What do we mean by performance fabrics? Do they sing and dance? Twirl a baton? Do magic tricks? DO THEY ACTUALLY PERFORM??
For the premium price, maybe they should…and maybe they do perform magic tricks, in a manner of speaking… Many companies like to demonstrate the wonders of their performance fabrics by pouring red wine onto them and then just blotting it off!
Performance fabrics have come a long way in the variety and styles offered. That said, there are still zillions of other fabrics out there. Suppose you fall in love with one of these? Well maybe you CAN have your fabric and red wine too – more on that later...
First, what do you need from your fabric– is color, texture, pattern, “hand” (the tactile feel), most important? Is it going to be exposed to a sunny location in the house that could lead to fading or disintegration? Does it need to be scrubbable because of how you will use it?
I once handed a performance fabric sample to a client for a kitchen banquette and told her to field test it for anything she thought might happen to it. It held up well and she now has a banquette cushion that she is assured she can keep clean!
There are two ways to get more durable fabrics: buying a performance fabric, or treating a fabric so it behaves like a performance fabric.
Fabrics with inherent performance properties
It used to be that when you wanted a durable “high performance” easy care fabric for your furniture, your options were very limited.
Now, nearly every fabric line offers performance fabrics. These are often trademarked with brand names like “Sunbrella”, “Crypton” or “Dura-Bella” or some other private label that says Performance Fabric, but not all performance fabrics are created equal.
Sunbrella is probably the most recognizable name because it was early to the industry as a maker of outdoor fabrics (think crisp awning stripes on a canvas-like stiff fabric). Now Sunbrella makes a wide selection of fabrics in a variety of patterns for both indoors and outdoors. The single biggest difference in Sunbrella fabrics is that they are 100% acrylic that is dyed with fade resistant colors and the color is all the way through the fiber, not just on the surface. These fabrics are mold and mildew resistant, cleanable with soap and water, bleach or other solvents, and the UV stable pigments resist fading.
Crypton has a wider variety of textures and fiber options with the latest technology creating stain, moisture, bacteria, and odor resistant fabrics at the fiber level. Spills bead up on the surface instead of absorbing in. Some, but not all, Crypton fabrics are made of 100% acrylic or polyester and can be cleaned with bleach if necessary.
Finishes that can be applied to fabrics
Nanotex processing can be applied to any fabric to create a performance fabric. Nanotex is a subdivision of Crypton that can specially process any fabric yardage to create fabric protection at the fiber level before the fabric is used to upholster a piece.
Two older familiar names in moisture and soil resistance are Teflon and Scotchguard which can be applied to the fabric surface at the factory or applied to the finished piece of furniture on site.
If you are in the New England area, I highly recommend an excellent local company called MWI Fibershield. We often use them for our clients to treat furniture and textiles as a measure of security for pieces that aren’t covered in performance fabrics. Their process essentially creates a performance fabric by chemically bonding a coating to the fabric at the fiber level that repels liquids, soil, and oils, adds abrasion resistance, blocks UV rays, and extends the time between cleanings. AND they will come rescue you if you can’t effectively remove a stain! Their amazing warranty and information can be seen here. And they are the nicest people to work with! Tell them I sent you!
Another option is laminating your fabrics – this can be done with a matte finish and is really best for tight, more solid upholstered pieces like dining chair seats because it changes the texture of the fabric, but the process coats the fabric with a layer of clear vinyl rendering it completely scrubbable.
The bottom line
Know what features you need, and check the cleaning instructions on the fabrics you like. If you are worried about fading, especially for mid to dark tones, Sunbrella is a good choice. For cleanability and durability, there are a lot of other options with different fiber content and textures. Performance fabrics can generally be blotted and spot cleaned with water and mild detergents. Most other upholstery fabrics require professional solvent-based cleaners, but always, always, always check the manufacturer’s instructions or test a sample piece of fabric. And if you want a fabric that isn’t labelled ‘performance’, you can get that too - you just have to have it treated.
A note of caution…performance fabrics are usually higher cost than many of the standard fabrics in an upholstery line. Putting a high cost fabric on a cheaply made frame is like putting lipstick on a pig…kind of pointless and a waste of money since the guts will wear out faster than the fabric. So be sure you are choosing a high quality piece to begin with…but that is a whole other subject for another post.
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Below are a few performance fabrics in wonderful textures that would be gorgeous to use to recover your dining seats in time for the holidays (click on the fabric swatch for more information)!
In the meantime, enjoy the fact that technology sometimes makes life easier!