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Guide to Upholstery Fibers - Synthetic Fibers

Synthetic Fibers - Polymers, or Man-made Fibers


Synthetic fibers or polymers such as microfiber, are the most extensively used group of fibers in modern upholstery. There are endless possibilities in textures, colors and patterns with these fibers. As a rule they also hold up well to all kinds of wear and tear.


Acetate is a synthetic fiber made from cellulose acetate.

  • Acetate has a luxurious look and feel, with strong luster, and a good ability to take dyes.
  • Acetate is resistant to shrinkage, wrinkling, and mildew, but does not resist solvents or abrasion.
  • Acetate is used extensively in blends to impart softness and luster. It is also found in novelty fabrics, lining and taffetas.
  • It is easily cleaned with soap and water, or dry cleaning.


Acrylic fibers are also man made and include such brand names as Orlon, Acrilan, Dolan and Dralon.

  • Soft, wooly and natural to feel, acrylic is used to create plush velvets.
  • Acrylic fabrics are quick drying and resistant to sunlight, fading, mildew and insects. However, they are not flame-retardant.
  • Acrylics make excellent outdoor fabrics.
  • To clean, either wash with soap and water or dry-clean.


Nylon is the generic name for a group of chemically related fibers and was introduced by DuPont in 1939.

  • It dyes and drapes well, and has a good luster.
  • Nylon is very durable as it is extremely resistant to abrasion. It does a terrific job of resisting mildew, insects and wrinkling, but has poor resistance to sunlight.
  • It is extensively used to create velvets, woven fabrics and knits.
  • You can either dry-clean or wash it.


Olefin is derived from petroleum, and can mimic wool in appearance.

  • It resists moisture, mildew, chemicals and abrasion. It is sensitive to heat and if not treated properly, it can be damaged by sunlight.
  • Flat woven fabrics and velvets are made from olefin.
  • It lends itself to being washed as well as being dry-cleaned.

Polyester and Microfiber

Polyester was also introduced by DuPont in the 1950’s. Microfiber, which has increased in popularity over the years, is a blend of polyester and polyamide.

  • In appearance polyester fabrics can range from bright to dull sheen, and a crisp to soft feel.
  • It is strong and durable with good resistance to abrasion. It stands up well to sunlight, mildew and insects. Traditional polyester can be subject to pilling and soil easily. However, microfiber has excellent resistance to soiling and wrinkling.
  • Polyester blends beautifully with other fibers, such as cotton, and can have a silk like appearance. It is also used in outdoor fabrics. li]Stains can be easily cleaned with solvents or detergents.
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