High-performance fabrics: When are they tough enough?

“High performance” is a term that’s being used a lot in the world of design today, and in this era of high-tech finishes and copious testing, there are more ways than ever before to get what you want from a fabric. But what exactly does “high performance” mean?

The experts at Schumacher note, “Performance can mean many things: abrasion, stain resistance, light fastness, flame retardance.” So they consulted a trade group, the Association of Contract Textiles, and gathered some information about high-performance fabrics today. If you’re considering high-performance fabrics for your home or office, here are some terms to know:

Abrasion: The Wyzenbeek testing method is the most common abrasion testing method in the U.S. A fabric is stretched onto a machine and rubbed back and forth, with signs of wearability assessed after every 5,000 rubs. Industry guidelines say that office chairs and furnishings in luxury hotel lobbies generally need a minimum of 15,000 Wyzenbeeks; dorms, hospital waiting rooms, airport terminals and casinos require about 30,000 Wyzenbeeks. And what about the average home? “A Wyzenbeek of 15,000 is generally more than ample to withstand a rambunctious family’s vigorous wear and tear,” Schumacher says.

Stain Resistance: A number of finishes are available today to protect fabrics against spills and stains. These include ProSeal, a petroleum-based product; Nanotex, which uses nanotechnology to actually bond a protectant with a fabric’s fibers; and GreenShield, another example of nanotechnology, this one inspired by the naturally protective properties of lotus leaves.

Light Fastness: To evaluate fade resistance, a strip of fabric is placed in a large device with part of the fabric protected by a card. The remaining fabric gets a 40-hour blast of light exposure, and results are calibrated from 1 to 5 using a scale devised by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists. A score of 4 is generally considered good for normal residential use.

Flammability: Almost all the tests in this category test for flammability by holding a fabric to a cigarette or flame to see how it responds. Schumacher says the most stringent procedures currently in place are probably the California Technical Bulletin battery of tests, and because they are so rigorous, facilities outside California are adopting them as well.

If you’re interested in high-performance fabrics that will perform well in one or more of these categories, contact Knox and Panoply and we’ll be happy to share more information about Schumacher’s favorite tough-performing fabrics!