Outdoor Fabrics

From seat cushions to awnings, we'll weave you through the full spectrum of outdoor fabrics as well as offer advice on cleaning and maintaining them.

Robert Martin
Outdoor Fabrics (PROMO)

Like Water off a Duck's Back
Made from a wide variety of synthetic fibers, polyester, acrylic, and even cotton blends, outdoor fabrics are woven textiles that undergo a chemical treatment during manufacturing. This process allows them to repel water and resist soiling and rot, while impeding mildew growth. Because he has firsthand experience with these materials, Robert Smith of Awning Concepts gives us a rundown of the different fabric types.

  • Solution-dyed 100% acrylic: This category (which includes Sunbrella) holds up well to the sun, repels water efficiently, and doesn't fade easily because the acrylic threads are dyed before they're woven. "The color is continuous throughout the fabric," Robert says. Solution-dyed acrylics are commonly used for awnings and umbrellas; there's even a more porous furniture-grade version made specifically for pillows and cushions.
  • Acrylic-coated 100% polyester: Similar in appearance, durability, and usage to the first category, this fabric is woven and then dipped into an acrylic coating. While also water resistant, acrylic-coated polyester fabrics are best used to make boat and car protectors.
  • Acrylic-coated polyester-cotton blends: Because this type of outdoor material is a blend of man-made and natural fibers, it is both beautiful and durable. These blends have a broad color selection as well.
  • Vinyl-coated cotton and vinyl-laminated polyester: Often used for larger canopies and commercial awnings, these slick, glossy fabrics are waterproof and fire-resistant. However, there are limited color choices and fabric styles.

More Helpful Advice
In choosing the right type of outdoor fabric to meet your needs, Robert gives these pointers.

  • Because these fabrics are manufactured to accomplish many of the same goals, the different textures (smooth versus rough) and finishes (matte or shiny) influence a homeowner's decision. Also, the price for different materials is a reliable indicator of its durability and longevity. If you select a less expensive outdoor fabric, you may end up replacing it sooner than you would with a costlier one.
  • The more intricate an awning or canopy, the higher the price. Because additional stitching or combining materials runs the risk of causing leaks or tears, extra precautions are required. For seams and other fabric junctions, I recommend using a specially made thread that actually swells when wet. This, in turn, seals the cloth pieces together.

What's Up With Awnings?
While awnings help shade and protect windows, doors, and openings, they also can greatly enhance the appearance of a home. "As deck or patio canopies, these fabrics extend living areas. Even house numbers or designs can be added to them for extra convenience and appeal," explains Robert. "Retractable designs are another available option."

Outfitting a Porch With Fabrics
Atlanta designer and homeowner Shane Meder is a true believer in the beauty and use of outdoor fabrics. In fact, you're bound to share his enthusiasm with just a glimpse of his own front porch. From a striped awning and matching side roll-up flap to a myriad of seat cushions, pillows, and tablecloths, Shane brings all the comfort and style that are normally reserved for interior spaces to the outdoors. "Because I want my guests to feel at home, I chose fabrics that are upbeat and happy," he explains. "Plus, the front awning and side flap not only bring a sense of romance to an otherwise plain porch, but they also protect the area from blowing rain." Because of their durability, these furnishings can stay put.

Caring for Outdoor Fabrics
First, read any instruction tags attached to the material, or call the company where you purchased the fabric for advice. "For periodic cleaning, Robert adds," "I tell my customers to use a mild, soapy solution, along with lukewarm--not hot--water." Awnings and seat cushions should also be hosed down from time to time to remove any stains or dirt buildup. "Few people realize this, but mildew actually grows on dirt particles and will eventually work into the material itself," he says. "Keeping your outdoor fabrics clean while enabling them to breathe will maintain their longevity."