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How to choose the right fabric

Choosing a new sofa or three piece suite, or planning to get some upholstery recovered?

The huge range of colours, textures and styles available can be daunting, but how to care for these fabrics and how well they will (or won't) resist staining should really be the first consideration. After all, if you're planning on spending thousands of pounds, it makes sense to consider how well your investment will withstand the realities of day-to-day living.

Professional carpet, rug & upholstery cleaning involves a great deal of fabric identification. This is because before we can decide on the right way to clean a carpet, or extract a stain from a sofa, we need to know whether the fabric is suitable for the method of cleaning we diagnose.

For example, this viscose rug...

Photograph of a white viscose rug with permanent tea stain damage

Because viscose is derived from wood pulp, it is unsuitable for many types if stain removal techniques, particularly any that involve significant amounts of water.

In fact, like many viscose rugs with stains that we survey, this rug from a property in Combe Down, Bath was not recoverable. If it were a car, it would be declared a write-off. Now, if you own a viscose rug, this might be scary stuff. Certainly, this particular rug was bought from John Lewis for not much less than £1000.

Was the owner aware of the difficulty in caring for the rug? Absolutely not.

What is the right fabric for me?

The right fabric will be the one that you want, at the right price and with a level of durability relative to your lifestyle.


For example, if you have children or pets, or wear shoes indoors, it is reasonable to assume that your carpets & upholstery will need to be able withstand the rigours of regular stains/soiling, as well as being able to cope with the water and solutions necessary for a professional clean.

In this scenario, we would always recommend carpets & upholstery constructed of synthetic fibres, or with a high synthetic fibre content.

If, however, you don't have pets & there won't often be children in the house, and you tend not to wear shoes indoors, then natural fibres ought to last well in your home. These fibres include velvet, linen & wool. They tend to be more expensive but - with the exception of velvet- they are also more resilient.

What are the dangers of buying velvet?

Velvet is a lovely material. Soft to the touch, luxurious on the eye, velvet furnishings can add a genuine elegance to a room. True or natural velvet is usually made from cotton that has been woven in a very particular way...

Because velvet has been created as an array of fine cotton tufts, it is particularly susceptible to water or other fluids. Once wet, it quickly deteriorates and collapses...

Image of water damamge to a green velvet sofa
Image of water damamge to a green velvet sofa

These two images clearly demonstrate the destructive effects of water to the pile of velvet. They were sent across from a customer in Bristol in the hope that the damage could be remedied - sadly, once this type of pile collapse has occurred, there is nothing to be done. The damage here happened as a consequence of an attempt to remove some stains.

Which fabrics are most eco-friendly?

It is tempting to believe that natural fibres are best for the environment. Why wouldn't they be?

Cotton might seem to be the epitome of a sustainable, natural fibre but, as this article explains, it takes between 10,000 and 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg alone! Add to this the innumerable pesticides required to grow it in industrial proportions, then the bleaching necessary in its processing and it's pretty clear that even choosing organic cotton is not without an impact.

Wool is much less problematic, as its source - sheep- are a brilliant example of an efficient, closed production system.

Sheep + grass = more sheep, meat & wool

Whether or not you are a vegetarian, the interrelationship between humans and sheep is clearly an acknowledgement of what an amazing animal the sheep has been for our benefit. Next time you see a sheep, take a moment to marvel & be thankful 😉

It is easy to look at synthetic fibres and view them as in some way lesser. However, many have less environmental impact than cotton. Not only this, most are far more sensible to have in the home, particular in upholstery. Synthetic carpets do tend to flatten quickly - wool is far superior. However, for stain resistance & ease, synthetic sofas win hands down.

Is there a simple answer?

Of course not, there are only informed opinions.

Hopefully, when you next consider purchasing a carpet or piece of upholstery, you will feel better informed and able to question the salesperson about the aftercare of your purchase.

Happy shopping!

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