Upholstery Fabric 101.1: Durability
One of the areas we can be most helpful to our clients is in selecting the right fabric for upholstered pieces. Many people ask us out of the gate for a "quality" fabric - which usually means durable! And many clients also assume - very incorrectly - that the pricier the fabric, the more durable it is. There isn't any correlation. If you think about it, silk is very pricey and not that durable. Hurculon is relatively inexpensive and will probably make it thru the next nuclear war! (Don't take that mean to we're advocating Hurculon, it's just an example of a more durable fabric) So how do you find a durable fabric that also feels and looks great?
The first thing to know is that most fabrics come with a form of fabric protection sprayed on them. What that means is that the fabric protection buys you time to get the stain out before it sets - but it doesn't mean it's literally protected from spills and accidents (as many people mistakenly assume), You still have to get the stain out! And while we always advise people to "dab", not "rub", while getting the stain out, we know very well that in the heat of the moment you're likely going to start rubbing like a fiend. You get the stain out, but you abrade the fabric in the process and you end up with a stain-free fabric - but one that looks worn and abraded. So here's where the rubbings test is so crucial.. Each fabric is put through a "double rub" test that mimics daily wear and tear. The test determines the fabrics resistance to abrasion. So the goal is to find a fabric that has a very high number on the rubbings test.
Here's a not-so-exciting video (but thankfully only 10 seconds long) of a fabric being tested for abrasion on a Wizenbeek machine (which is the industry standard for testing abrasion):
Quite frankly, we're astounded that most retail furniture stores or interior designers don't talk to their clients about abrasion and rubbings tests. We think it's absolutely crucial to durability and ultimately the enjoyment of your piece of upholstered furniture. And the good news is that every year we're seeing more and more fabrics introduced that perform amazingly well on the abrasion tests.
In the "old days", meaning just 5-10 years ago, we used a standard that went like this:
15,000 Double Rubs = Light use, Perfect for a not often used living room.
20,000 Double Rubs = Heavy use, Better for a very often used family room.
30,000 Double Rubs = Very Heavy use, Commercial. grade, Perfect for a high traffic environment where the upholstery is constantly in use for 8-10 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week.
You would think we would have gone straight to the fabrics that were 30,000 rubs or higher, but actually we rarely used those fabrics for client's homes - because while they were the most durable, they just felt awful. They were stiff and "plastically" feeling. You could spot a commercial grade fabric the minute you put your hand on it.
Thankfully that's all changed and is changing even more every minute with advances in technology. We have fabrics that feel and look amazing that go all the way to over 200,000 double rubs! Our manufacturers still offer some fabrics at below 30,000 rubs but we don't even show them to our clients. There's just no reason to consider them when we have so many fantastic fabrics available with 30,000 or more rubs.
So the key to durability is a high number of rubs on the abrasion test. It's only one factor in choosing an upholstery fabric, but it's an important one that should always be taken into consideration when choosing a fabric for your home.