Fabric Durability for Furniture Upholstery

Fabric Durability for Furniture Upholstery

What Are Furniture Fabric Durability Guidelines?

A long standing translation between lab durability rub tests and day-to-day use has been:

  • Light Use: 9,000 to 11,000 rubs. Bedroom furniture, formal settings, accent chairs

  • Medium Use: 12,000 to 15,000 rubs. Dining room seats, living room sofas, side chairs, ottomans

  • Heavy Use: Over 15,000 rubs. Kitchen chairs, family room seating, light commercial seating

  • Heavy Commercial: 35,000 rubs and over. This is the train station scenario.

Think of it.  At 15,000 rubs - getting in and out of a chair 4 times a day, every day - the fabric would not show wear for over 10 years!

A Durability Trend

Folks have been asking about durable fabrics more frequently.

And I get it.  Investing in reupholstering their furniture, they want to know the fabric will hold up for ...  ahhhh ... some acceptable time frame.  But that doesn't always mean surviving train station abuse!  (Do you use your furniture like that?  We are in New Jersey, but ...)

The good news is that fabric houses have responded to that trend by producing textiles that are attractive and robust. New milling techniques have also enabled them to produce very durable fabrics that don’t feel stiff nor scratchy (think old school Herculon).

What's The Rub on Fabric Rubs?

Fabric durability generally comes down to an abrasion test.  Jean-covered butts swiping-slithering-grinding on and off.  Wearing down even the Rock of Gibraltar ... or the NJ equivalent.  What can the fabric handle before showing wear?

Abrasion resistance is often listed on the fabric.  The makers usually have their wares tested in labs.  "Double-rub" ratings show up as a result.  A double rub equals (in non-technical terms) one jean-covered butt sliding onto the fabric and then off.  Two slides, one rub.  

Check out this label:

fabric abrasion rating Greenhouse Fabrics

The abrasion rating is 50,000 rubs.  Durable fabric.  In the VERY durable range.

We've seen fabric durability / abrasion ratings up to and exceeding 100,000 rubs.  But what durability do you need from your upholstery fabric?

The Bottom Line on Upholstery Fabric Durability

Don't get so hung up on hyper-durable fabrics that you bypass some wonderful textiles. 

Pick candidate upholstery fabrics that meet your design criteria: color, texture, pattern.  Then eliminate those that do not meet the usage demands you expect.

Purchase fabrics that aesthetically appeal to you. It’s more likely that the style of the fabric will wear on you before the actual fibers do.
— Greenhouse Fabrics

Will Durable Fabrics Pill?

Pills - also called fuzzballs or lint balls - are small knots of fibers that form on fabric surfaces.

Pills form when groups of short or broken fibers (fuzz) on the surface of the fabric tangle together into small knots of balls. The pills form from the rubbing or abrasion during normal wear and use. Look at almost any piece of cloth with a magnifying glass under an angled light and you will see tiny fibers sticking out from the threads of the fabric. These fibers are the source of pills. They are also the building blocks of the thread.

Nearly all fabric will pill somewhat - the question is extent and persistence. Loosely twisted threads on a loosely woven fabric will pill more readily. Pills on synthetic fabric don't wear off easily due to the greater strength of the underlying fibers. Pills do not interfere with the functionality of the textile, but can be unsightly.

We've seen very little objectionable pilling on upholstery rated fabrics. The upholstery textile industry generally takes fabric performance seriously, employing specific materials, tests and techniques.

The good news is that fabric pill shavers (and a little patience) can trim the pills from many fabrics - should pilling show up.

Testex - a manufacturer of fabric testing equipment - has this to say about the general case:

Ultimately, if you notice that your furniture is developing pills, don’t be alarmed. It is easily remedied and does not mean your furniture is made of poor quality fabric.

Related Information:  Help With Fabric

The furniture workshop of JH Conklin & Co. upholsters furniture for people and businesses throughout Southern New Jersey, Delaware, Philadelphia metro and the southern shore areas. The workshop also provides custom window treatment and fabric resources.

Our general service area includes: Gloucester County, Camden County, Burlington County, Cape May County, Atlantic County, Cumberland County, Salem County, NJ; Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia county in Pennsylvania; and New Castle County DE.  #NJupholstery