What's the most durable Slipcover Fabric?

Choosing the most durable slipcover fabric will depend on your household, since different homes have different needs. One of the things to consider is the rub-rating of the fabric, which indicates how many times the fabric can be rubbed by a test machine before showing signs of wear. If your furniture gets heavy use in a family room, a high rub rating is important. Most quality cotton fabrics have a rating in the 15,000 to 20,000 double-rub range, which is usually durable enough for family use.  Washing the fabric also counts as a "rub" of the fabric, so if you'll be washing your fabric very frequently, you may want something with a higher rating.  The rub rating is no guarantee against pets that scratch and dig the furniture - eventually, they'll cause damage even to a durable fabric.

Synthetic fibers often have a higher durability rating than cottons. Our Charisma Velvet scores highly at 60,000 rubs, and retains its shape and color well after many washings.  The polyester fiber is stain-resistant too, and the low-pile resists marking.  Use it to get that cozy feeling for furniture everyone is constantly lounging on.







Outdoor Canvas is another great performer at 60,000 rubs, and has a smooth finish that mimics a cotton canvas.  Since the acrylic fibers are fade-resistant, it will keep its color for a long time, despite sun exposure and repeat washings.  If you have pets or small children and expect a lot of spills, Outdoor Canvas is a great choice since the acrylic fibers repel liquids and wash up clean without much fading.  If your biggest battle is against muddy footprints and pizza sauce, you'll probably be pleased with an Outdoor Canvas.  Just remember, don't put it in the dryer at all - wash and put right back on the furniture damp to preserve its stain resistant properties. 








If you don't want a synthetic fabric, a durable cotton is the next best choice.  A Mattelasse' fabric will be sturdy because of its thick weave; while Mattelasse' is more expensive, it contains a dense weave of quality, long-strand cotton fibers.  Originally created for bedcoverings, it's designed for frequent laundering and gets softer with use.  Like any cotton, its color will fade over time, but this can add to its French-country and Shabby-chic charm.








Next in line for durability, in my opinion, would be a cotton Twill or Denim.  The twill weave's diagonal structure allows fibers to be packed closer together during weaving, producing a more dense, durable fabric than a plain weave (such as a canvas.)  However, it's important to have a quality cotton, with a high percentage of long fibers that give the fabric strength.  A cheaper cotton will contain too many short fibers and can develop frayed spots and small holes when washed (just like a cheap T-shirt). A heavy 10 to 12 oz. Twill is a great slipcover choice. Remember that cotton will fade with repeated washing, so try to wash the entire slipcover at once to maintain an even color.  If you have lots of messes, we recommend having an extra cushion cover or two made to put on the sofa in rotation - then you can wash just the cushion covers more frequently, and the rest of the slipcover every third or fourth washing as needed. 







The best way to preserve the life of your slipcover is to carefully follow cleaning instructions.  Heat and chemicals are the enemy of any fabric, so take it easy on the bleach.  Even with a white slipcover, use non-chlorine stain remover such as Resolve on any stains.  If you must bleach a cotton, try some non-chlorine Biz or quarter cup of chlorine bleach dissolved in the wash water before adding the slipcover.  And remember, nothing lasts forever - but if you choose carefully and take care of your slipcover, it will last for many years.


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How to Wash a Slipcover


If your fabric has been preshrunk, you can easily wash it at home. The only way to be sure of the fabric content is to check with the manufacturer or point of purchase; all fabrics are tagged with the content when they arrive from the mill, and the store should have that information at hand. Acrylics such as Sunbrella and Outdura should never be put in the dryer - they will come out of the washing machine with very little moisture and can go right back on the furniture damp.  Heat drying can take the stain-resistant properties out of an outdoor fabric.

It is very important to note that cotton or linen fabrics labeled preshrunk from the factory will still shrink further when washed and dried. The best way to stabilize the fabric and be sure it has been preshrunk adequately is to wash it and dry it in the dryer on a medium to high heat setting before cutting and sewing the slipcover. (This is also a great way to see how the fabric will hold up when washed). If you are sure this was done ahead of time, you can feel confident about washing the cover. All of the slipcovers we make at our retail shop, Posh Living, are preshrunk this way, so if you have one of our slipcovers, you’re ready to go.

Most large slipcovers, like sofas, will fit nicely into two laundry loads, usually one for the cushions and one for the body of the sofa.  Do not turn the cushion covers inside out! This only wears out the seams. Zip them closed, right side out for washing.

If you have stains, pretreat with a laundry stain remover such as Resolve. For a stubborn or very messy stain, take the cover to the sink and use a gentle soap such as Ivory Liquid. Put a few drops on the stain, add a little water, lather and rinse. Follow with Resolve spray – spray once and leave overnight, then spray again just before washing.  Oxi-Clean is also excellent for overall brightening on whites, and even colors - just test first to be sure it won't harm the fabric.

