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The Ultimate Guide to Sofa Materials and Which is Right for You

So you’ve narrowed it down to the sofa style you want, now what? It’s time to think about sofa materials and what you want for your upholstery.

Whether you love the glossy look of leather or prefer synthetic fibers that are easy to clean, the right material for your sofa depends on your lifestyle and how you use your space. If you live alone and want a little luxury, velvet and chenille are chic upholstery fabrics. If your home has kids and pets running around all the time, consider durable fabrics for sofa upholstery, like microfiber to polyester.

With so many options for fabrics and materials to choose from at stores and online, it can all feel very overwhelming very quickly. Don’t worry. Here, we’re laying out the most popular sofa material options and breaking down the pros and cons of each one to help you get a better understanding of what you should look for.

If you’re just beginning to think about investing in a sofa, our best advice is to do some research. For starters, consider whether you want a sectional vs sofa, check out our sofa buying guide for the big questions to ask yourself, and get our tips for buying a sofa online.

Leather

A popular upholstery choice for sofas, leather not only has good looks but it’s also durable. Keep in mind there are different grades of leather, with genuine leather being the highest quality at a more expensive price point. If it’s in your budget, a leather sofa is a great investment piece.

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The Pros:

Easy cleaning. Leather is resistant to stains and spills (just wipe off liquids with a cloth), so no bad smells or damp residues, which can happen with fabrics.

Way durable. If you have pets or need a sofa that can stand up to heavy use and take a beating, leather is the way to go.

Bold and timeless. In addition to being a tough material, leather has a timeless look. A sofa in caramel or tan leather is a statement piece that will never go out of style.

The Cons:

Strong texture. Leather has a smooth yet hard touch compared to fabrics. If you’re looking for a soft sofa you can sink into, leather is not for you.

Streaks and splits. Leather can develop splits and cracks over time, especially if you use it heavily. Also, watch out for fading in direct sunlight.

It’s spendy! Leather furniture is expensive. If you see a cheap leather sofa, it’s likely low quality and not designed to last.

The Verdict: Good quality leather is incredibly durable, easy to clean, and will develop an aged look that gives it character over time. A well-cared-for leather sofa will last for years.

Faux Leather

Made with synthetic fabrics, faux leather is a favorite sofa upholstery option for those who want the durability and look of leather at a less expensive price point.

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The Pros:

Sun protection. Synthetic leathers are usually UV-resistant, so even if you position your sofa in a sunny area it won’t result in fading.

New environmental options. New faux leathers now include cork leather from oak trees (called Swedish Koskinn) and ocean leather made from kelp. Faux leather in general is also perfect for those who support not buying animal hides.

Luxe look for less. First things first, faux leather gives you the upscale look you crave without emptying your bank account. And there’s a wide variety to choose from!

The Cons:

Beware of the materials. Faux leathers are often made with PVC (hard to clean) and other poly-leather types, like polyurethane. While polyurethane ‘breathes,’ PVC doesn’t so the material can get hot in a hot room.

Not-so-durable. Artificial leathers are easily damaged and don’t wear well over time.

Non-hypoallergenic. Believe it or not, real leather is hypoallergenic. Not so much with these simulated fabrics!

The Verdict: Faux leather is definitely worth the savings if you want the look of leather. Just be sure to spend a little more and get the newer environmental leathers.

Microfiber

This sofa fabric is an excellent choice for pet owners. In terms of sofa materials, microfiber is a fine polyester that’s soft, durable, and easy to clean. It has a tight weave, so pet hair, dust, and lint won’t stick or stay trapped in these synthetic fibers—which makes upkeep incredibly simple.

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The Pros:

Superb resistance. Microfiber is fade-resistant. It holds color longer than most fabrics, and the tight weave makes it easy to spot-clean and wipe off stains.

Eco-friendly and durable. Synthetic microfiber is one of the most durable engineered fabrics. But what’s great is that it’s petroleum-based, which makes it easily recyclable.

A+ for comfort. A sofa upholstered in microfiber is warmer than leather and polyester, so it’s cozy to rest on. It’s also hypoallergenic.

The Cons:

Watch for water marks. While microfiber stands up to most stains, if somehow water, especially dirty water, penetrates the fabric, it may show the staining when it dries.

Folding challenges. Due to the softness of the material, it easily folds on the extreme ends under intense heat, which can look unattractive.

The Verdict: Microfiber is soft, comfortable, and relatively low maintenance, so it’s perfect for family homes with kids and pets. Just know that while durable, it can wear in the long run.

Linen

When it comes to upholstery fabrics, linen can be polarizing. One the one hand, linen has a breathable cooling effect and a relaxed texture that gets softer over time. On the other hand, it’s a delicate fabric that soils and wrinkles easily, and it can shrink if not professionally cleaned.

