Difference Between Outdoor Fabrics

Extending your interior decor into your outdoor living rooms and spaces is easy with the wide selection of outdoor fabrics. Whether you need a canopy or awning to keep the sun off or just want to have coordinated cushions, there is an outdoor fabric suitable for that use. With both natural and synthetic fabrics, proper care and maintenance keeps them vibrant and fresh.

Natural vs. Synthetic

Striped canvas is a common choice for awnings.

While many outdoor fabrics are made of synthetic fibers, some are of natural materials.  Synthetic fibers include polyester, acrylic, PVC and olefin.

Natural fabrics are primarily canvas, woven from cotton, linen or hemp.  Polyester-cotton blends are a mixture of natural and synthetic fibers.

All outdoor fabrics receive treatment, usually an acrylic coating, to allow them to resist soiling, rot and mildew and to repel water. 

Solution-Dyed vs. Printed Patterns

The fibers in solution-dyed fabrics are dyed before they are woven into material.  This coats each thread thoroughly in color and distributes the color continuously and evenly throughout the fabric.

The pattern shows on both sides of the fabric.  Solution-dying is suitable for synthetic fibers, including acrylic, polyester and nylon.

For printed pattern fabrics, the design is on one side, the top, of the material, leaving the back side the color of the base material.  Printed pattern dying is suitable for both woven and non-woven fabrics.

Solution-dyed fabrics have excellent light-fastness properties as well as an inherent mildew resistance that makes them suitable for all outdoor environments.  Printed fabrics can fade in bright sunlight and are best suited for shaded areas.


Outdoor fabrics come in a variety of finishes, weights and thickness, making some better for awnings and others for cushions.  Vinyl-coated outdoor fabrics, including cotton and polyester, are slick and glossy, and are fire-retardant as well as waterproof.

Commercial awnings and larger canopies are often made of this fabric.  Softer outdoor fabrics include all types of canvas, in both light and heavy weights, and linen-spun polyester.

These work well as cushion covers or tablecloths in your outdoor room.  A nylon grid covers the back of vinyl, which reinforces its strength and makes it effective for furniture covers and umbrellas Acrylic-coated polyester-cotton blends are both durable and brightly colored and are also suitable for furnishings.

Solution-dyed acrylics are now available as a lighter, more porous materials specifically for pillows and cushions. 

Care and Maintenance

While all outdoor fabrics respond to a gentle cleaning routine, some cannot take harsh detergents.  Using a solution of liquid soap in lukewarm water removes most of the dust and light everyday stains from outdoor fabric.

Rinse the fabric thoroughly with clean water and leave it to air dry.  While the coating on these fabrics makes them resistant to mildew, it may grow on substances left on the material.

Remove mildew from some fabrics by applying a mixture of bleach and liquid soap, leaving it to soak in and then scrubbing it off and rinsing with cold water.  Outdoor fabrics that can take bleach include solution-dyed acrylic, acrylic linen and olefin.

Do not use bleach on any kind of polyester, including T-spun polyester and filament polyester, vinyl and canvas of all kinds. 

About the Author

Christina Ash has been writing since 1982, throughout her career as a computer consultant, anthropologist and small-business owner. She has published work in various business, technology, academia and popular books and journals. Ash has degrees in computer science, anthropology and science and technology studies from universities in England, Canada and the United States.

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