What’s The Best Fabric for My Sofa?

OUR guide for choosing a fabric for your sofa or couch

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 is an investment you won’t regret. The guts of any upholstered piece are important because that determines the lifespan and comfort of a furniture piece, but equally as important is your fabric choice. Today, we’re walking you through all of the options so you can make the best choice for your sofa.

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. 

We're talking about different types of fabrics and how to choose the right fabric for your sofa

1. Weave

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.

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 they’re better for upholstery. The same goes for our Garrison Linen. Our Danish Linen and 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.

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 vunerable to being crushed.

Ballard Designs' Baldwin Sofa in Trilby Charcoal

Our Tribly fabrics (above in Charcoal) are some of our favorites for sofas for two reasons. First, they have a super thick weave which makes them very nubby, so they stand up to lots of wear. Second, they’re a linen and polyester blend which makes them more stain-resistant and the yarn isn’t as likely to break down.

Our Coco Tweed fabrics, similar to our Trilbys, are a blend of natural and man-made yarns so they’re easy to clean, and they have a tight, nubby weave. These particular fabrics have a metallic thread in them, which gives them a more formal, luxe look and feel than our Tribly’s.

Twill is a tight weave of 100% cotton, woven on the diagonal, so the main advantage of a twill is that it’s machine washable. If you’re ordering a slipcover or your sofa has removable seat cushion covers, a twill is a great choice.

Our Davidson Herringbone fabrics are a great choice because they have a super tight weave, a heavy weight, and are made of synthetic fibers. That makes them easy to clean and super durable. They also have a subtle herringbone texture, so they’re a great choice for a sofa or upholstered piece in a more formal space. 

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. Our Gatwick and Swanley fabrics are a blend of rayon and polyester. They both have a super soft hand, a heavy weight, and come in neutral colors.

Look at the rub count. Now that we’ve walked you through what makes a fabric more or less durable, we’ve got a short cut for you. Look at the rub count. Every fabric is give 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 our new Thames fabric has 100,000 rubs! 

Ballard Designs' Orson Sectional in Sunbrella Basketweave Flax

2. Performance Fabrics

We talk a lot in our catalog about performance fabrics, or indoor/outdoor fabrics. They’ve come a long way in recent years, to the point where you wouldn’t even know they weren’t meant for indoor use. Most indoor/outdoor fabrics are made of acrylic, the reason being that these threads are dyed all the way through. In this post, we talk about the carrot versus the radish. Most threads are dyed and in many cases, 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 indoor/outdoor 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.

Our favorite performance fabrics to use indoors are Bunny Williams’ Sunbrella fabrics which have a subtle herringbone texture, our Herringbone Sunbrella fabrics, and our Basketweave Flax fabric.

Ballard Designs' Eton Sofa in Signature Velvet

3. Polyester and Acrylic

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. Sythnetic thread doesn’t break down as quickly as natural thread, so they’re far more durable, are easier to clean, and are 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 durablity 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. We think a swatch can convince any doubters that a synthetic fabric can still be super soft and luxurious! We dare you to try our Signature Velvets which are 12% polyester.

4. Cost

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.

Ballard Designs' Spencer leather sofa from Brian Patrick Flynn's room in the Traditional Home Southern Style Now Showhouse in New Orleans

5. Leather

Let’s talk about leather for a second. 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 there. 

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.

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.


  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,

  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

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

  4. Reply


    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?

    • 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


    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


    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

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