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Outdoor Fabrics: Choosing one for your outdoor furniture

outdoor fabrics - choosing one that fits your needs
So you've picked your outdoor furniture and you're choosing the upholstery for your seating. Do you find yourself considering which kinds of fabrics to choose for outdoor use? Are you familiar with the various performance indicators - such as UV resistance and water resistance - that dictate the durability of fabrics? In this article, we will look at what makes an outdoor fabric truly great.
 

Outdoor vs indoor fabric

 
While indoor fabrics come in a range of designs and textures, the choice of outdoor fabrics is more limited, but the selection has significantly improved over the last few years.
 
Indoor fabrics are generally made out of natural fibers, which, when exposed to the elements, can easily breakdown. Outdoor fabrics are usually solution-dyed synthetic fabrics , typically acrylics, polyesters, and cotton blends. This type of fabric is manufactured specifically to withstand tough weather conditions. This means they are often UV resistance, mould resistant, water resistant, quick drying, and machine washable. 'Solution-dyed' meansat dye was added during the production of the yarn, allowing it to penetrate it fully, which creates colour that does not easily fade and cannot be washed away.
 
 

High performance indicators for outdoor fabric

 
As durability is such an important factor for outdoor fabric, a good one will have undergone various tests, which are great indications of how durable the fabric might be. When choosing an outdoor fabric, be sure to familiarise yourself with the standard indices - a good fabric supplier will provide fabric samples along with information on the index scores for each of these performance indicators. Below is a summary of the main ones to look out for:

    • Mould/mildew resistance: The AATCC 30 test is the standardised test that evaluates the antifungal capabilities of fabrics and textiles under stringent conditions. There are several options for testing. Depending on the difficulty of the test, an agar medium is prepared. The test sample is placed inside the jar and the top is inoculated with spore suspension. The test sample is evaluated after 7 or 14 days for mould growth. They are then rated on a scale of 0-2, where 0 is a pass, while 1 and 2 are fails.
    • Colour fastness: This indicator dictates how well the colour of the fabric holds against various elements. Tests include ISO 105B02 or ISO 105X12, involving testing colour fastness to indoor and outdoor light (an index of 1 - 8)  and wet and dry rubbing (an index of 1 - 5.)  The higher the number is, the better the colour holds against the element. For commercial outdoor use, always try to aim for the highest score for the category.
    • Rubbing: The Martindale test (also known as the rub test) is an internationally recognised measure for testing the durability of fabric and fabric for contract use. The test involves oscillating discs of sandpaper or wool across the fabric until it starts to show signs of distress. The higher the count is the more durable the fabric. In general, a count of fewer than 10,000 is for decorative use, fewer than 30,000 is for domestic use, and any number above 30,000 is suitable for commercial use. See more about what to consider here: 3 Reasons Fabric Can Wear Thin Despite A High Martindale Count.
    • Resistance to piling: Piling is formed when fibers on a fabric surface “tease out” and become entangled during wear. The main test is the ISO 12945 with a score of 1 - 5, where 5 denotes excellent resistance to piling. For commercial outdoor use, always try to aim for a 5.

    • Water resistance: There are several standardised tests to determine the water repellency of a fabric. The main one is ISO 4920, also known as the Surface Wetting Spray Test - the fabric is wetted using a sprayer at specific distance and wetting duration. The index score ranges from 1 to 5, where 1 is when the surface is entirely wet after the test, and 5 is when the fabric is completely dry. Always aim for a 5 for outdoor use. Another commonly used test is Hydrostatic Head BS3424, which is a measure of how much water pressure a fabric can withstand before it leaks. The value is measured in mm HH, the higher the count is, the more water the fabric can withstand.

    • Other indicators: Machine washable, quick drying, flame resistance (if needed to comply with fire regulations), wash fastness, and stain resistance.

 

Are all outdoor fabrics waterproof?


There are no fabrics that are completely waterproof, but there are some that are very close to it, such as latex or coated fabric. Outdoor fabrics are often labelled as water resistant instead, which is a term given to fabric that is still porous and retains a degree of versatility and breathability, while being resistant to water to a point where it is almost waterproof. In terms of seating upholstery, these types of water resistant fabric tend to be more comfortable and are soft enough to be easily upholstered on most furniture.