The Pros:

Light and strong. Delicate-looking linen is one of the most durable upholstery fabrics. It’s mildew- and abrasion-resistant, gets stronger when wet, and never pills nor fades.

Green for less. Linen is one of those rare fabrics that is an affordable natural material, which means you can be eco-friendly while having a sofa that’s chic and comfy.

Beautifully soft. Linen has a slubby texture that is responsible for its smooth and alluring feel. It’s very soft to the touch, which makes it super dreamy and comfortable.

The Cons:

All the wrinkles. Linen wrinkles easily. There’s no way around that.

Not your everyday. A linen sofa is not meant for rough use. It’s prone to soiling and should be professionally cleaned whenever that happens.

The Verdict: While caring for linen is a bit more particular, it has a natural luster and sheen and its natural, earthy color makes it effortlessly elegant. It’s a sofa fabric that’s best for formal spaces or for homes without children or pets.

Cotton

The durability of cotton upholstery will depend on the weave count. A tighter weave means a stronger, higher-quality sofa fabric. But cotton is a natural fiber that has good resistance to fading. It’s less resilient to soiling and wrinkling, though.

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The Pros:

Style and strength. Cotton is also high on the list of most durable fabrics for sofas. It can also be dyed in almost any color, so the decor pairing possibilities are endless.

Totally natural. Cotton is 100% natural, and it’s soft, comfortable, and breathable. It’s also hypoallergenic, so it’s perfect for those with sensitive skin.

Good feels. One of the benefits of cotton is that it resists pilling and it’s also resistant to abrasion, so you can lounge in it comfortably for hours on end.

The Cons:

Consider the dye. While it’s super easy to dye, it’s not always a good thing. Cotton catches dye so easily that it can sometimes catch the color of your blue jeans.

Don’t get it wet. Because fabrics like cotton are breathable, it makes them porous. That means they can soak in spills quickly, which can cause wrinkles and potentially odors.

Pretty weak weaves. Cotton upholstery often has beautiful weaves, like canvas and damask, which look nice but tend to wear down faster and aren’t as easy to clean.

The Verdict: Cotton is a great option for slipcovered sofas, like linen—but slightly lower maintenance. It’s a heavier fabric than linen but you’ll have lots of color and style options.

Polyester

It’s one of the most common synthetic fabrics used for sofa upholstery. Why? It’s an affordable option that’s wrinkle-resistant, durable, and easy to clean. While the material may not sound exotic or glamorous, polyester sofas can be very stylish.

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The Pros:

Strong and fast drying. Polyester is stain-resistant and abrasion-resistant, which makes it quite durable. And when you wash the fabric for cleaning, it dries very quickly.

Odor free. Polyester is only slightly breathable, which means it will not absorb smells like other breathable fabrics, such as cotton and linen.

The Cons:

Check the temperature. Polyester upholstery can crack if it is exposed to extreme or fluctuating temperatures, so make sure your polyester sofa is in an even-climate room.

It’s sensitive. Polyester is a tensile fabric, which means that it will stretch over time. It’s also flammable, so don’t light candles near it, as that can be a safety hazard.

The Verdict: Polyester is a soft and comfortable sofa fabric that’s great for families with children, given its liquid resistance and easy care. Just keep it in a moderately cool room.

Chenille

Elegant and soft, chenille has tufted threads (made from natural or synthetic fibers), which give it a soft, fuzzy texture that’s very comforting. It’s also surprisingly durable. Although, if you have cats or dogs with claws, the tufted threads can get snagged in them when you’re not watching.

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The Pros:

Unbelievably soft. When it comes to upholstery fabrics, chenille is luxurious and very very soft. It’s what makes chenille sofas so utterly comfortable and coveted.

Made to last. Chenille is pretty durable and also easy to clean. That means it can stand up to lots of traffic and wear and you can easily keep it looking new for years.

Endless possibilities. Chenille comes in a number of colors, which means you’re certain to find a hue that goes with your aesthetic. Color and comfort, the perfect combo.

The Cons:

It can shift. Chenille is extremely stretchable, so it can loosen up on your sofa over time. And adding a backing to strengthen it adds to the cost.

Catching on. With chenille, dust and debris can get stuck in the long fibers. Likewise, animal claws can easily unravel the threads, so pet owners should really consider before committing to a chenille sofa!

The Verdict: While it’s a sofa fabric that stands up to heavy use, it’s a high-maintenance choice. Chenille sofas need to be regularly vacuumed and liquid spills will need professional cleaning.

Velvet

If you’re looking for an upholstery fabric for a sofa that looks and feels glamorous, go for velvet. The fabric has a luxe sheen, which catches light and reflects it across the shape of your sofa. What that does is accentuate the form of your sofa, making it look like a true statement piece.

