Samples of many of the Bella Dura fabric colors and designed, organized by color.

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Different Fabrics You Can Use for Outdoor Applications

Selecting a suitable fabric for outdoor applications ensures its performance in challenging environments. Various materials offer unique characteristics that cater to outdoor use. While many may have similar properties, not all are well-suited for specific purposes.

From rugged, weather-resistant synthetics to fabrics treated for outdoor resilience, understanding the types of performance fabrics and their characteristics helps you choose the ideal material for your client’s outdoor applications.

Defining Durability

Performance fabrics need to outlast exposure to weather, sunshine and repeated use. Two crucial properties define the durability of outdoor upholstery — abrasion and tear resistance. These characteristics help ensure the longevity of performance fabrics and their resistance to pilling, fading and staining.

In the upholstery business, we define durability for outdoor or performance fabrics with the “double rub or abrasion test.” This testing method often uses the Wyzenbeek Abrasion Test. It shows you how well a fabric withstands surface abrasion by simulating the type of wear the fabric will endure regularly. During testing, the fabric is stretched over a wire mesh screen, and a specialized machine passes a testing pad back and forth over the fabric’s surface using a mechanical arm.

RatingNumber of Double RubsFabric Usage
Heavy Duty15,000 or moreSuitable for high-traffic, outdoor areas and homes with pets.
Medium Duty9,000 – 15,000A versatile fabric, best for reception areas or living rooms.
Light Duty3,000 – 9,000Better for occasional furniture and indoor use.
Delicate DutyLess than 3,000Best for decorative, indoor uses. Not for use in upholstery or outdoor use.

Characteristics of Performance Fabrics

There is more to performance fabrics than tear and abrasion resistance. Other essential characteristics that help to determine how durable different materials are for outdoor applications include:

  • Fiber content: Man-made fabrics like olefin, acrylic and polyester wear better than natural fibers as they are naturally moisture-resistant.
  • Weave: A critical factor in fabric durability, the weave’s tightness and the thread count contribute to the material’s strength. A tighter weave with a higher thread count spreads pressure across the fabric evenly, while looser weaves can snag more easily and allow liquids to penetrate quickly. 
  • Cleanability: Durable performance fabric is easy to clean is bleach cleanable.
  • Colorfastness: When color is throughout the yarn, such as with solution-dyed yarn, the fabric will stay vibrant despite exposure to the elements. Solution dyed yarns mean the pigment is added to the yarn in a molten state before it is extruded, making the yarn resistant to fading and bleeding.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) resistance: Organic or untreated fibers can break down after prolonged exposure to sunlight and UV rays.
  • Mold and mildew resistance: Some yarns used for performance fabrics are inherently mold and mildew-resistant.
waterproof  vs water resistance

Waterproof vs. Water Resistance

Waterproof fabric prevents water penetration. This material forms a barrier to repel water, even when exposed to heavy rainfall. It can be coated with specialized membranes or finishes, or it can be tightly woven to give the fabric this characteristic. Where complete protection from water is paramount, like in tents and awning fabric, be sure to select waterproof fabrics.

Water-resistant fabrics only repel water to a certain extent. Moisture can still seep through the material during heavy rainfall. This fabric can be treated with a durable water-repellent (DWR) finish or coating and is often used as an outdoor upholstery fabric or for furniture covers.

Types of Performance Fabrics

From weather-resistant fabrics like vinyl to sturdy materials like canvas, various types of performance fabrics for outdoor applications exist. The spectrum of choices include:

  • Polypropylene: Made from a thermoplastic polymer, polypropylene fabric is fade-, stain- and moisture-resistant. It has superior UV resistance and was one of the first marine fabrics.
  • Polyolefin fabrics: A popular performance fabric, this consists of synthetic fibers made from propylene, ethylene or olefins. Polyolefin fabric is lightweight, stain- and abrasion-resistant and fast-drying. It also has good colorfastness and is well-suited for the outdoor furniture market.
  • Polyester: Polyester is resistant to stretch, rot, mold, mildew and abrasion. This material is flexible and lightweight and features good UV resistance.
  • Ripstop: A blend of synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester, ripstop is made using a square, cross-stitch weaving approach. This technique stops the fabric from ripping. It is often used to make camping equipment, parachutes and flags.
  • Acrylic fabrics: Acrylic fabric is made from acrylonitrile. It is very durable, with weather and insect resistance. This material is soft and resists fading, shrinking and wrinkling.
  • Vinyl: This material is made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and is often used in outdoor awnings and marine applications. It is waterproof and highly resistant to mildew and UV rays.
  • Canvas: A sturdy woven fabric, canvas is water-resistant, durable and features good abrasion resistance. It is a suitable fabric for outdoor cushions.

True performance fabrics have inherent yarn qualities that define their performance classification. They do not need additional finishing or coating to ensure their longevity and are made from synthetic threads or fibers with inherent cleanability, durability and stain-resistant qualities.

Finding the Right Type of Fabric

While there is no perfect performance fabric, the various options to choose from each serve their purposes. For example, polyolefin is well suited to outdoor cushions and pillows, while vinyl-coated polyester mesh works well with outdoor furniture like lounge chairs. If you are looking for the most versatile performance fabric, polypropylene is one of the best fabrics for outdoor applications.

Performance Fabric Care

Despite the rugged capabilities of performance fabric, proper care prolongs the material’s life span. While each type has its own cleaning requirements, regular maintenance is essential. Vacuum the fabric as needed, and blot spills with a clean sponge as soon as they happen. Use a mild soap and water solution to rinse the fabric, and allow it to air dry. Avoid using hard-bristle brushes and machine washing and drying, as these may be too harsh for the material to withstand.

explore performance fabrics for outdoor applications

Explore Performance Fabrics for Outdoor Applications

Choosing the ideal type of fabric for outdoor use hinges on understanding the options available. The key characteristic to look for in performance fabric is the ability to withstand physical stress and environmental conditions. While each type of outdoor material fabric features a degree of endurance, it is important to find one that suits your specific application.

Swavelle Group has over 33 years of experience working with contractors to produce excellent quality performance fabrics for commercial spaces. SG can create custom fabrics for your project, and we offer a wide selection of in-house designs. Contact Swavelle Group today to find the right performance fabric for your application.