How to Choose an Outdoor Fabric


Customer Photo by Chris S.

Outdoor fabric is a broad, diverse category full of everything from Allsport Vinyl to Sunbrella Marine Grade to Waverly Sun N Shade. Not every outdoor fabric is suitable for every outdoor application, so how do you know which fabric will work best for your project?

Take a look at our new Outdoor Fabric Selection Guide. In this guide, we have ranked all of Sailrite’s outdoor fabrics by six key criteria: breathability, water resistance, abrasion resistance, UV resistance, colorfastness, and clean-ability. Let’s take a closer look at those six features.

6 Factors to Consider When Selecting an Outdoor Fabric

Breathability: The level of breathability is determined by how easily air can pass through a fabric. Breathability is important to consider for any outdoor project but is especially key for two applications: covers and seating. In airtight enclosures and covers, a non-breathable fabric could lead to mold and mildew. For seating, a breathable cushion will be more comfortable (less sticky!) especially during hot summer months.

Water Resistance: Water resistance measures how much water will bead and roll off the fabric surface. Often, water resistance and breathability are trade-offs. Typically fabrics that don’t breath well are more water resistant and those that do not breathe at all are considered waterproof (generally vinyl-coated or laminated fabrics). Water resistance is more important for applications like awnings, covers, and speedboat interiors than it is for patio furniture, where cushions can be brought in and out of the rain.

Abrasion Resistance: Abrasion resistance describes how well a fabric will hold up to abrasion under tension. Abrasion-resistant outdoor fabrics for marine and outdoor cover applications are usually heavy, stiff, and often coated with vinyl or other resins. For abrasion resistance with a softer look and hand, go with an outdoor upholstery fabric.


Customer Photo by Rudy and Cheryl G.

UV Resistance: UV resistance is perhaps the most important factor in an outdoor fabric and the simplest.  The higher the UV resistance the longer the fabric will last when exposed to sunlight. The importance of UV resistance increases for applications that will see more sunlight as opposed to applications that would stay in the shade the majority of the time.

Colorfastness: The more colorfast a fabric, the less likely the pattern or color will fade or bleed. A fabric’s colorfastness is determined by how well it holds color over years of exposure to sun, rain, and snow. Colorfastness is more of an aesthetic factor but is important to consider if using vibrant colors for awnings, covers, and cushions.

Clean-ability: While clean-ability might seem less important for outdoor fabrics as opposed to indoor, cleaning your outdoor fabrics is crucial to their longevity. Clean-ability stands for how well a fabric releases dirt from the weave. Mold and mildew can grow on dirt that is trapped in the fabric weave. In general, fabrics with a single-side coating do not release dirt well. To combat this, inspect those fabrics frequently and clean them often.

Selecting the right fabric for your outdoor project can be a balance of weighing the pros and cons of each choice. This Outdoor Fabric Selection Guide aims to make the process easier with its quick 5-star ratings system. If you’re still unsure, there’s also a cheat sheet of Sailrite fabric recommendations based on application.


Customer Photo by Charles L.

You can browse our full selection of outdoor fabrics at

What outdoor projects are you taking on this spring?

  1. John Stokes said:

    This was a very helpful article. On the breathability topic: I am thinking about upholstering Sunbrella over the current vinyl on a helm seat inside a boat. Is this a bad idea or will it work? Thanks.

    • Nikki said:

      Adding the Sunbrella over vinyl will work, but the cushion will look better and be more comfortable if the old vinyl is removed first.
      Thanks for reading!

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