A Guide To Choosing The Best Sofa Fabric, According To The Experts

Fabric Sofa in a Living Room

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Wait, so, you’ve measured your space, found the perfect sofa, and... there’s more? Yes, there’s more. Choosing the fabric for your sofa that’s best for you is an often overlooked part of the sofa purchasing process, as the upholstery fabric is the part of the sofa that first meets the eye, comes in contact with your skin, and, needless to say, can attract the most grime.

Whether you’re purchasing a decorative loveseat or a sectional sure to become the family favorite, we’re here to help. In the process of creating this guide to making the best fabric choice for your sofa, we consulted the pros for tips, tricks, and recommendations based on lifestyle differences.

Meet the experts

To create this guide to sofa fabrics we consulted a range of furniture and interior design experts. In this guide, you'll hear from:

What to Consider When Choosing Upholstery Fabrics for Your Sofa

It’s easy to get decision fatigue while choosing upholstery fabric for your sofa. The options are seemingly endless, and include  materials, colors, and features that might be unfamiliar to those shopping for one of their first pieces.

Pro tip: Most companies allow you to request swatches of the fabric so that you can see and touch it in person, even if you’re ordering it online.

Consider your audience

The most common tip from experts is to consider who will be using the sofa most often. Are you purchasing a sofa to entertain large groups? To snuggle up with your loved ones? Or will it most often be used by kids and pets? You’ll want to consider different upholstery fabrics depending on your answer.

“If the sofa is being used every day by both children and pets, I would choose a removable cover that comes in a mid-color, washable fabric to disguise stains,” says Julia Dempster. “If it is for a more formal area that is used less, I would choose something more luxurious in texture such as a velvet or linen.”

If you do have kids or pets around, Grace Hoffend recommends considering fiber content, or, what fills the cushions of your sofa.  

“Fiber content, such as cotton or polyester, are worth considering, as these tend to hold more structure within the weave of the material,” Hoffend says. “This can mitigate that lived-in look that tends to happen with kids around.”

Style Of Upholstery Fabric

Even if you’re not sure which upholstery fabric you’re looking for specifically, you can still narrow down your options by style. Is the rest of your home decor more traditional, or a mid-century contemporary feel? Are you looking for upholstery that feels soft, or is your main priority material that holds up to wear-and-tear? Taking stock of your priorities can help you cut down the amount of options to choose between.

“In terms of look, you’ll want to choose a fabric that complements the style of your room. The important thing is to take your time and find the perfect fabric for your sofa.”

On style, Karen Rohr says, “in terms of look, you’ll want to choose a fabric that complements the style of your room. The important thing is to take your time and find the perfect fabric for your sofa.”

Lisa Kahn says that, contrary to popular belief, you don't have to choose between durability and that soft, next-to-skin feel. “It’s been incredible to watch the fabric industry advance the technology that has gone into creating hearty, outdoor fabrics so much that we embrace using them in our interiors as well,” she says. “Life happens– we don’t want our clients worrying about keeping their furniture looking good.”

Khan also recognizes that, “what you feel against your skin is very important. We want a fabric that feels soft and comfortable– after all, the sofa is going to hold you and support you as you relax.”

Sofa Fabric Options (Plusses, Pros and Cons)

With factors such as style and audience in mind, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. What different upholstery materials are available, and why should (or shouldn’t) you choose them?

Cotton

Susanna 95.6'' Cotton Upholstered Sofa
Susanna 95.6'' Cotton Blend Upholstered Sofa

We all know cotton as a comfortable fabric in clothing. According to Grace Hoffend, cotton performs similarly in both your t-shirt and your sofa.

“Cotton or cotton blend can add body to a material so that it holds a more refined texture on a piece. It also, of course, adds a touch of softness to amplify your lounging experience,” Hoffend explains.

Pros of Cotton

So, why should you choose cotton for your sofa?

