Picking the right outdoor fabric for your patio furniture and garden pieces can be difficult. There are so many styles, brands, and designs available. And every manufacturer claims their materials are UV resistant, water resistant, and fade resistant. But as everyone who owns outdoor furniture knows, fabrics are will fade and deteriorate with exposure to the elements. So which types of outdoor fabric are best?
In this article, we touch on the major types and brands of outdoor fabric and consider the positives and negatives of each. We will help you find the best outdoor fabrics for your needs.
- 1 Types of Outdoor Fabric
- 2 Best Fabric for Outdoor Furniture and Cushions
- 3 Outdoor Fabric Properties
- 4 Conclusion: The Best Outdoor Fabrics
Types of Outdoor Fabric
In this section, we look at several of the most common fabric types, and the brands around these outdoor fabrics.
Acrylic Outdoor Fabrics
Acrylic is a synthetic fabric made from a polymer known as polyacrylonitrile. It was invented by DuPont in the early 1940s. It is commonly used in clothing (think tracksuits) and is soft to the touch, quick drying, and mildew-resistant. It also tends to stay cool in sunlight.
Acrylic is an excellent outdoor fabric. The most important type of acrylic for outdoor fabrics is Solution Dyed Acrylic.
Solution-Dyed Acrylic: Sunproof Fabric
Solution-dyed acrylic is a type of acrylic that is created by mixing the fabric color in with the fabric before it is spun. It was invented in the 1960s in order to provide more robust outdoor fabric materials.
The solution-dying process means that the fabric color is a part of the fabric itself, as opposed to having a colorless spool of fabric and then soaking it in a colorant. Coloring the raw materials of a fabric results in a higher quality fabric.
Sunbrella Outdoor Fabric: The Best Outdoor Fabric
What is Sunbrella upholstery fabric?
Sunbrella is the most famous Solution-dyed Acrylic brand. Sunbrella is known to be the most fade resistant, water resistant, and mildew resistant outdoor fabric available. Sunbrella fabrics are much more UV resistant than many cheaper outdoor fabrics. They can be left outside in the sun for long periods without fading.
Sun Resistant Fabric
All fabrics will fade in the sun eventually. But Sunbrella has the most robust fade-resistance. This means Sunbrella fabric will simply last longer than most other outdoor fabrics available.
Of course, it’s always wise to store any outdoor fabric when not in use. Storing your cushions and covering your fabrics will significantly increase their longevity.
Sunbrella is often considered to be a bit on the scratchy side, though most don’t mind this.
Sunbrella is widely available, and comes in a huge array of designer colors, patterns, and looks. It is commonly used in umbrella canopy fabric, chair cushions, and pillow fabric, etc. Sunbrella has several lines of fabric, including commercial fabrics, Elbertex fabrics, strapping, sling fabric, Sunbrella marine fabric, etc.
Sunbrella fabric is widely regarded as the best outdoor fabric brand and the best fabric for outdoor cushions. Many companies selling high-end patio furniture sets list Sunbrella fabric as one of their top features.
Other Solution-Dyed Acrylics
A few other common brand names of acrylic are Outdura and Spuncrylic. The primary qualities of these fabrics are similar to Sunbrella, but typically they are priced a little bit lower due to their lack of brand recognition.
Olefin Fabrics: Fade Resistant Fabric
Another commonly-seen outdoor fabric is Olefin. It is frequently mentioned in connection with polypropylene. These fabrics tend to be cheaper than high-end Acrylic fabrics like Sunbrella. They are often used as umbrella canvas rather than, say, pillows.
However, that is changing: new fabrics like Soladura are using Olefin fabrics in a similar way to Sunbrella, but at a lower price.
What is Olefin Fabric?
Olefin fabrics are synthetic fabrics made from polypropylene or polyethylene. These materials are commonly used in carpeting, vehicle interiors, and ropes. The process of making Olefin fabric is environmentally friendly, as there is little waste generated in making these fibers.
Is Olefin Fabric Fade Resistant?
These fabrics are colorfast, are fade and stain resistant, and are quick to dry. Olefin is nearly as UV and fade resistant as Sunbrella. Olefin fabrics are often a little rougher to the touch than Acrylic fabrics but are available in a wide variety of textures.
Is Olefin Durable?
Olefin is quite durable and attractive, which is why it is commonly chosen as an automotive fabric.
Is Olefin the same as Polypropylene?
Essentially, Olefin is the same as polypropylene fabric. It has a friendlier, less chemical-sounding name that is a bit easier to market.
Is Olefin Fabric Waterproof?
Some Olefin fabrics are indeed waterproof, though most Olefin is only water resistant. If the Olefin is used as a liner around a poly-fill interior (as is the case in most outdoor living furniture), water may penetrate around the Olefin and soak the poly-fill interior.
This won’t likely harm either the Olefin or the polypropylene, but you’ll have to wait for it to dry out!
Polyester: Outdoor Canvas Fabric
Polyester fabric is strong, quick drying, and often inexpensive. For those on a budget, it is almost certainly the best choice for outdoor fabric. Many patterns, colors, and styles are easily available in polyester. If properly cared for, this fabric can last for a long time outdoors.
