TYPES OF OUTDOOR FABRICS AND TREATMENTS
Types of outdoor fabrics and treatments
Understanding what type of material you are buying for your outdoor area is important. Outdoor fabrics and materials are offered in a wide variety of choices and can usually be organized by intended usage. If you are shopping at a store for cushions, for example, you’ll want to make sure it’s comfortable and resistant to fading. If these cushions will see a lot of spills and stains, you’ll want to make sure it’s easy to clean. Stores that sell outdoor cushions, tablecloths, awnings or umbrellas should be able to provide details as to the type of material used, its performance rating and cleaning instructions. Keep in mind that not all outdoor material is the same, and how the material is produced can determine how long it will last outdoors. Below you’ll see the most common types of material used in outdoor applications.
Acrylic coated polyester: This type of material is commonly used for BBQ or grill covers, boat covers or shades, awnings and umbrellas because of it’s tough exterior and resistance to fading, mould and mildew. Acrylic is used to coat the exterior of a woven fabric, enabling it to withstand rubbing, tearing, poking as well as extreme weather like rain and sun. Some manufacturers coat both sides with acrylic to make it extra durable and reversible.
Vinyl coated or vinyl coated synthetic fiber mesh: Vinyl (PVC) coating is flexible and durable, and when applied to a material it can create something that is strong, flexible and resistant to multiple elements like stains, sunlight, water and mildew. Some find vinyl easier to wipe clean, especially with difficult materials like tree sap or sunblock. Synthetic fiber mesh is the type of material you might see on a sling chair, where the material is thin yet flexible and strong. A vinyl coated material is easy to wipe down and keep clean but can feel plastic-y on your skin.
Acrylic versus vinyl: Acrylic tends to hold its colour better, making it a good choice for areas where sun is strong. It’s also breathable compared to vinyl, and may not feel as hot to the touch. Because it is breathable, water may go through acrylic, so vinyl is better at keeping water off when used as an umbrella or awning. When torn, acrylic usually cannot be repaired as easily as vinyl.
Waterproof vs. water repellent vs. water-resistant: Waterproof means that water cannot penetrate the surface, waterproof fabric is impervious to water. Water repellent means that water can penetrate the surface, just not very easily. A water repellent material means that it has been treated so it will not be easily penetrated by water. Water-resistant can be a material that has been treated to repel a certain amount of water but is generally less successful than a water repellent or waterproof material. Some materials have an external coating applied to it, making is water repellent or water-resistant. Keep in mind that many of these coatings wear off over time, especially when washed in a machine or even dry cleaned. Make sure you read the label carefully and understand how best to care for this fabric.
Topical sprays and treatments: There are waterproofing sprays like Scotchguard or NeverWet that can be applied directly to your outdoor fabrics to make them more water repellent (and sometimes stain resistant). Many of these sprays are designed to be applied easily to objects that are subject to water like cushions or seating. These topical applications wear off over time so you may need to reapply at a later date.
Sunproof Canvas and duck cloth: Canvas was traditionally made from hemp or linen, which are both naturally durable and easy to source. Nowadays canvas is typically made from cotton; it is a thick, heavy-duty cloth that is strong and durable. Unless treated, it is not naturally stained, water or mildew resistant and may need to be treated. Duck cloth or cotton duck (from the Dutch doek meaning “linen canvas”) is similar to canvas but much more tightly woven.
Oilcloth: Oilcloth is generally referred to canvas that has been coated with linseed oil to make it impervious to water. Traditionally, leather was used for objects that needed to be durable, flexible and water repellants, like luggage, carriages, or other outdoor cloth. But the leather was expensive and could be damaged by too much water. Boiled linseed oil was an easy way to transform the cotton canvas into something more weatherproof. Waxed cotton was another version of this durable material and was used in clothing like overcoats. Nowadays oilcloth is usually a vinyl treated material offered in various thicknesses and used for outdoor tablecloths or placemats.
Sunbrella: Sunbrella is a brand that has been at the forefront of outdoor materials and high-performance fabric since 1961. We decided to list it here as a separate item because, like many established brands, people often refer to all outdoor fabric as Sunbrella when in fact it is a brand. You can find their materials at numerous locations online and in stores and some manufacturers choose to use Sunbrella in the making of their products. They began their business by producing material for awnings. Since then, they’ve established themselves as a leader in performance fabric – a fabric that performs well outside as well as inside. They have a wide range of colours, textures and patterns for the outdoor space, including marine quality fabrics. Interior designers often turn to Sunbrella when needing high-performance fabric for indoor use (for example kids’ rooms, family rooms or rec rooms).