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Fabric for Upholstery: Cotton vs. Polyester

Fabric for Upholstery: Cotton vs. Polyester

Cotton or polyester? These two popular fibers each have their pros and cons. If you're not sure which is better for your up-and-coming upholstery project, we go over the differences between cotton and polyester fabrics below. After learning about both, you can make an informed choice about which to use.

About Cotton

This soft, natural fabric comes from the cotton plant, a fiber that grows into a boll, otherwise known as the rounded, protective seed case. During the harvest, the cotton is removed from the bolls, cleaned, spun, and woven into yarn. That yarn becomes cotton fabric.

The History of Cotton

Cotton is an age-old crop that's been around since 6000 BCE; perhaps longer! The oldest evidence of cotton cloth was discovered in what's now Peru. It was brought to Europe in 800 CE by Arab merchants and to America in the late 1400s. Humans have used cotton as a common textile for attire and upholstery throughout history.

The Benefits of Cotton

Aside from its characteristic warmth and softness, cotton has plenty of other perks.


Cotton is incredibly soft and warm to the touch. It's breathable, which is a big reason for its popularity. 

Doesn't Hold Onto Smells

If you own pets or live an active lifestyle, you may have had a few unpleasant encounters with odors in your upholstery. By absorbing moisture and the foul-smelling compounds produced by bacteria, cotton confines  odors deep within its fibers, where they can't waft up to the nose.

Easy To Wash

Cotton is easy to wash. You can use a rubber glove or vacuum attachment to pick up pet hair and crumbs. For stubborn stains, use a light-colored washcloth.  Douse your cloth in warm, soapy water and dab at the dirty areas until the stains fade away.


Cotton is an all-natural textile, and the modern methods for growing and farming the crop have become increasingly sustainable. Organic and recycled fibers are increasingly available, and even conventionally grown cotton is increasingly grown using best practices for sustainable agriculture and resource conservation. If protecting the planet is a big deal to you, you can use this textile in your home with a good conscience.


Cotton has a high tensile strength, meaning it won't rip or tear easily. This fabric is also unlikely to cling or pill. One interesting fact about cotton is it becomes 30 times stronger when wet, so you can wash it frequently without damage.


If you have sensitivities or experience allergies, you may be limited in the kinds of fabrics you can use in your home. Fortunately, cotton is a hypoallergenic textile that's unlikely to make you break out, wheeze, or sneeze.

About Polyester

Polyester is a polymer produced by combining ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid. In general terms, it's a common plastic derived from petroleum you can weave into synthetic yarn.

The History of Polyester

Compared to ancient fabrics like linen and cotton, polyester is a relatively recent invention. The savvy inventor John Wesley Hyatt made the first polymer in 1869 as an alternative to ivory for billiards. It wasn’t until the late 1930s that scientist Wallace Hume Carothers invented polyester in a DuPont lab. He initially set it aside because he preferred to focus on developing nylon. However, when microfibers rose to prominence later in the century, so too did polyester fabric.

The Benefits of Polyester

While many view plastic as hard and cold, polyester fabric is anything but! Here are a few benefits of this interesting, new-age textile:


Polyester is made of long, sturdy polymer chains that don't break easily. As a result, it takes a lot of force to stretch or tear polyester.


Because it's so resilient, polyester isn't particularly stretchy and will snap back into shape if you tug on it. That's not to say polyester is totally inflexible, though; it has a small amount of give that allows you to stretch it over furniture, making it great for upholstery projects.


You can blend polyester with a range of other fabrics; in fact, polyester is commonly blended with cotton to make polycotton. Blended materials give you the best of both worlds and let you reap the benefits of two fabrics in one.

Moisture, Heat, UV and Mildew-Resistant

Polyester is resistant to various things, including moisture, heat, UV rays, and mildew. This fabric wicks moisture, which not only keeps your furniture dry but also prevents mildew from growing. It can withstand high heat and is remarkably colorfast, which is why UV-treated polyester is a popular choice for outdoor furniture.

Easy To Care For

Like cotton, polyester is easy to care for. Clean it with a dry brush, vacuum, or damp sponge to eliminate stains.

Which To Choose?

Have you decided whether cotton or polyester is better for your upholstery project? There's no easy answer to this question. Ultimately, it comes down to what you're upholstering and your needs. If you want a fabric that's warm and ultra-soft, cotton can't be beaten! On the other hand, if durability matters to you more than comfort, polyester may be the better option. Look at the pros of both fabrics listed above and consider which one will suit your unique project best.

If you need cotton for your next upholstery job, look no further! At the Fabric Outlet, we have a fun, diverse, and reasonably priced selection of printed cotton upholstery fabric. With a wide variety of colors and patterns to choose from, you're bound to find a fabric that matches your style and personality!

Fabric for Upholstery: Cotton vs. Polyester