Because of my extensive commercial interior design background, many times I urge my residential clients to allow me to select commercial grade upholstery fabrics for their homes. Not only for the fire code rating (which I have discussed before) but for the added durability that a commercial grade fabric gives to upholstered furnishings. Even though many of these commercial fabrics can be more costly, the added value of not having to replace or reupholster your items sooner due to wear is where you will see the savings.
The Fabric Wearability Code was developed by the United States government to set standards for fabric strength. In the United States, fabrics are tested using the Wyzenbeek Method (ASTM D4157). During this process, a piece of cotton duck, which is a piece of heavy canvas, is repeatedly rubbed over the test fabric using a mechanized arm. Every back and forth motion of the arm counts as one “double rub.”
This rubbing motion is meant to replicate the abrasive effects of normal use and the friction that occurs when you sit and stand. The test continues until the fabric begins to fail. According to the testing guidelines, approximately 3,000 double rubs is equal to one year of use. Fabrics that can withstand more double rubs will offer more durability and longer-lasting performance.
In commercial use, for instance; a restaurant, hotel lobby, or an office, the furniture tends to have a higher use than residential furnishings. This means I will be required to select fabrics with a higher wear rating to increase the longevity of the upholstered pieces. Contract minimum standard is 15,000 double rubs. Most hotels require a minimum of 35,000 for upholstered goods.
The Wyzenbeek Method is not the only testing method to measure the durability of fabrics. The Martindale Test (ASTM D4966), is an internationally recognized abrasion resistance testing method. Many fabrics coming from European mills will indicate this testing method on the fabric’s specifications. In this method, a Martindale Test machine rubs the fabric in a figure-eight pattern with a piece of worsted wool or a wire screen, which measures abrasion resistance in multiple directions. One figure-eight is one cycle.
The results for a Martindale Test are shown as the number of cycles completed before the fabric starts to show wear and tear. If two or more yarns break, the fabric pills, or holes form, these are counted as signs of wear. Light use would be anything below 20,000 cycles and heavy duty would be 40,000 or higher.
For leather (and other materials) the Taber Test (ASTM D1044, ASTM D4060) is performed by mounting a flat specimen, either square or round, to a turntable platform that rotates two abrasive wheels over the specimen at a fixed speed and pressure using different abrading materials. Then the wear is calculated by loss of weight and volume from the leather as well as the depth of wear. The number of cycles it took before wear was noticed determines the listing, just like the other testing methods. Anything over 300 cycles is considered highly abrasion resistant for this type of test.
Finding the ideal fabrics for your home is more than just aesthetics. It is important to take a closer look at how much you use certain areas of your home; the sofa in your TV room might receive more use than the occasional chair in the living room. Many commercial grade fabrics have come a long way in look and feel, so you do not have to compromise aesthetics over durability.
A professional interior designer (not a hobbyist or a decorator) with their incredible knowledge and trade resources can help you find durable fabrics that are right for your home.