Toussaint Derby advises choosing cotton fabric because of its breathability in warmer months, making it a great choice for those living in a warm climate. Cotton is also an easy material to clean, as “most cotton upholstered cushion covers can be removed and thrown in the wash or taken to the cleaners for a professional cleaning,” Derby says.

Cons of Cotton

But for some, cotton might not be the best choice. Karen Billman advises avoiding cotton if you’re living in an area where you get a lot of light, because “it’s likely your fabric will get sun damaged.”

“Climate with high humidity also affects the fabric, causing mildew and attracting silverfish, also damaging to fibers,” Billman goes on to say. “Cotton is prone to all of these issues and is better for sheets.”

Linen

The Inside's Modern Sofa in a Gray Performance Linen
The Inside's Modern Sofa in a Gray Performance Linen

Known as a light, eco-friendly, and natural fabric, Linen has remained a popular material for bedding, clothing, and yes, your sofa.

According to Karen Rohr, linen is “very easy to clean, making it ideal for families with kids or pets,” but extra caution needs to be taken while cleaning.

Pros of Linen

Linen has remained popular for a reason. Derby explains that linen’s breathable qualities and resistance to mildew make it a best seller for those in hot and humid climates, or those with allergies.

Karen Billman adds that linen is a great option for your sofa because it “takes well to dyes and prints, giving you a variety of choices on design ideas for your sofa.”

Additionally, Billman recommends linen to those who rent apartments or homes, because it makes an excellent decor fabric or sofa slipcover that can easily be taken off to wash. “You’ll get a beautiful, elegant look with very little effort,” says Billman.

Cons of Linen

Like any material, linen doesn’t work in all situations.

Toussaint Derby explains that for those looking for a sofa with modern, clean lines instead of a “souchy” appearance, linen might not be for you.

Derby explains that “linen wrinkles very easily, which can give a lovely lived-in look, but can also be a deterrent if you want a more buttoned up moment.”

Velvet

Burrow's Nomad Velvet Sofa
Burrow's Nomad Velvet Sofa

According to Karen Rohr, despite its drawbacks, “velvet has remained a popular fabric for sofas due to its elegance and comfort.”

Pros of Velvet

Velvet sofas are known as a statement piece that brings glamor and style to every space.

However, in addition to style, velvet is “soft to the touch, making it one of the most comfortable options for a sofa,” says Toussaint Derby. Velvet brings an element of functionality to your sofa as well, as it is naturally resistant to liquid.

“Velvet is incredibly easy to care for over time and is always a fool-proof choice when it comes to a home with young kids or messy pets,” says Grace Hoffend.

To enhance the durability of velvet, performance velvet was created. Karen Rohr explains that “performance velvet is a type of performance fabric designed to be more durable and easy to care for than traditional velvet.” When spots or stains occur on a sofa made from performance velvet, they can easily be wiped clean with a damp cloth, and are “less likely to show wear and tear over time,” says Rohr.

Cons of Velvet

Although many appreciate the style and functionality that velvet brings to the table (and sofa!), just like any material, it’s not for everyone.

Velvet is “difficult to clean and is not as durable as some other fabrics,” says Karen Rohr. “In addition, velvet tends to show dirt and dust more easily than other fabrics,” making it a less-than-ideal choice for people with pets or young children.

Although performance velvet has many benefits, it’s not be the best option for all climates. Karen Rohr says that performance velvet is “not as breathable as other types of fabrics, so it may not be the best choice if you live in a warm climate.”

Chenille

Croby Performance Chenille
Maiden Home's Crosby Sofa in Croby Performance Chenille

A cousin of velvet, chenille is a popular upholster material as well. Karen Billman describes chenille as a “more affordable version of velvet that is a very durable fabric, making it a popular choice.”

Pros of Chenille

People love chenille’s addition to their home in terms of both style and comfort. Karen Rohr says that the fabric is known for its soft feel, and continues to impress with its ability to withstand heavy use… and its easy-to-clean fibers.