The most significant issues with polyester are that it is prone to fading and that quality levels can vary significantly based on the thickness of the material.
When shopping for outdoor fabrics, you will commonly see Polyester with a GSM number associated with it. You may see numbers like 180GSM or 250GSM polyester. GSM stands for Grams per Square Meter, or Grammage. The higher the number, the thicker the fabric, the better the quality for outdoor fabrics.
You will also often see fade resistance ratings for polyester fabrics. Materials may identify the length of exposure prior to fading (e.g. 2,000-hour fade resistant polyester). These numbers can help identify higher quality fabrics. Of course, by covering these fabrics, you can keep the number of unnecessarily exposed hours to a minimum.
Spun Polyester Weather Resistant Fabric
Spun Polyester threads are made up of thin pieces of polyester fabric spun together. The result of this design is a fabric that looks and feels like cotton but has the strength, weather resistance, and sun resistance of polyester.
PVC Polyester has a plastic coating around a polyester fiber core. Typically these fabrics are used in ropes and slings, as opposed to pillows, cushions, etc. PVC Polyester is often very water-resistant, and quite strong.
Sling Fabrics and Textilene Fabrics
Sling chairs are a different design than chairs that use outdoor cushions, where there is no cushion to deal with. Sling chairs can get wet and quickly dry out, which is an advantage. Many sling chairs are pretty comfortable, though most find traditional cushioned seats to be superior to sling chairs in terms of comfort.
Most sling chairs use a Textilene mesh fabric such as Phifertex mesh fabrics will quickly dry out after being exposed to water.
Still, the fact that sling chairs can be sat on a short time after being exposed to water is a significant feature.
Olefin vs. Sunbrella
Olefin fabrics are definitely a good choice for outdoor use, but in most cases, Sunbrella is simply better. Naturally, it costs more, as well. If you’re buying a decent-quality piece of outdoor furniture, it’s almost always best to go with the Sunbrella fabric. It will last longer. While it is more expensive up front, you’ll be glad you chose Sunbrella a few years down the road!
Olefin vs. Polyester
Olefin compares much more favorably to polyester fabrics than it does to Sunbrella. Of course, it depends on the quality and type of polyester fabric. But in general, Olefin is going to be a higher quality material than polyester.
Best Fabric for Outdoor Furniture and Cushions
Often it is a great strategy to use Acrylics like Sunbrella for your base outdoor furniture cushions. These cushions are the most expensive parts of the outdoor furniture setup, and most people aren’t looking for complex patterns or designs in their base fabrics.
Then supplement the base sofa cushions with less expensive polyester fabrics on the throw pillows and accents. The variety of fabric patterns and colors is much wider and is overall much cheaper.
Sure, polyester fabrics are more prone to fading, but they’re also cheaper to replace! Refreshing your throw pillows can completely change the look of an outdoor sofa set without breaking the bank.
Outdoor Fabric Properties
Here are a few of the common properties buyers should consider when choosing the outdoor fabrics for their project.
UV Resistance, Sun-Resistant Fabric
UV Resistance identifies how long fabric will last when exposed to direct sunlight. Fabrics tend to break down when constantly beaten upon by light, and UV Resistance quantifies the strength of the fabric. Typically a grade of 3 or more is considered excellent.
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Color Fastness / Fade Resistance
This rating is often connected to European Standard Levels (e.g. ESL Grade 4), and identifies how rapidly the fabric will fade in the sun. Often an estimated hourly exposure is given, for example, colorfast to 1,000 hours.
Color Fastness and UV Resistance are largely related.
Ease of Cleaning
This rating will identify how easy a fabric is to clean. Of course, some outdoor fabrics can be easily removed for machine washing (such as outdoor cushions), but others cannot (such as a patio umbrella canvas). Ease of cleaning a piece of fabric is always an important consideration.
Waterproof Fabric for Outdoor Furniture
Unfortunately, there’s no real waterproof fabric that is both comfortable to sit on and completely waterproof.
Instead, most common outdoor fabrics are water resistant, not waterproof. Fabrics like the materials found on tarps or Tyvek are waterproof but typically are not comfortable enough to be used on furniture, umbrellas, and the like.
Water resistance is an important factor in outdoor fabric, but really, the goal should be to avoid getting the fabric exposed to water. Even though the water won’t harm a good outdoor fabric, you’ll still have to wait for everything to dry out in order to be usable again.
Conclusion: The Best Outdoor Fabrics
We have covered the major types of outdoor fabric here and identified several of the major brands. When shopping for your next outdoor recliner or patio umbrella, you’ll now have the right information in hand to make a decision whether to spring for the Sunbrella vs. the 250GSM Polyester.
The Best Outdoor Fabric
Sunbrella fabric is the best outdoor fabric in most cases when the cost is not a concern. Sunbrella provides the best performance and has the best warranty. If your outdoor furniture piece isn’t a disposable item, you should typically spring for the Sunbrella fabric when available.
Happy Fabric Shopping!