When shopping for a new sofa or chairs for your home, you'll likely spend a considerable amount of time online and in-store looking for the perfect one that checks all the boxes.
One of the most essential of those boxes should be high-quality upholstery fabric. Do you sit on your sofa daily? Multiple times a day? Is it a family room sofa used by children? Are pets in the household?
Look to the Fabric Rub Test to determine the suitable fabric for your situation.
What is a fabric rub test?
The rub test is a trusted method of evaluating a fabric's longevity based on abrasions. Manufacturers use it to determine whether or not a fabric is suitable for widespread residential or commercial use. Two such testing methods are the Wyzenbeek Abrasion Test in North America and the Martindale Test for UK/Europe.
What is the Wyzenbeek test?
The Wyzenbeek abrasion test is the standard method used in North America to determine an upholstery fabric's durability for many uses. A Wyzenbeek machine determines the fabric's rub count by rubbing an abrading material, usually cotton duck fabric, back and forth across the tested fabric.
A "double rub" is measured for each back-and-forth pass of the abrading fabric. The test is run on each test fabric until there is a visual indication of wear in the rubbed area or until the first two yarns break.
What is a Martindale test?
The standard method used in the UK and Europe, the Martindale (Abrasion) test, is a type of rub test that measures the resilience of a cloth to wear and tear by rubbing it against a series of progressively smaller and rougher test patches in a figure-8 motion.
A Martindale machine stretches the fabric by oscillating sandpaper or wool between two discs until wear and tear become visible. There is a limit to how many times the discs can vibrate before the cloth begins to show indications of wear, measured in "Martindales."
Understanding low- and high-quality fabrics
If you're sofa or chair shopping, you are, in essence, also shopping for upholstery fabric. The rub test results or rub counts help you understand low- and high-quality textiles and avoid misnomers.
For instance, a common consumer belief holds that heavier fabrics are more likely to last. As a result, they wrongly believe that the most long-lasting upholstery materials are the thicker ones. This assumption is not necessarily valid.
To avoid choosing a fabric unsuitable for your situation, look to the rub count noted on the sofa tag, fabric swatch, or online under a sofa's specifications. For North America, you'll measure in "double rubs" as the rub count determined by the Wyzenbeek test.
What is a rub count?
The rub count is the conventional method for determining the tensile strength of a fabric. The rub count reflects the results of a rub test: how much normal wear and tear a cloth can take before it starts to look different.
Does rub count matter?
Yes, the rub count provides a rating system for the longevity of various fabric selections. The Wyzenbeek (U.S.) and Martindale (UK) tests to determine how well a fabric will hold up to a certain number of "rubs" before it shows signs of wear and tear. This test is used to determine how well a fabric will perform overall.
Why is rub count important for your sofa?
The rub count of a sofa fabric is one of the most important specifications you can look to when you're in the market for upholstered furniture.
Since the wearability of a fabric is measured during the rub test in rub counts, you'll want to understand each potential fabric's ability to withstand repeated rubbings and how long it takes for the material to become worn through.
Every time a person sits on a piece of furniture, it is counted as a "double rub." The rub count equals the number of times it has been passed over to achieve a specific level of smoothness. Any time the Wyzenbeek machine goes back and forth twice, the count increases by one. If the number is high, the cloth will last very long.
When choosing a sofa manufacturer, the quality of the upholstery fabric used is as important as how the frame is made and how the parts work together.
What's a good rub count for a sofa?
It's crucial to equip your seating with sturdy upholstery fabric. When looking for durable wear for upholstery, the rub count is the only metric that matters.
The most critical fact to remember is that 15,000 rpm is a safe threshold for a sofa fabric on a sofa or chair that endures repeated daily use.
If a sofa or chair's upholstery fabric has a durability rating of 15,000 double rubs, you can sit in it four times per day, every day, for an entire decade before you see any signs of wear and tear.
A helpful way to think about the difference in durability between domestic and commercial upholstery fabrics is that residential fabrics have a durability of between 10,000 and 25,000 rubs. In contrast, commercial fabrics have a durability of between 35,000 and 250,000.
How do you read rub counts?
The number of rubs a cloth can withstand during an abrasion test before showing signs of wear counts as a double rub. A higher count indicates that the fabric can withstand more wear and tear. While this count might be helpful, it should be used primarily as a guide. The range of acceptable counts for various applications of cloth is detailed below.
Similarly to commercial office chairs, heavy-duty upholstery fabric is ideal for high-traffic areas. Heavy-use fabrics often have rub stability of above 20,000. For perspective, you might need heavy-duty material if you have a houseful of children and pets on and off the sofa and chairs many times throughout the day and evening.
Fabrics with a medium-use rating are common in household furniture: dining room chairs, ottomans, sofas, and occasional chairs. A count of 12,000 to 20,000 rubs is adequate for this type of upholstery fabric.
Upholstery fabric designed for light use is typically seen in items like bedroom furniture, accent chairs, curtains, and similar items that won't be subjected to heavy wear. The range of 9000 to 12000 is acceptable for fabrics intended for light use. Light duty would be appropriate for a formal living room sat on infrequently or if you travel and your seating gets little use.
How to choose an upholstery fabric based on rub count
Choose an upholstery fabric's durability based on how often you plan to use it. Picking a fabric that looks good in the space and has a suitable double rub rating is essential to understanding upholstery fabric as it relates to shopping for a sofa or chair.