Cons of Chenille

However, there are a few things to note before purchasing a sofa with chenille upholstery. Rohr explains that chenille is relatively delicate, and can easily be damaged by sharp objects and excessive sunlight. “But if you’re looking for a stylish and comfortable sofa that will stand up to years of use, a chenille sofa may be just what you’re looking for,” says Rohr.

Leather

Madison Leather Chaise Sectional Sofa
Madison Leather Sofa

When it comes to sofas, leather is a classic. Most of us can fondly remember a leather sofa in the living rooms of our childhoods, and the memories it held. When it comes to owning a leather sofa ourselves, there are a few pros and cons to be aware of before taking the leap.

Pros of Leather

Toussaint Derby applauds leather’s ability to age, and says, “to put it plainly, leather is a high-quality material that can take a licking and keep on ticking– and still look good doing it.” As upholstery, leather is a durable fabric and is easy to clean, with a natural patina that adds to the sophistication and character of a leather piece.

Additionally, it’s easy to maintain leather upholstery with a simple leather cleaner and moisturizer.

Karen Rohr recommends leather as a durable material for families with kids or pets. “Leather can withstand a lot of wear and tear,” Rohr explains. “It’s also spill and stain resistant, making it a good choice for families.”\

Read more: Leather vs. Fabric Sofas: Which is the Best Option For You?

Cons of Leather

The downside of leather sofas is that they’re not the most affordable, as even the least pricey options are more expensive than other materials.

Additionally, for those in search of a cozy sofa, leather is probably not for you. Leather “isn’t exactly a cozy fabric in the cold winter months, and it’s a little stuffy in the summer,” says Toussaint Derby.

Vegan Leather or Faux Leather

Albany Sofa in Faux Leather
Albany Sofa in Distressed Vegan Leather

For those looking to stick to a budget, vegan leather or faux leather can be an excellent alternative to real leather, as it’s usually much more affordable.

Pros of Faux Leather

According to Toussaint Derby, “the biggest pro of faux leather is the price tag… but it’s also really easy to keep clean.” Derby recommends using a damp cloth to remove stains from the fabric.

Karen Rohr agrees, saying that faux leather is “also more resistant to stains and scratches” than real leather.

Cons of Faux Leather

For many, the luxurious look and feel of real leather is part of the appeal of the material. Those folks may not be interested in faux leather’s stain resistant qualities, and may find the price tag worth it for real leather.

Toussaint Derby says that the material “doesn’t last as long as real leather, and has the propensity to crack over time.” Derby adds that since the material isn’t natural, it’s not as breathable as real leather, making it potentially unsuitable in a warmer climate.

Karen Rohr adds that faux leather may not age as well as real leather over time, and that “some people find that it can be quite slippery.”

Microfiber

Logan Sofa
Logan Sofa

With its affordability and durability, microfiber is a popular upholstery material for sofas. Microfiber is particularly popular with families, as it resists stains and is easily cleanable.

Pros of Microfiber

According to Karen Rorh, “microfiber has become increasingly popular in recent years” because of its comfort and ability to resist stains.

Karen Billman adds that microfiber holds its color well, and is a great alternative to suede. “Microfiber is an excellent choice if you have young kids around, or messy partners,” Billman says.

Cons of Microfiber

While microfiber resists stains, its tight weave allows for hair and dust to sit on its surface, making it necessary to keep a lint roller handy.

Additionally, Karen Rohr explains that microfiber isn’t as breathable as other materials, and suggests that it may not be the best choice for those that live in a hot climate.

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Written by
Sasha Weilbaker
Sasha Weilbaker is a freelance writer with bylines in Thrillist, Business Insider, and The Vegetarian Times. She's particularly interested in the intersection of sustainability and materials. In the wild, she can be found cycling around New England, scouting coffee shops, or obsessing over new podcasts.

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