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choosing a fabric for outdoor use

How to Choose Fabrics for Outdoor Use

choosing a fabric for outdoor use

Choosing Fabrics for Outdoor Use

Good outdoor fabrics are easier to come by than they were a few years ago but it’s important to make the right decision. Make sure you look for the following properties in your fabric to make a choice that’ll last for years to come:


Mold and mildew will thrive in any environment that is moist and warm so it’s important that your fabric is able to prevent this sort of growth (one key way of doing so is choosing a waterproof fabric but this will be discussed below) and you look after your fabrics appropriately.

An important preventative measure is to store your fabrics in as dry a condition as possible, which means not leaving them out in the rain, and taking them inside to a dry location when not in use. As a further measure, you can choose fabrics which have an anti-bacterial/anti-fungal coating or are mildew resistant.

Mildew resistant fabrics haven’t undergone any treatment, but are designed using fibres which limit the growth of bacterial. Anti-bacterial coatings are chemical finishes which are intended to kill or limit the growth of bacteria that begins to find a home in your fabric.


Waterproof fabrics are those that can withstand an ordinary amount of water (almost no fabric can resist water with 100{45bd4aea04534ee6eefd7d10f7902456fd06c81adae6b9026401d00894627d04} success). Waterproof fabrics tend to fall into three categories: tightly woven, microporous coated and hydrophilic coated.

Tightly woven fabric is just that: the fabric is woven so tightly that water has a difficult time penetrating the surface. The advantages of this type of fabric are that they aren’t treated with chemicals and they are breathable. Being breathable means that while water has a tough time getting in, the fabric is still permeable to air. One disadvantage is that water not only has a tough time getting in, it has a tough time getting out! If left out long enough for water to slowly make its way into the fabric, it can take a very long time to dry.

Similar to tightly woven fabrics, fabrics with a microporous coating have a surface that is hard for water to penetrate. However, this surface is artificial (usually made out of some sort of polymer) and contains pores that are even smaller. The pores are thousands of times smaller than the size of a water droplet but big enough for air and water vapour molecules to pass through, allowing the fabric to be similarly breathable but even more waterproof. These fabrics have the same disadvantage as tightly wovens ones however but should only become a problem when the fabric is left out for a significant amount of time.

Hydrophilic coated fabrics are made using a hydrophilic (literally meaning ‘water loving’) coating that is non-porous. At first you may wonder why using a waterproof coating that attracts water molecules is beneficial but the coating uses the chemical properties of water to its advantage. The hydrophilic coating actually allows water to spread easily across the surface, facilitating the movement of the water droplets off the fabric. These fabric are even less penetrable to water than microporous coatings but are less breathable.

Fire retardant

It is important for any fabric (whether used indoors or outdoors) to be fire retardant, meaning it reduces the flammability of fuels (or delays their combustion). Fabrics used outdoors may be more likely to catch fire due to the conditions of the environment they’re used in (near barbeques or patio heaters for example).

Fabrics are made fire retardant either by the use of chemical treatment or manufactured fireproof fibres. The flame retardancy can wear off over time when a chemical treatment is used because repeated washings can slowly remove the coating – it is therefore important to be aware of the suggested ‘lifespan’ of the fabric and to wash it only to the manufacturer’s suggestions.

Stain resistant

With outdoors fabrics being well exposed to the elements, it is important that they do not stain easily and are easy to clean. Some fabrics are more or less stain-resistant naturally while some fabrics are specially treated to resist stains.

There are a number of ways manufacturers can produce fabrics that are especially stain-resistant. One increasingly popular way is using nanotechnology to replicate natural examples of ‘stain-resistance’, as found in fruits such as peaches.

Peaches contain tiny hairs on their surface which causes water to bead up and roll off again (with the water never properly touching the peaches skin). Nanotechnology is able to replicate this by producing fabrics with millions of nanoscopic hairs which work to move fluids off the surface of the fabric.

The advantage of this style of stain-resistance is that it doesn’t wear off over time as chemically treated fabrics do – chemical layers are slowly lost over repeated washings but nano-treated fabrics last as long as the tiny hairs on their surface do.


Please see our curtain consultancy and styling services or contact us to find out more!