’t as tightly woven together. Now in the linen category, some are heavier than others. Suzanne Kasler’s 13oz Linen have a very tight weave and a heavier weight, so this is a great fabric for a sofa or any upholstery.  Our Everyday Linen have a lighter hand, so while they’re great for headboards or chairs, they don’t stand up quite as well to wear as our heavier linens, and instead make great fabric options for drapery and pillows.

Velvets have a tighter weave because they aren’t just woven horizontally, they have a pile or nap to them. That means that the threads stand upright, creating a fuzzy, soft texture. The advantage to fabric with a pile (like velvet) is that it’s exceptionally soft to the touch. Our velvets are blended with polyester which makes them more durable to 100% cotton velvet, so they’re easier to spot clean and the pile isn’t as vulnerable to being crushed.

Marla woven fabric for sofa in spice/orange color with throw pillows

A tweed is another durable option, like our Coco Tweed or Marla fabrics. They’re a blend of natural and man-made yarns so they’re easy to clean, and they have a tight, nubby weave. That traditional tweed look gives them a more formal feel than a linen, and the textured weave makes them great options for concealing spills or imperfections.

Chenilles are cousins of a velvet in that they have a pile, or a nap, which gives them a soft, fuzzy hand. They’re also usually heavy.

2. Look at the Fabric Specifications

Before you pick a fabric for your sofa, it’s important to look at the thread makeup of a fabric, just as you’d check the care instructions of a shirt. This is even more important if you’re shopping online. The makeup of the fabric’s thread can give you a lot of information about the durability, hand, and softness that you aren’t able to see online.

Living room with blue sofa and leather chairs

Look at the Blend

Often, fabrics will have a blend of threads, and that blend can help you understand the way it would feel and stand up to wear and tear.

Natural threads are important because they have a breathability and softness that makes them appealing for a piece of furniture you’re spending a lot of time one. However, there are downsides to cottons and wools too. They break down more quickly and don’t always stand up to stains.

Now, synthetic materials get a bad rep because they don’t have the same breathability and softness that more natural threads have, but polyester, acrylic, and rayon have their own advantages. Synthetic threads are more durable, easier to clean, and more stain-resistant.

For many of our fabrics, you’ll see we’ve add a little bit of synthetic thread to a natural thread to create a blend — that gives you the best of both worlds. You get the softness, breathability, and luxurious hand of a natural fabric but with more durability and stain-resistance because of the polyester or acrylic.

Of course, we encourage you to order a swatch of any of our fabrics so you can get a better feel for the weight and weave. It’s important to see the color and touch and feel the fabric before you order it on something as large and important as a sofa.

Neutral sofa in white performance fabric from Ballard Designs

Check Out the Rub Count to Find the Best Fabric for a Sofa

What’s a rub count? Every fabric is given a double rub which means it’s the number of rubs before a fabric starts breaking down. This is an easy indicator of how durable a fabric is. Most fabrics range from 15,000 to 60,000 double rubs, though a great upholstery fabric may have 100,000 double rubs or more, like our Marla or Aster fabrics.

3. Performance Acrylic and Polyester are Best Fabrics for Sofa

We’ve talked about the advantages of polyesters and acrylics, but not every polyester or acrylic thread has the same stain resistance and durability to be considered a ‘performance fabric.’ Here’s what sets some polyesters and acrylics apart:

Solution-dyed acrylic and polyester are considered the best in class fabrics for stain resistance, clean-ability, and fade resistance. Here’s why: ‘solution-dyed’ means that these threads are dyed all the way through, meaning that the thread holds the dye color all the way through, in the same way a carrot is orange all the way through. With the way most threads are dyed, the dye only changes the outermost layer of the thread, so like a radish, only the outside layer holds the color. Because of this, dyed thread is vulnerable to sun-bleaching and staining. The thread of our solution-dyed performance fabrics hold the color all the way through, like a carrot. So they can stand up to the elements and any other mishaps your family members can throw at them.

If you’re looking for solution-dyed acrylics and polyesters, you’ll want to look for fabrics from Sunbrella or InsideOut performance fabrics.

Read More: Performance Fabrics 101

4. Other Performance Fabrics

The term ‘performance fabric’ encapsulates a wide range of options, one of which is stain treatment on the threads used to create the fabric. This is an applied solution that treats the threads for stain resistance, making spills less likely to stain and easier cleanup. It’s a different method to a solution-dyed acrylic or polyester, but still makes for a durable and easy-to-clean fabric for the sofa.