Wash light-colored slipcovers in lukewarm water; dark colors in cold water. Use a permanent press cycle, since the gentler the fabric is treated, the longer the cover will last.

If your slipcover is cotton or linen, dry the cover for 10 minutes on a medium or permanent press setting. This will release most wrinkles and take a lot of the moisture out. Take the cover out of the dryer when the large flat areas of the fabric are half dry, but the seams and cording are still very wet.  Remember, if you have an outdoor fabric you'll skip the dryer part.

This is a great time to iron corner pleats or the hem of the skirt for a crisp look. Do not iron the whole cover, as wet ironing can stretch it and you'll have a baggy slipcover.

Put the damp slipcover back on the furniture, leaving the areas that tuck in to the sides of the seat untucked and loose. Line up the cover with the shape of the sofa, and smooth out any more wrinkles with your hands. Put the covers back on the loose cushions and zip closed. Stand the cushions on end next to the sofa (leaning against it for support but touching as little as possible so air can circulate.)

Your slipcover will dry completely in a few hours (depending on weather). I like to wash mine in the evening and leave them to dry overnight while everyone’s asleep.

Remember, all fabrics will wear and fade with repeated washing. Cotton fabrics get softer and more worn with each washing, and darker colors can fade considerably, but that’s part of the charm of a slipcover. Your slipcover should last several years, since most are washed just a few times a year. If you have pets or small children and are washing frequently, it can be handy to have some extra matching fabric around to replace a cushion cover or make a repair. Or, have an extra seat cushion so you’ll always have a clean one if there’s a spill.

If you accidently leave the cover in the dryer too long and it shrinks a bit much, you can wash it again, put it on the furniture wet, and stretch the cotton back out again.

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How to Pre-Shrink Slipcover Fabrics

 In order for a slipcover to be washable and to not worry about the fabric shrinking, you'll want to pre-shrink the fabric before sewing.  Cotton and linen fabrics will continue to shrink even if they have been labeled "pre-shrunk" by the manufacturer.  The way to minimize shrinkage for a continued good fit is to wash and dry the fabric with heat before cutting the slipcover pattern.  Most workrooms expect materials to arrive ready for use, so you'll probably need to do the prewashing at home.  Be sure you have enough fabric - slipcovers take about 20% more fabric than upholstery, because of the shrinkage and because there are more areas that tuck into the furniture.

Preshrink your cotton or linen slipcover fabric as follows:

  1. Cut the fabric into 5 or 6 yard lengths
  2. Wash each piece separately in cold water
  3. Dry each piece separately on medium heat until fully dry
  4. Iron as needed - a spray bottle of water is a big help, especially for linen
  5. Fold pieces neatly or roll back onto the bolt for your workroom

While it may be tempting to use fabric softener, it can leave a residue that makes sewing difficult, so don't use any in the pre-shrinking process.  Also, while it is gentler on the fabric to air dry it, at this point in the project the goal is to work through any residual shrinking, so be sure to use the dryer to fully dry the fabric.  Once the slipcover is made, there will be very little further shrinking if the dryer was used.

Cotton and Linen fabrics are finished with a sizing on the surface for crispness, and this washes off in the laundry.  Some people really want a crisp look and decide not to wash the fabric at all, and plan to have their slipcovers drycleaned.  This is a more dressy look, but it can be expensive for professional cleaning!  If a slipcover is properly made, it is a breeze to clean since you just pretreat stains and toss it in the laundry. It will have a soft hand that will always have some wrinkles without the sizing. 

If you would like a crisp look, you can iron with Magic Sizing after the slipcover is made - it's available in grocery stores and adds that nice crisp finish back to the fabric.

Synthetic fabrics such as Sunbrella, Outdura and our polyester chenille Charisma generally do not shrink, so they do not need prewashing.  Sunbrella and other outdoor fabrics should never be put in the dryer. 

For information of washing your finished slipcover, please refer to our page, "How to Wash A Slipcover".

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Slipcover Fabrics - Which one is best?

Anyone considering a slipcover project should pay close attention to the selection of the fabric.  If you're making your own slipcover, you'll be spending a lot of energy on cutting and sewing; and if you're hiring someone, you'll have the additional expense of labor costs.  Since you'll be investing quite a bit of time and money on the project, it's important to choose a high-quality fabric.  You'll want a fabric that will not only look great, but last through repeated washings.

There can be a big difference in quality between fabrics that look nearly the same; better quality cotton fibers are longer and stronger, so the fabrics will wear much better.  Cheaper cottons use shorter fibers, which weaken and ravel much more quickly.  We've all had the experience of buying a four-dollar T-shirt that looks awful after a couple of washings - it shrinks too much, pills, or fades.  It would have been better to buy the expensive T- shirt, which would have looked nice for several seasons.  The same applies to home textiles - Egyptian cotton sheets are superior to bargain brands because of the long-staple cotton fibers, and consumers in the know are willing to pay a bit more up front for long-lasting quality.

