Do a simple search online for “What to Look for in an Upholstery Fabric” and you’ll find one of the most often shared advice is to look for a high double rub count. A couple of industry standard tests (Martindale or Wyzanbeek) are used to gauge how much wear a fabric can take before it becomes threadbare. So, a double rub count of 25,000 means a piece of fabric has been rubbed back and forth by a piece of plastic 25,000 times before the textile began to wear through.
Textile durability has the most to do with the content of the fabric (is it silk, wool, polyester?) and how it’s been woven. A high rub count does not necessarily equate to a greater capacity for wear. A more delicate fabric like a natural, finely woven linen with a double rub count of 25,000 will still wear more quickly than a tightly woven synthetic even though they both have the same double rub count.
Very high traffic areas such as hospital waiting rooms, university lounge areas, and restaurants require a double rub counts of 30,000 or more in a synthetic material to meet their standards of wear. Think about it: these are places continually used, every day, by a variety of sizes. Home furniture doesn’t come close to the wear that public spaces endure.
Light-duty textiles, like those used in curtains and pillows, can get away with a double rub count of 6000 – 9000. Fabrics with this low count of double rubs are quite difficult to find, as the industry has reacted to the call for greater durability with fabrics capable of withstanding the double rub machine in the tens of thousands. Medium use is that of daily used furniture in the home, such as chairs and benches, for which DR counts of 9000 to 20,000 are suitable. Heavy use fabrics with DR counts of 20,000+ are perfect for high traffic family rooms with furniture that gets used often and daily.
So, what does a double rub count of 100,000 mean? It means choosing such a fabric for home use is akin to using a Sherman tank to get to the nearest coffee shop; it’s overkill. The fabric may withstand being physically rubbed against for decades, but it may also have sacrificed for immortality all the good things we look for in fabric: it may be tough, scratchy, uncomfortable, a static trap, or it may simply take way too long to make way for change in the lives of our furniture.
As Erma Bombeck said, “Nothing lasts longer than an ugly carpet.” At some point, the fabrics, colors, and textures we love today become dull, worn, flattened, strained, dirty, and out of style, and they still need to be switched out so we can maintain delight and comfort in our surroundings.
Many people think of the double rub number as a magical talisman whose size will keep fabric looking fresh and unworn for decades. But what truly ages fabric is its care or lack thereof. The hardest thing on fabric is not cleaning it or vacuuming it: Dust and grime age fabric the most.
Body oils, food oils, spills, dust and dander, and half-cleaned-up stains age fabric a great deal, and these have nothing to do its initial strength. Finally, pet use of furniture introduces holes and snags from claws, mashed cushions from habitual nesting, besides deliberate feline nail enhancement (a.k.a. scratching), all of which no fabric’s durability rating can offset.