How to Choose Outdoor Fabric

How to Shop for Indoor / Outdoor Fabric

Whether you're looking for outdoor fabric to reupholster all of your outdoor furniture, or simply want to make an easy, no-sew patio pillow, the project will require some type of fabric that is made specifically for outdoor use. Before you blindly order something online or pick up a bolt of material that is love at first sight, you need to get smart, do some research and figure out more-or-less what you want to look for. Imagine shopping for, and making a set of finely upholstered cushions,...MORE pads and pillows for your patio set, only to watch it fade and fall apart in a matter of weeks or a couple of months. Yes—that can happen if you select the wrong type of fabric. Follow these tips for choosing the right outdoor fabric for your do-it-yourself project.

  • 01 of 07

    Assess Your Skills

    outdoor fabric
    Indoor/outdoor fabric comes in various styles, textures and prints. © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Be realistic about your sewing or upholstery-making skills before starting this project. If you have some sewing skills and select a pattern marked "simple" or "easy", can follow instructions, have patience and determination, then it is certainly feasible that you could make new cushions, pads or pillows for your patio furniture.

    If you have lots of confidence or have enough determination after watching several episodes of Project Runway—go for it. Hint: use a pattern or...MORE instructions of some sort, and don't get too crazy with accessories. Check out our step-by-steps for no-sew chair pads and pillows:

  • 02 of 07

    Outdoor Fabric 101

    richloom solarium fabric
    Balmoral Opal by Richloom's Solarium. Richloom
    A general rule for choosing any kind of upholstery is to find fabric that will hold up to the stress of being sat upon. If searching in-store or online, look for the terms:
    • Indoor / outdoor fabric
    • Outdoor fabric
    • All-weather fabric
    • Home decorator fabric
    • Waterproof fabric
    • Weather-proof or weather-resistant fabric

    Other options: consider vinyl or oilcloth, which is often used for retro-style tablecloths and tote bags. If you want to get creative, you can try recycled materials, but there is no guarantee...MORE it will be easy to work with or just how long it will hold up. However, if you can come up with something that is repurposed or recycled, you should be commended for creativity and eco-mindedness. That's always a good thing.

  • 03 of 07

    Weave and Dye

    bella-dura fabric
    Bella-Dura indoor/outdoor fabric. Bella-Dura

    Woven acrylic fabrics are more fade resistant than printed acrylic or polyester print fabrics. To give a fabric its color, fibers are woven into yarns that are then dyed and woven into the fabric.

    Solution-Dyed Acrylic

    With this type of fabric, the dying occurs before the yarn is made. Liquid acrylic and color are mixed and formed into fibers. Then, the colored fibers are spun into a yarn already permeated with color. The fabric is made to be colorfast after exposure to the elements, along with...MORE ordinary wear and tear. Solution-dyed acrylic is usually soft, breathable, water resistant and dries quickly. Acrylic should not allow growth of mold. It should not be dry cleaned, nor should it be sent through a clothes dryer to tumble dry.

    Printed Acrylic or Polyester

    Polyester or acrylic fabric is screen printed with fade- and weather- resistant dyes. In addition, a water repellant guard is factory-applied in the final stage to add protection to the fabric. Both synthetics are strong, durable, and resistant to wrinkling, fading, shrinking, mold and mildew.

  • 04 of 07

    Water and Mildew Resistance

    perennials holy mackeral fabric
    Perennials Holy Mackeral fabric. Perennials

    Is the fabric water repellant or waterproof? Outdoor fabrics are made with a protective coating, which should make the cushion or pillow repel or resist water, moisture, mold and mildew. Most outdoor fabrics are water repellent, which means a finish has been applied to the fabric. The more you use or clean the fabric, the more it will wear down— that's just normal and natural wear or use. Eventually, it will need to be replaced.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Cleaning and Maintenance

    outdoor pillows and cushions
    Spot clean outdoor cushions and pillows. Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Since 1969, fabrics should display a cleanability code. Some outdoor fabrics are made with Microban, which protects the fibers and helps prevent the growth of stain- and odor- causing bacteria, along with mold and mildew. Warning: mildew can grown on soils or spills that are not quickly treated or removed.

    Synthetic fabrics like acrylic and polyester should not be dry cleaned, or tumbled dry, as fibers can break down the protective finish. Brush off dirt and debris from the fabric. Spot clean...MORE with a solution of ¼-cup of bleach-free detergent dissolved in 1 gallon of warm water. Apply the solution to the surface, allow to soak in, and gently scrub stains with a soft brush or sponge. Rinse with clean water and let the fabric air dry. Repeat if necessary.

  • 06 of 07


    patriotic decorations porch fourth of july cushions and pillows
    Pillows and cushions exposed to the sun are faded. Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Keep in mind that, over time, most fabrics will fade with constant exposure to sunlight. Think about colors and patterns when choosing an outdoor fabric: black, navy blue or other dark colors fade fast, as do bright and vibrant colors. While outdoor fabric is made to withstand fading, cover it or store it out of and away from the rays of the sun. Like not wearing sunscreen, fading can even occur on overcast or cloudy days—when you might least expect it.

  • 07 of 07

    What is Marine-Grade Fabric?

    small flagstone patio
    Small flagstone patio with cover. Rosmarie Wirz/Getty Images

    Picture a seat cushion on a boat—sailboat or yacht—the image is yours. That cushion and fabric must withstand sun, wind, salt water and whatever else comes at it—maybe a Titanic-sinking iceberg, a sloshed glass of red wine, or George Clooney and The Perfect Storm. Lots of wear and tear.

    Hence, the invention of marine-grade fabrics. Made with a tighter weave and heavier finishing process then most outdoor fabrics, marine-grade fabric is stiffer. It's the perfect material for boat upholstery,...MORE canopies and outdoor covers.