Shopping for a new sofa is kind of a big deal. It can also be pretty confusing.
From genuine leather and leather-look sofas to linen sofas and everything in between, choosing the right material for your couch can be quite the headache.
Things to keep in mind when contemplating the perfect upholstery material include:
- Who will be using the sofa (do you have children or a particularly fluffy cat?).
- How often it will be used (will it be occasional seating or your everyday wind-down space?).
- How it will be used (chatting over coffee or sprawling out in front of the TV?).
- What look you want to create in your space (warm and cosy or sleek and modern?).
- If you have time for high-maintenance materials (some require more TLC than others).
Sure, finding the perfect sofa can be overwhelming, but it can also be exciting (and even fun!) when you know what you’re looking for. Learn how to choose the right material for your sofa, armchair, dining chairs, and other upholstered items with this guide to different types of fabric.
WHAT IS UPHOLSTERY?
Upholstery is the material covering a piece of furniture such as a sofa, chair, or ottoman. Common types of upholstery for furniture include:
- Genuine leather
- Leather-look or faux leather
- Fabrics such as linen, suede and faux suede.
Different types of upholstery have different looks, feels, lifespans and price-tags.
Beautiful, durable, and easy to clean, it's no wonder leather sofas have been a popular choice in homes for years.
Genuine leather couches bring a sense of sophistication to any room, and while they may cost more than some other options, they’re well worth the investment. With their timeless looks and long life expectancy, you’ll be able to enjoy your leather sofa for years, if not decades.
- Durable – Real leather is resistant to cracking, peeling, punctures, and tears under normal conditions. It’s strong enough to take a beating and still look great after years of use.
- Long-lasting – Genuine leather couches are expected to last much longer than some other upholstery options.
- Easy to clean and maintain – Spills and dust are easily removed with the wipe of a damp cloth or a special leather cleaner. Applying leather conditioner every change of season can help nourish and protect the leather and maintain its flexibility.
- Hypoallergenic – Leather couches are a great option for people who suffer from asthma or allergies, as they don’t house dust mites and other allergens as easily as fabric does.
- Timeless – Traditional and contemporary, leather never dates or goes out of style as the trends change.
- Price – Genuine leather sofas can be a pricier option compared to other fabrics.
- Breathability – Some people find leather can get hot, sweaty, and sticky in summer.
- Maintenance – Leather needs some occasional TLC to keep it supple and nourished. It can also stretch or crack over time if neglected.
Genuine leather couches can be more expensive than other options, but they also have a longer life-expectancy if properly cared for.
If you love the look of leather but not the cost, a leather-look or faux leather sofa is a great alternative. These are generally made from manmade materials such as PVC, polyurethane, or polyamide microfiber.
- Affordable – Leather-look couches cost less than genuine leather couches.
- Easy to clean and maintain – Just like real leather, synthetic leather is easy to clean with a slightly damp cloth and maintain with a conditioner.
- Animal-friendly – No animals are harmed in making the material for leather-look couches.
- Wide range of colours – Faux leather couches can be made in any colour or pattern you like – perfect for those looking to go bold with fun colours like red or yellow.
- UV-resistant – Polyurethane and polyamide microfiber are resistant to the harsh sun’s rays, reducing the risk of fading over time.
- Modern – Just like real leather, faux leather has a sleek, modern look that doesn’t date.
- Shorter lifespan – Leather-look sofas are not expected to last as long as real leather ones.
- Not as breathable – Faux leather isn’t as breathable as real leather, which can increase that hot and sweaty feeling for some people.
Leather-look couches give you the look of leather without the price-tag, and they’re a great option for vegans.
Classic and classy, linen sofas are generally used in formal sitting rooms. This is thanks to their aesthetic appeal, but also because they can’t handle everyday usage as well as some other fabrics.
- Natural and eco-friendly – Linen is made from natural flax fibres, and while fabric treatments and dying methods can reduce the overall eco-friendliness, linen is generally a more eco-friendly option than other fabrics.
- Cool and comfortable – Perfect for warmer climates, linen is soft and cool to the touch.
- Durable – Linen is one of the strongest fabrics available.
- Self-launder – With removable covers that can be laundered at home, fabric sofas are easier to keep clean.
- Less wear – Unlike some other fabrics, linen doesn’t shed or pill, maintaining its beautiful appearance for longer.
- Anti-microbial and mildew-resistant – Linen is naturally hyper-allergic, making it a healthy option for those prone to asthma and allergies.
- Wrinkles – Linen is more prone to creasing and wrinkles compared to other fabrics.
- Cleaning – Fabric soils more easily than leather, and absorbs stains more easily. The fabric can also shrink if you set your washing machine at the wrong temperature.
- Durability – 100% linen sofas can stretch when used heavily. These couches are best used occasionally instead of daily.
This man-made material is made using polyester microfiber. Affordable and easy to maintain, faux suede sofas are soft, comfortable, and versatile.
- Affordable – Faux suede is more affordable than real suede and some other types of upholstery.
- Easy to clean – Because it’s made from tightly woven fibres, manmade suede repels spills and stains, and unlike real suede, most faux suede can be spot-cleaned at home using water and water-based products.
- Comfortable – Synthetic suede is a soft, comfortable material that doesn’t have the immediate cold feel or hot and sticky feel leather can have.
- Wide range of colours – Faux suede can be made in any colour or pattern, making it a great option for any home.
- Animal-friendly – No animals are harmed in making faux suede.
- Staining – While synthetic suede is generally treated to repel water and spills, if liquids are rubbed into the fabric, they will often leave stains or cause the dye to bleed or discolour.
- Stiffness – Faux suede can become stiff over time, especially after cleaning.
Faux suede couches are affordable, comfortable, and animal-friendly, but can stain easily if water is rubbed into the fabric.
Once you’ve found the perfect material for your sofa, learn how to decorate it in our guide to styling to complement your sofa's upholstery.