The stability of the fabric also matters with slipcovers - some types of cotton duck will grow and shrink by several inches with use, even if they have been preshrunk.  After a few washings, a cotton duck slipcover that continues to shrink will no longer fit.  Fabrics come in different weights as well - one that is too light will wear out quickly, and one that is too heavy will make for a bulky, unattractive slipcover.  While it may be tempting to use a non-cotton, upholstery weight fabric, they often have a rubber-type backing for stability, and are far too bulky and stiff.  Just like with clothing, you’ll want a fabric that has natural drape.  A cotton or linen, with its natural stretch, will cling to the curves of the furniture piece and hang softly along the back and sides. Fabric needs a bit of give to be able to make cording that will curve nicely around corners. 

Should you pre-shrink your fabric?  Since many people who order slipcovers are looking to protect their furniture from kids and pets, washability is a great plus.  It can be expensive to dryclean a slipcover, and may not get all stains out.  Tossing it in the laundry is faster, more efficient and costs very little, so we recommend pre-shrinking fabric for a washable slipcover.  Some fabrics, intended for a dressier look, must be drycleaned to retain their crispness – such as a tailored linen or silk.  Usually, we’d use these fabrics in a low-traffic spot such as a bedroom, or living room occasional chair where the look is important and they are used primarily by guests. 

The wear and tear a piece of furniture gets can really be the deciding factor in choosing your slipcover fabric.  For a family room sofa that gets daily wear, a soft Shabby Chic washed fabric or Slipcover Twill stands up to repeated washings.  However, with these casual fabrics you’ll always have a casual look.  To dress things up, we like mattelasse’ fabrics, which have a woven pattern and are very substantial.  They are excellent for covering a dark fabric with a light one, since they are very thick, but they are more prone to surface wear so I don't recommend them for a heavily used sofa.


Pets on furniture are another consideration; if you have a large dog, use a canvas fabric or a slipcover-weight chenille (designed for heavy wear). Outdoor canvas is also excellent as it repels stains and doesn't pick easily.  It is important to check the rating of the fabric to see the level of wear it is designed for when dealing with teenagers and pets! Again, two fabrics that look nearly the same can perform very differently over time. 

For a crisp, light, look nothing beats linen- it is timeless and always looks chic.  You can achieve a very dressy, crisp look by not pre-washing the fabric, but you’ll need to dryclean the slipcover to retain that tailored effect.  Linen with a crisply ironed finish is our most formal slipcover fabric, but it is more difficult to maintain since it shows creases and needs drycleaning. If you want to maintain a formal look but need a slipcover to redecorate, a dressy linen is perfect. 

For a soft, shabby chic look, washing the linen will remove the sizing (which is like a starch put on at the mill for a crisp finish) and give the linen a very floppy, soft texture.  A washed, soft linen slipcover makes your sofa look and feel like a big, soft bed. Depending on your taste, you may love it, or you may think it looks like a suit that’s been slept in! 

Should you use a pattern? It is very much the style now to have a room or home full of light colored, neutral slipcovers.  Depending on accessories, it can look sophisticated or very cottage-y.  Colors are popular too – solids in mattelasse’ or small graphic wovens give textural interest. Butter yellow, warm khaki, or light aqua are current slipcover favorites as they really brighten a room and look great with a scattering of pretty pillows.  If an entire room is to be slipcovered, we’ll often use a textured solid color for the sofa, with a stripe or large graphic print for the companion pieces.  There are plenty of small stripes woven into heavy cotton that are great for slipcovers.  The stripes really help hide spots and add some interest without being too busy.

If you are looking for a large print, you’ll want one that’s printed on a sturdy background fabric, such as a cotton damask or cotton duck. A big print is perfect for furniture that gets dirty from small kids or beach house visitors, as it hides dirt between washings. Many prints in the marketplace are printed on lightweight cotton/linen blends for draperies and bedding, but they are not designed for washing and will not hold up long term, so check with your workroom when choosing. 

Beach houses are a special slipcover category – many of our clients want the all-white beach house look, which is gorgeous but requires more frequent washing.  Order extra fabric for repairs or replacing stained areas if you want a white slipcover, since sometimes stains just don’t come out.  A great option is to use a Sunbrella or outdoor canvas, which looks and feels almost like a cotton canvas but is incredibly stain resistant.  Even suntan lotion and red wine come right out in the wash. 

Choosing the best slipcover fabric is a process that not only involves color selection, but determining the durability and washability that is needed.   The best way to ensure that you’re making the right choice is to purchase your fabric from a professional who makes slipcovers.  For the best outcome, have your fabric laundered before sewing it up. 

Kerry Ann Dame is an interior designer and owner of Posh Living, an Interior Design shop in coastal South Carolina. ©2011 Posh Living, LLC

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