Outdoor Fabric: Where To Start
Outdoor fabric brings the comfort of inside, outside. Choosing the best outdoor fabric for your space involves more than just color and pattern, though. Water resistance, UV resistance, durability, colorfastness, and cleanability all contribute to the enduring style of your outdoor space. Understanding the importance of these three factors will help you create comfortable, long-lasting outdoor furniture, pillows, and cushions.
What To Look For
When you're shopping for outdoor fabric, you want to make sure you choose a material that will last well beyond one season of pool parties and barbecues. To help with that, we're here with a brief overview of the three most important factors in high-quality outdoor fabric: UV and Water Resistance, Colorfastness, and Cleanability. These three components are most helpful for residential upholstery applications like poolside cushions, patio furniture, accent pillows, and backyard seating.
1. Water & UV Resistance
It’s always a good idea to store your outdoor patio cushions or pillows when not in use. After all, less time spent exposed to the elements means a longer lifetime for your outdoor fabric. Sunshine and moisture are the leading factors in the deterioration of any kind of fabric. To combat this, look for outdoor fabric that has a high UV and water resistance.
UV resistance is the most crucial aspect of long-lasting outdoor fabric. A high UV resistance rating means the fabric will last longer when exposed to the sun’s harsh ultraviolet rays. For shaded areas like porches, patios, pergolas, and sunrooms, you can opt for a lower UV resistance rating. But for areas that experience full sun exposure, the higher the UV rating the better.
Water resistant fabrics are not waterproof. This means water will bead on the fabric surface and roll off, but will eventually soak through if subjected to moisture for long periods of time. Of course where water is soaked in fabric, mildew isn’t far behind. In addition to UV and water resistance, high-quality outdoor fabric will also be mildew resistant to protect your outdoor cushions and pillows throughout the seasons.
Colorfast fabrics will maintain their color and pattern over time without fading or bleeding. Colorfastness is determined by the fabric’s ability to hold color while facing exposure to sun, rain, and snow over an extended period of time. Typically a fabric’s colorfast rating will be provided with an estimated hourly exposure, such as “Colorfast to 1,000 hours.”
Since harsh sunlight will cause fabrics to fade, colorfastness and UV resistance are largely related. That means the higher the UV resistance, the higher the colorfastness, and the longer the fabric’s pattern and color will endure.
Whether your fabric is cleanable is a factor that is on a sliding scale of importance based on personal preference. Essentially, a fabric’s cleanability measures how easily a fabric releases dirt from the weave of the yarns and fibers. Most acrylic or olefin outdoor fabrics can be effectively spot cleaned. Always follow the manufacturer's cleaning instructions specific to your material, but in the absence of guidelines, the following cleaning steps are generally effective:
- Blot liquid spills with a clean, dry cloth. Blotting is key here--rubbing the spill will drive the stain deeper into the fabric weave. For oil-based spills, apply an absorbent such as corn starch, then remove with a straight edge (again, avoid rubbing).
- Mix a mild cleaning solution of soap (like Dawn) and warm water and apply it to the area.
- Rinse the fabric thoroughly. Get all the soapy residue out and air dry.
Now that you know to look for UV and water resistance, colorfastness, and cleanability it’s time to start shopping. The first name you’ll come across in outdoor fabric is Sunbrella, which is one of the leading names in high-quality outdoor fabric. While Sunbrella has a wide selection of colors, patterns, and textures, it isn't the only brand that offers a quality outdoor product. Next, we’ll explore the best brands and toughest materials for outdoor fabric.
What’s In A Name?
As it turns out, quite a bit. Leading names in outdoor fabric like Sunbrella have engineered a high-quality product and set the gold standard in outdoor fabric that other brands strive to reach. It's thanks to Sunbrella’s innovation of solution-dyed acrylic that the brand is a household name in outdoor fabric. The popularity of solution-dyed acrylic is attributed to its long history of durability, fade resistance, and mildew resistance. It is now used by a variety of outdoor fabric brands other than Sunbrella, including Al Fresco by Swavelle and Fortress by Richloom.
So, what’s the secret sauce to solution-dyed acrylic? The key to this material’s durability and colorfastness is that the acrylic is dyed before the yarn is ever created. Liquid acrylic solution is mixed with dye and then formed into a fiber and spun into yarn, creating a superhero fabric that resists water and won’t fade or bleed.
Solution-dyed acrylic comes in a kaleidoscope of color options, patterns, and the texture can range from coarse canvas to plush chenille all while boasting the same outstanding performance specifications.
Solution-dyed acrylic isn’t the only option for outdoor fabric, although it is the most widely recognized. A recent innovation in outdoor fabrics comes from Revolution Fabrics, which has developed its own rockstar product made of olefin. While it doesn’t have the brand recognition of Sunbrella’s solution-dyed acrylics, solution-dyed olefin is making a name for itself as a diehard outdoor fabric.
As we mentioned in our blog post on Performance Fabrics, olefin is inherently resistant to stains, water, mildew, and abrasion. Add in a solution-dyeing process and you’ve got a powerhouse fabric that checks all the boxes for outdoor performance. As if that wasn’t enough, olefin is usually offered at a lower price point than acrylic, making it a winning choice both for durability and your pocketbook. The only downside is that some people find olefin coarse and scratchy, but as this new technology evolves, the comfort level will continue to improve.
Often found on patio accent pillows or in spaces without frequent, direct sun exposure, spun polyester outdoor fabric is a durable material that can hold its own in the great outdoors. It's made by spinning normal polyester fibers into yarn that are then woven into fabric. Thanks to this process, spun polyester is water resistant and offers good durability against daily wear and tear.
Because it's not solution-dyed, spun polyester tends to fade more quickly than other outdoor fabrics like acrylic and olefin. For this reason, it is more commonly used in short-term applications like outdoor pillows or tablecloths, leaving the heavy lifting to solution-dyed acrylic and olefin.
Spun Polyester is an easy way to add pattern and color to outdoor areas at a low price point. Because it's a low-commitment fabric, you have the flexibility to change the look of your outdoor space more frequently.
Let's Get Outside
The color and pattern offerings in outdoor fabric are almost limitless. You’ll find nautical-inspired stripes, tropical blossoms and botanical leaves, splashy florals, and quirky animal designs. Of course there’s a veritable smorgasbord of neutral, beige, ivory, and oatmeal textures for a natural look for outdoor spaces, too. Whatever your outdoor style, we can help outfit your next backyard adventure for style, comfort, and durability.
Ready to begin exploring outdoor fabric? We offer a wide range of special order fabrics from Sunbrella, P.K. Lifestyles, Revolution, Al Fresco, and Fortress available to order in store. Or, you can start browsing our stocked items here.