Upholstery Fabric – How to Choose One that will Last

Quality upholstered furniture is an investment and it is important that the fabric that you use is up to the task. Will it provide you with the durability you need?

What are the most important questions to ask when choosing a fabric for your upholstered furniture?

  • What room is it for?
  • Who will be using it?
  • Is it a high use area, or less frequently used?
  • Do you have pets that will be on it?
  • Will there be food and drink around it?
  • How much sunlight will be on it?

When you look at a fabric sample, the key things to look at are the fabric composition, recommended use and the durability rating. Below is a photo of two upholstery fabric labels.

Firstly, look at the fabric composition. Generally speaking man-made synthetic fibres are more durable than natural ones but the natural fibres have a lovely feel. Often a combination of man made and natural fabrics can offer you the best of both worlds.

Most fabric samples also have a performance category on them. These performance categories are based on rub tests, abrasion resistance, seam strength, pilling resistance and colourfastness to light.

The first fabric sample has a Heavy Commercial Upholstery rating. This fabric would be ideal to use in a Family Room and other high use rooms. These ratings are a quick way to see if the fabric is suitable for your purpose.

The Rub Tests are also a valuable guide. There are two main rub tests used. The Martindale Rub test is a rating system more commonly used in UK and Europe and the Wyzenbeek test is the standard in the United States.

The Martindale Test involves rubbing a piece of worsted wool fabric in a circular motion over the fabric in question. The machine keeps going until there is any sign of wear and the number of cycles it made is the result of the test.

The Wyzenbeek test is similar except the fabric in question is “rubbed” back and forth with a cotton fabric. This test is often referred to as a “double rub test”.

Rub Test Guidelines:


  • Light use: 6000 – 9000 double rubs
  • Medium use: 9000 – 20,000 double rubs
  • Heavy use: 20,000+ double rubs


  • Light use: 6000 – 9000 double rubs
  • Medium use: 9000 – 15,000 double rubs
  • Heavy use: 15,000+ double rubs

Top Tip for looking after your upholstery fabric

Even the most durable fabric will break down if you don’t maintain it. The best thing you can do is vacuum your furniture once a month as any dirt on the surface, combined with the friction of people moving back and forth, will wear out the material faster than anything else.