Stain treated sofa fabric from Crypton Home offers stain resistance and durability to Ballard Designs sofa

Linden Oxford Crypton Performance Fabric in a blue living room from Ballard Designs

Crypton Home is our resource for stain-treated fabrics, and their patterns, texture, and color give them a more fashion-forward look than you might otherwise find with solution dyed threads.

5. Cost of Fabric for Sofa

Of course, you can’t go shopping for the best fabric for your sofa, without paying attention to price. The price of a fabric goes up or down based on a number of factors. Tighter, denser weaves often require more labor and more thread to construct, so while they’re much more durable, they can also be more expensive.

Velvets also tend to be more expensive because they require more steps during the weaving process. Not only are the threads woven horizontally, they have short threads that run perpendicular to the fabric, creating the soft nap.

Performance sofa fabrics from Ballard Designs

The same goes for performance fabrics, the labor and materials needed to create these fabrics make them more expensive, but their durability means they’ll last longer too.

6. Color, Pattern, and Texture

While many designers recommend a neutral sofa, there’s also a case to be made for color, pattern, and texture for your sofa fabric. A performance fabric may be easy to clean,  you might not want to clean your large upholstery that often, depending on how busy your home is and how often spills occur. Consider using a sofa fabric with color, pattern, or texture (or all three) to help mask any oops moments.

Living room with green parallel sofas in performance fabric

7. Leather as Sofa Fabric

We can’t forget about leather. Those dark, bulky leather sofas from the man cave give the whole fabric category a bad name, but they’re actually one of the most durable, easy-to-clean materials out you can use for your sofa.

Real leather is easy to wipe down, naturally stain repellant, and gets better and softer with age. If you like the patina of leather, as well as the classic and masculine feel if can often give your furniture, leather may be the best fabric for your sofa.

Every fabric has advantages and disadvantages, and hopefully now with all of the information, it’ll be easier to make a decision.

Browse all of our fabric options online, and shop our various sofa shapes and styles. Find more fabric how-to here:

Did you like this post and find it helpful? Rate it below and share your thoughts in the comments.

Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.

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  1. Reply

    Veleka Spears-Jones

    July 31, 2020

    I found this article to be wonderful. However, I was a bit disappointed with the lack of information regarding leather. Is there any additional information that you can provide regarding purchasing leather sofas?

    • Reply

      Abbey Nolte

      August 10, 2020

      Hi Veleka,
      This post goes into more details about the benefits of leather.
      Hope that helps,
      Abbey

  2. Reply

    Shibank kumar

    December 26, 2019

    I need sofa fabric

  3. Reply

    Toni Boltin

    August 29, 2019

    I’m glad I ran into this info when I did. We will be buying a few new upholstered pieces in the near future which will hopefully last for the duration. I’ll definitely refer to Ballard Designs again. Thank you!

    • Reply

      Caroline McDonald

      August 30, 2019

      Toni,
      We love hearing that! Thanks for reading our post.
      Happy decorating!
      Caroline

  4. Reply

    DAWN INGVARDSEN

    July 31, 2019

    I’ve just discovered your website via this article and I’m so happy I did. I’ve found such valuable information as I search for a sofa. The article on fabrics was great, however; I have a question.
    In terms of sofa fabric, what might you recommend for a pet that sheds?
    Thanks

    • Reply

      Abbey Nolte

      August 15, 2019

      Hi Dawn,
      Microfiber, performance fabrics, and leather are the best fabrics to counter shedding from pets. We also suggest choosing a sofa in a similar color as your pet’s hair.

  5. Reply

    Anthony

    October 12, 2018

    My wife and I just moved into an apartment in the city and we are thinking about getting a Burrow couch. What are your thoughts? We love the idea but we are worried about the longevity of the couch. We like that it is a modular couch and that we can reorder pieces if anything breaks down…we just don’t want anything to break down.

    Please share your insight.

    • Reply

      Heather Daly

      October 17, 2018

      Hi Anthony,
      While we can’t speak to another company’s furniture, we would certainly love to help you with any decorating questions you may have.
      Submit your decorating questions to our team of design consultants here

  6. Reply

    covemaven

    April 15, 2017

    When will the Thames, Gatwick and Swanley fabrics be available for viewing on the website? I searched for each of them because the link didn’t work. The response from your website:

    We’re sorry. Your search for “Thames” returned no results.
    Please try a different keyword or search criteria.

    We’re sorry. Your search for “swanley” returned no results.
    Please try a different keyword or search criteria.

    We’re sorry. Your search for “Gatwick” returned no results.
    Please try a different keyword or search criteria.

    Might they be included in the latest catalog? I’m curious to see them after reading this article!

    • Reply

      Caroline McDonald

      April 17, 2017

      covemaven,
      They’ll be available online only starting 4/27!

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