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The value of coated fabrics.

By Elliot J. Nitkin

am certain talking about coated fabrics must seem dry.

If however you are concerned about the environment, it is not a dry subject at all (well, ok, it is a little dry, but sort of like a martini, until you get to like them).

I have to start by acknowledging that this piece is not based on research I have done.  Rather, it is from an online webinar presented by Erika Gaies of Carnegie Fabrics in Rockville Centre, New York.

The reason you should be clear about what you are buying when you are looking for a new piece of furniture is that poor quality materials harm the environment.

But there are better alternatives available.

Unless you want leather, you have to go with a material that is processed by human beings:  coated fabrics is the best option.

These fabrics today (from most impactful to least impactful) are:

1)  Vinyl.

2) Polyurethane (polycarbonate is the best, polyether, second best, polyester, least).

3) Silicone.

This is not to say that they cannot impact the environment and shouldn't be recycled. It means that they have a significantly smaller impact then old plastic options.

They also have a much higher resistance to humidity and heat which wear out materials faster.

The way to judge the long term quality of a fabric is to inquire about its double rub count  - how many times you can rub it once up and once down.

The newer fabrics are anywhere from 100,000, which is an industry minimum to 1,000,000 (which is actually quite an achievement in durability).  100,000 should make the piece last a good five to seven years.

The real concern now though is the durability during the use of the fabric:  is it easy to clean?  Can you wipe up spills easily?  Is it anti-microbial?  Is it porous and will it prevent leaks into the cushion?


Strength and cleanability.  If you are able to get 100,000 to 1,000,000 double rubs then sitting and standing up again are not the issue.

Pet hair, beverages, food and kids are the issue (even the grown variety). 

Here's the catch:  retail stores are not universally carrying the higher quality materials, you really have to ask, they are more expensive.

The great thing about the newer silicone materials is that sand is one of the most plentiful materials on earth and it is natural.  The material also holds an embossed pattern well.  And if attached properly, silicone is wonderful for avoiding that look of puddling (dipping in the material from sitting).

There are other advantages: no flame retardants are added, it is antimicrobial and offers a wonderfully soft hand.

Now that the backs are double knitted as well, durability has been greatly increased.


First of all the materials used by online retailers to meet consumer pricing pressure are of a lessor quality.

Second, a number of older, less valuable materials are sent back to China to be recycled, but are simply remixed with many of the same poorer quality ingredients that made the original materials harmful.  Yes they look nice when they arrive, but they do not stand up to the demands placed on them.

Consider how often people throw furniture into landfill.  Now consider the size of the pieces and the quality of the materials.  Yes there are many great ways to recycle furniture, but not everyone does it.  Mass pressure would go a long way to change what Amazon and Wayfair offer.

We need to make things last.

Next week I will talk about cleaning pieces to make them last longer.

Have a great weekend.