Performance Fabrics 101

Neutral living room with performance fabric upholstery
We’re always preaching the importance of a beautiful home that reflects your lifestyle and personality, but we never choose beauty over function. What’s the point of having a gorgeous room if you’re afraid to use it? That’s why we’re excited to talk about our collection of performance fabrics. With over 150 fabrics, Ballard Designs Performance Fabrics are meant to withstand wear, tear, and anything your busy family can throw at it. Ever wondered what’s the difference between a performance fabric and regular old linens, cottons, and velvets? We’re here to spill all the important info.

Why Is It Called Performance?

The term ‘performance fabric’ is used to describe any fabric specifically designed to withstand serious wear and tear while being easy to clean. The idea is simple — your pets, kids, and busy schedule are no match for the durable, stain resistant qualities of these fabrics, which makes them ideal for upholstery in hardworking spaces of your home.


Not all performance fabrics are created equal, and nearly every furniture store has different standards for what constitutes a ‘performance fabric.’ We can only speak for our lines of performance textiles, Sunbrella and InsideOut. Here’s what you need to know: while many performance fabrics are treated with stain-resistant chemicals, the durability of our fabrics are in the threads themselves. Because of that, the stain resistant and fade resistant qualities will never wear off or wash off.

Sunbrella’s textile threads are a solution-dyed acrylic, while InsideOut’s textile threads are a solution-dyed polyester. Both are treated all the way through with the color and qualities that make the threads resistant to fading, stains, and wear.

Performance fabrics in neutral black and white living room

Is it Safe?

We get what you’re thinking — how can these fabrics have superpowers if they’re not treated with chemicals? One of the reasons we love working with Sunbrella and InsideOut is because they’re committed to sustainability and creating safe fabrics. All of their fabrics are Green Guard Certified which means they’ve been tested to the highest degrees of safety. They’re low chemical, low emissions, and aren’t made with any harmful substances that could pose a danger to your family.

Wine stain on performance fabric | Ballard DesignsHow Do I Clean Them?

One of our favorite things about our performance fabrics? They’re easy to clean and for most stains, you probably already have these household cleaners under your sink. Most stains can be treated with a mixture of dish soap and water, but in the case of seriously stubborn spills, check out this handy chart.

How Should I Use Them?

We’re pretty confident you won’t be able to tell the difference between our performance fabrics and all of the other fabrics in our line, that’s how soft and luxurious they are. Because of that, you could use one of these hardworking textiles on any piece of furniture in your home, but there are a few places where we find they’ll really pull their weight. We love to use performance fabrics on sofas, upholstered stools, breakfast banquettes, club chairs, and ottomans. Those are the pieces in your home that are the most vulnerable to spills, and because of that, we think you’ll be really grateful you chose a performance fabric.

Want to learn more about Ballard Designs Performance Fabrics? Listen to our podcast, where we sat down with Sunbrella’s Emily Cosgrove and Kimberly Peoples. We discuss all your burning questions, as well as our favorite fabrics in the collection.

Browse all of 150+ performance fabrics, or shop custom furniture pieces that can be upholstered in performance fabrics.

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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


    September 12, 2020

    I’ve been looking for a ‘chevron’ style print on upholstery for my sofa for about 8 years ! Seems it’s our of fashion- but your title image (as in how I got to this article) shoes a greyish one (with spilt red liquid from a mug…?).. where where where can I find it, performance or not…?! Feel free to email if preferred . Thank you!!

  2. Reply

    Emily C.

    May 29, 2020

    I love the wide stripe fabric in white and gray. Is this still available?

  3. Reply


    February 21, 2018

    The links aren’t working.

    • Reply

      Caroline McDonald

      February 21, 2018

      Oh no! They should be fixed now. Sorry about that!