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The Pros:

Warm luxury. Velvet is luxuriously soft, but it also has excellent insulation properties. Which means it’s perfect in cooler rooms and gets cozier the longer you lounge in it.

Colorful luster. Velvet can be dyed in rich colors. Most notably, when it’s dyed in jewel tones, it looks especially bold and captivating given the fabric’s reflective finish.

Good with pets. A flat pile similar to a rug makes velvet highly durable and any dirt or pet hairs will just fall away. And unlike other fabrics, velvet also has no raised weaves or loose threads, which means no snagging from claws.

The Cons:

Highest maintenance. The durability of velvet depends on the density of the piles of woven fibers. But in general velvets are difficult to clean and maintain.

It’ll cost you. There’s no way around the high price tag. It’s a very expensive fabric.

The Verdict: Velvet is a regal sofa fabric choice that’s guaranteed to look and feel luxurious. But it’s really best reserved for formal spaces, not your everyday busy household.

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Everything you need to know about buying a sofa online

How to buy a sofa online

We live in a world where we can buy anything and everything online. From clothing to groceries, furniture is now a category we can add to the list.

But while purchasing a pair of shoes is easy, ordering a large piece of furniture via the internet can feel stressful and overwhelming. After all, you can’t just drop a sofa in the mail if it doesn’t fit or look the way you hoped.

While buying a sofa online might seem terribly risky, it can actually be a simple and easy – even great – experience! Here are five tried and true tips – gleaned from our real-life experience – to help make buying a sofa online as comfortable as lounging on one.

 

1. Shop for What Makes You Comfortable

Are you inclined to recline? Find a sofa that supports the way you like to lounge.

Would you believe us if we told you that you can determine if a sofa is comfy online? Although nothing quite compares to the real life test drive, there are key factors that can help you to gauge a sofa’s comfiness via cyberspace.

Do you want a sofa where you can sit cross-legged and enjoy all the poor-posture slouching you want? Look for an option with a greater seat depth. Do you like to lean back against your sofa’s armrest and stretch out? Be sure to pay attention to the arm height to ensure maximum comfort.

Think about how you really use your sofa and look for the factors that will make it most comfortable for you. Check out this helpful video for a break-down of all your need-to-know sofa stats.

 

2. Read the Reviews

You are not blazing this trail alone!

The next best thing to sitting on a sofa is reading reviews by other people who have sat on that sofa. Just a few of the many things you can learn from the reviews are the quality of the piece, how comfortable it is, and if it looks the same in real life as it’s pictured online. 

There’s no telling how much time, money, and energy you can save by reading product reviews.

 

3. Get Acquainted With the Return & Exchange Policies

Your last line of defense when buying furniture, online or in-store.

Before buying a sofa online, make sure you can answer the question “If I hate it, how easily can I return it?

Many furniture retailers have strict return and exchange policies, so it’s important to do your research. For big-ticket items, like a sofa, some retailers require you to ship the piece back yourself and then pour salt in the wound with a hefty restocking fee.

It’s no surprise then that many people keep furniture they don’t even like simply to avoid the hassle of returning it.

Here’s the good news – many retailers have super generous return policies so you can avoid this sofa-sized headache. Do your research first, then shop confidently.

4. But First, Swatches

Test drive the material before you commit.

Many retailers offer to send you fabric swatches for a small charge or even for free! This is a great way to test drive the fabric you’ll be lounging on, so take full advantage.

Don’t be afraid to get handsy with your swatches and see how they hold up to everyday wear and tear. Spill some wine on them to gauge how easily they stain. Wipe down the fabric to see how easy it is to clean. Even rub them on your pets to see if their fur clings to the fabric.

5. Visualize It

Make sure it looks good and fits in your space.

A customer recently told us that, prior to designing her space with Modsy, she had tried reconstructing the form of her potential new sofa out of cardboard boxes. And we totally get it! Imagining how a big piece will look and feel in your space is difficult, but it’s also one of the most important steps toward buying a piece of furniture online.

Before you buy a sofa online (or even at all) get confident by knowing how it will look and fit in your space. You can use the magical powers of Modsy to see your sofa in an exact 3D version of your actual room. Alternatively, you can always rely on a measuring tape, or even compare the dimensions of your new sofa against another piece of furniture.

Whichever method works for you, avoid having to return your new sofa (even though you thoroughly researched the return policy like a pro) because it doesn’t fit or look good with your wall color/rug/coffee table…

 

Shopping for a new sofa?

Are you in the market for a new sofa? Snag yourself a Modsy design package and try on all your favorite options in a life-like version of your living room. Not sure where to even start looking? Our designers can help recommend sofas based on your style and budget. 

Design in 3D, Shop With Confidence:

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