There are several standardised tests which fabric suppliers may use to determine the rate for which their fabrics are resistance to water, such as the spray test or Hydrostatic Head BS3424. Other common indices include AATCC 2 and UNI EN 24920. Furniture used for marine, such as cruises, can also be tested against sea water.

 

Can you fire treat outdoor fabrics?


The answer is yes - outdoor fabrics can be fire treated, which can be necessary if the outdoor furniture is used or stored indoors. Read more about this in our article: Hospitality Furniture Fire Safety Regulations.

The main standard for fire treating fabrics in the UK is the Crib 5 test. Read more about the Crib 5 certificate in our article: Treating Fabric To Crib 5 For Hospitality Use. Hospitality furniture for marine use should also undergo another test called IMO/MED, which is the highest standard for fire-retardant fabrics in order to comply with marine safety regulations. 

One thing of note about FR treated fabric is that, over time, rain will break down the FR backing, making the FR protection void and furthermore, the backing colour (white) will start to come through to the surface. FR treatments are therefore only suitable for outdoor fabrics in covered areas that are not exposed to the elements.


Is leather suitable for outdoor use?

Leather is generally not recommended for outdoor use. There are outdoor leathers available, but the range is much more limited and are usually quite expensive. Faux leather is a good option and performs better than real leather, there are also many more choices available. The Aries collection by AGUA is a prime example, please see our top picks below for more details. 

Cleaning and maintenance 


Outdoor fabrics are more resilient than indoor fabrics. The methods for cleaning and maintenance will depend on the fabric itself. Most will be machine washable and can even be bleached. Some might be treated to be protected against stains and will require the minimum of treatment. 
 

 

Outdoor material selection

 

Ready to choose your outdoor upholstery material? We have a wide range of outdoor fabrics available to choose from. To find the outdoor suitable fabrics on our website, go to any product and find Change button in the Upholstery section.  From the filter panel choose Type and pick 'Outdoor',  View a demo on how to use our upholstery selector here: Outdoor fabric selection.

 
Here are some of our top picks:
 
Agua_Fabrics_Collection_AlFresco1

Agua - Al Fresco


All Agua's upholstery collections meet the key performance requirements of the contract furniture industry. A Fabric for all seasons, Al Fresco is a beautifully textured and luxurious woven upholstery fabric designed for exterior uses.

  • Highly water resistant (Hydrostatic Head > 1 metre)
  • High colour fastness
  • Flame retardant
  • High rub count
  • Backing: : fire retardant waterproof laminate using halogen free chemistry
Delius Bali

Delius - Bali 


The fabrics of the Bali collection are made of high quality polyoefinic FR (polypropylene). The collection features an attractive diamond pattern reminiscent of seaside resorts.

  • High lightfastness
  • Wash fastness
  • Resistance to sea water and chlorinated water
  • Flame retardant
  • Machine washable at 30°C
  • High rub count
sunbury atlanda outdoor fabric-1

Sunbury - Atlanta


Atlanta is bright and bold with a contemporary textured finish. Constructed from 100% high UV light resistant polyester, waterproof, breathable and fire retardant.

  • High lightfastness
  • Highly water resistant (hydrostatic head >2 meters, no leaks after 24hrs)
  • Fire retardant (all tests over CMHR 35 foam after water soak)
  • High rub count
  • will not support fungal growth, mould or mildew
agua aries

Agua - Aries


Aries by Agua is a UV resistant faux leather with a fine grain that is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.

  • Weather resistance
  • Highly water resistant (Hydrostatic Head > 1 meter)
  • Flame retardant
  • High rub count
  • Excellent stain removal has been observed for grease, ink, blood, urine, coffee, iodine, betadine, ketchup, chewing gum, chocolate, grape juice

Ready to see some samples?

 
We can upholster any of these fabrics onto most of our wide range of outdoor furniture - why not browse through our Outdoor Furniture page for more inspiration? You can also visit us at our Hammersmith furniture showroom, where we have a wide fabric samples on display. Alternatively, send us a query through the contact form or use our live chat to request fabric samples today. 

Topics: Outdoor furniture, Furniture testing

By Tiffany Chan on 09/06/22 09:43
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