Natural fibres offer excellent comfort because they breathe naturally and absorb perspiration easily. However, these features also mean that they stain easily. Natural fibres are hydrophilic – they have a natural affinity for water and all water based products. They are also very susceptible to oil and grease stains, including stains caused by the fatty acids in perspiration. Unprotected, these fabrics have a short life span and are difficult to maintain. Fabric protection is vital for natural fibres. Fabrics made from natural fibres should be protected before use. Some fabrics have protection applied as part of the manufacturing process, but not all. It is always a good idea to speak to your furniture retailer to find out if protection has been applied to your furniture. If you are unsure, apply fabric protection. Fabric will need to be re-protected occasionally. Prolonged use or intense cleaning, such as steam cleaning, will cause the protective lay to wear away.
Many fabrics used in furniture manufacturing today are synthetic. Synthetic fibres are hydrophobic (they repel water) and inherently non absorbent, so they don’t absorb stains in the same way that natural fibres do. Fabric protection is not necessary for synthetic fabrics. It is important, however, to regularly clean synthetic fabrics. The majority of these fabrics are oleophilic - they have an affinity for oils and greasy dirt. Synthetic fabrics need to be cleaned regularly to prevent the build up of oily substances, such as perspiration, which may stain or damage the fabric. This is critical even if an application of fabric protection had been applied.
Many upholstery fabrics are blends, commonly cotton blended with a synthetic fibre. Blended fibres display the properties of all the fibres in the blend, and respond to stains accordingly. So if the fabric is a blend containing a natural fibre it is a good idea to protect it.