It's challenging to wade through all the different kinds of upholstery and choose the best one for your decor needs. But thankfully we have done the work for you and researched this topic thoroughly. In our ultimate upholstery guide, we will break down the pros and cons of each fabric, plus notes about longevity, comfort, style, and pet-friendliness. We want to leave you empowered to upholster your home to your tastes. Happy decorating!

hand holding swatches of fabric

What Exactly Is Upholstery?

Before we can deep dive into the upholstery sea, we first much explain the base definition. Upholstery is defined as a soft, padded textile covering that is fixed to furniture such as armchairs and sofas, and it can also mean the practice of fitting padded coverings to chairs or sofas. Sometimes it's used as a synonym for fabric or to explain the type of covering on furniture. Here are some of the most popular types:

Types of Upholstery

1. Leather

dark leather couch

Leather is one of the most well-known types of upholstery, and for good reason. Not only is it a natural fabric, but it's stain resistant so it makes for an excellent long-term investment piece. It's also easy to clean -- all you need is a damp cloth or leather-specific cleaner. Plus, it's a decorative chameleon that can easily be at home in either a traditional decor scheme or a more modern spot. We love a classic leather armchair in a home library or dark and cozy den. Distressed leather is especially great with pets, because it masks any scratches that may arise from little claws. The only downside is that this upholstery can be expensive.

2. Wool

close up of wool fabric

Wool is another natural fabric that can be used for upholstery purposes. We're smitten with the cozy connotations of this warm and soft winner. Generally, wool is blended with a synthetic fiber to make it more useful and easier to clean. Wool's pros are that it's durable, it doesn't wrinkle, it's soil-resistant, and it doesn't fade. An extra bonus? It's even naturally fire resistant and environmentally friendly. However, like leather, wool it's more on the expensive side as well. Wool is great for a sectional couch in your main living space or for extra comfortable throw pillows.

3. Acetate

woman choosing colors and fabrics
Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

Acetate is a synthetic fiber that was designed to imitate silk in texture and look. It is quick-drying and resistant to shrinking, plus the fabric doesn't pill, which is when fibers from the fabric break away. We also love the luxurious sheen and luster that this fabric provides. As for a list of cons for acetate, it is not a very strong fabric, wrinkles easily, and it generally requires dry cleaning. It's especially pretty to use for drapes or window coverings because it hangs and drapes well. Just be sure not to choose this upholstery for a couch that gets a lot of wear and tear.

4. Jute

close up of square of jute

Jute is a natural fabric native to India and Bangladesh that was originally used for rope and matting. Unfortunately, jute is super prone to wrinkling, which is a definite downside. It's also quite rough to the touch, and might not be so great for covering furniture. On the bright side, it adds an excellent textural element to furniture, and would be especially cool for an ottoman, rug, or accent pillows. It pairs well with other natural pieces like leather or wood for beautiful neutral decor schemes.

5. Velvet

Velvet is a luxurious woven choice for upholstery and has both natural and synthetic varieties. On one hand, it is difficult to clean unless the spill is treated right away and is quite expensive. On the other hand, it's soft to the touch, available in gorgeous rich color choices, and reflects light beautifully. Velvet makes for extra luxe accent chairs or a trendy and plush couch in your sitting room or library. We also love it for an indulgent chaise lounge in a master suite.

6. Linen

stacks of linen fabric

Linen is a plant-based natural fiber made from flax that's generally mixed with a synthetic option for added durability. It's a popular upholstery choice because it's affordable, naturally moth-resistant, and resists pilling and fading. But linen does come with its downsides -- it soils and wrinkles easily, is easy to shrink, does not stand up in humid climates, and must be cleaned by a professional. However, it is perfect for a formal sitting room or dining room chairs, as it shines with less use.

7. Chenille

swatch of bright pink chenille fabric

Chenille, which is French for caterpillar, is an ultra-soft natural fabric. It requires backing because it is easily stretched, so that is an added expense. It's also not good for pets because dust and debris can be easily caught between the fibers. It is, however, possible to clean it yourself, and is a fairly durable fabric choice. Because it's a casual fabric, chenille is ideally used for children's furniture or comfort pieces such as an oversized recliner.

8. Cotton

cotton plant

Cotton isn't called the fabric of our lives for nothing; it is one of the most popular upholstery types. Cotton is especially resistant to fading and wear-and-tear. The fabric dyes well so there are many color combinations from which to choose. Cotton is also great because it's sturdy yet breathable and comfortable. Additionally, there are many different grades of cotton to suit any budget. We recommend getting a stain-resistant finishing spray for maximum efficiency. We love it in family rooms or living rooms that get daily use.

9. Polyester

fabric with tag that says "100% polyester"

Polyester is a synthetic blend that is extremely popular for upholstery. It is famously soft and easy to clean. It's even resistant to pilling, fading, and wrinkling, which is a great trifecta. Just be sure not to combine it with wool, because that would create a pilling problem. One other issue is that light colors of polyester or poly-blend are susceptible to staining, so we recommend picking darker colors for this material. We like it for your favorite, most-used chair or even for a desk chair in the home office.

10. Silk

golden silk fabric

Silk is a widely-known luxurious natural fiber. While it's expensive, with proper use and care it can be a good, long-lasting investment piece. Silk is available in many different thread counts, colors, and patterns. Unfortunately, it is susceptible to sun damage, not very family-friendly, and definitely not suitable for pets. Additionally, silk requires dry cleaning because it's quite delicate. Silk is best used in adult spaces such as a formal sitting room that doesn't get heavy use or has lower likelihood of spills.

11. Nylon

striped nylon fabric

Nylon is another type of synthetic fiber and is best when blended with other fabrics. It is extremely durable, stain-resistant, and super versatile. Plus, it doesn't wrinkle. It can, however, fade and pill, which are clearly negative attributes; additionally, nylon is susceptible to heat and sunlight, so don't use for a sun room or porch. We do love resilient nylon for kid's rooms or a play room since it's easy to clean and maintain.

12. Faux Leather

woman and baby on faux leather couch
Pavel Yavnik/Shutterstock

Faux leather, sometimes referred to as "pleather," has all of the aesthetic appeal of natural leather without the steep price tag. In general, faux leather is typically made from polyurethane, a more eco-friendly alternative to vinyl. Faux leather is also easy to clean and maintain, and is even stain resistant. It's perfect for pets and highly trafficked areas, so we recommend a big couch made in this material for your living room or sun room.

13. Olefin

close up of olefin

Olefin is a synthetic fiber that is woolly in appearance. It's best known for being extremely durable, though it's not the most stylish choice for your home. It can withstand the heaviest daily use, is easy peasy to clean, and is even resistant to wet conditions. We recommend olefin material for a three season porch or outdoor entertaining spaces.

There are so many types of upholstery to choose from, each with their own benefits, drawbacks, and uses. Before you make a decision, research each material and choose what upholstery best fits your needs. We're glad to be able to help decorate your home to your tastes.

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