What Is Performance Fabric?

In searching for the right piece of furniture, you might start with the design style and size, then think through the color and texture of the upholstery material. What else is important when considering your furniture purchase? A key characteristic that furniture hunters often overlook is the performance quality of the fabric.

If you have a busy household filled with kids, pets jumping on your nice furniture, or outdoor spaces that are vulnerable to degradation through weather elements, putting ‘performance’ at the top of your furniture requirements is a must!

Neutral, gray, white, and red Sunbrella performance fabrics
Neutral, gray, white, and red Sunbrella performance fabrics

You may be thinking, what is performance fabric? Performance is defined by the specific qualities of the material — key terms to look for include “stain-resistance,” “fade-resistance,” and “mildew-resistance.” Every fabric has different characteristics, and many have no performance characteristics at all, leading to a short furniture life or limited furniture use. Whether you are looking for a new sofa or reupholstering an existing piece, we have rounded up helpful tips for finding the best fabric to withstand your challenges.

How to Spot Performance Fabrics

One of the big differences between basic fabric and performance fabric is the color quality. For most fabrics, the dye is applied as the last step in the manufacturing process, meaning its color only penetrates the very top layer of the fabric. This makes it more susceptible to fading as a result of water spills, sun exposure, high use, and other daily challenges. In the safety of a rarely used living room, your couch’s color will probably last. But if exposed to any daily challenges, the color can quickly dissipate.

Sunbrella's blue performance fabric resisting water.
Sunbrella's blue performance fabric resisting water.

Some performance fabrics are specifically designed to withstand fading. For example, Sunbrella fibers are dyed and then woven into fabric, from the beginning of the manufacturing process, so that the entire textile is fully saturated with color and is fade-resistant.

Most performance fabrics are also treated with a “finish” that acts as a coat of durability and defends against stains from spills, mold, and mildew. To ensure that the quality is built in to the fabric, make sure the performance fabrics you are considering are not only a top coat. Finishes will wear away after just a couple of spot cleanings, leaving the fabric underneath susceptible to staining and fading.

Performance fabrics from Sunbrella go beyond the finish, using UV-stable pigments to dye each thread, making the fabric fade-resistant. In addition, the fabrics are specifically engineered to resist mold and mildew, so you don’t have to worry about your outdoor furniture being subject to water damage either.

Green Sunbrella outdoor waterproof upholstery fabrics, outdoor pillows, and green throw by the pool
Green Sunbrella outdoor waterproof upholstery fabrics, outdoor pillows, and green throw by the pool

Cleaning Made Easy

Not only do performance fabrics increase the longevity of your furniture, but they also give you ease-of-mind through everyday challenges. With Sunbrella, your performance fabric furniture can be cleaned repeatedly without compromising its color or durability, even with heavy duty supplies like bleach. Even bright colored fabrics can be bleach cleaned! If the thought of using bleach on anything but white fabrics makes you nervous, you can relax knowing that most messes can be easily cleaned with dish soap or even plain tap water.

Coffee spilling on neutral colored Sunbrella performance fabric
Ballard Designs uses Sunbrella fabrics on their furniture pieces because their stain-resistant qualities can withstand the even the toughest spills.

Performance is for Indoors, Too

Sunbrella’s fabrics are meant for serious wear and tear, which is not exclusive to the outdoors. ‘Performance fabric’ is commonly synonymous with indoor textiles AND outdoor fabrics because of the perfect balance between durability and comfort that can be used in either setting.

Young girl jumping on blue chair upholstered in Sunbrella performance fabric
Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams creates modern upholstery products with ultra-durable Sunbrella fabrics to give your home worry-free, lived-in luxury.

If you are looking to transform your space, start with a performance fabric sofa as the centerpiece. Choosing performance fabrics means you don’t have to shy away from timeless neutrals. A classic, soft-hued sofa will last season-after-season, no matter how often your personal design style changes. Investing in a high-quality sofa will save you money in the long run and gives you the versatility to refresh the style seasonally with accent pieces.

Sunbrella is dedicated to quality products that last longer, making it a good investment for the consumer and a better choice for the environment. Fabrics that need to be replaced less often leads to highly sustainable pieces of furniture and less waste. It’s a win, win all around!