Buying Furniture To Last

When you decided to have children, you probably didn’t realize you were signing yourself up to test your furniture against fruit punch, food spills, scraped knees, painted fingers, crayons, markers and other contemptible accidents.

Sure, our grandmothers may have made their sofas last a few generations by protecting them with plastic covers, but who really wants to curl up on that at the end of the day? So what’s a parent to do? Are you doomed to suffer the destruction years with unsightly furniture, or are there furniture options that can hold up against the unnecessary roughness? Fabrics have come a long way in the last several years, and it’s a good thing too, since upholstered furniture seems to take the brunt of kids’ growing years. Two things to consider before buying are the Fabric Wearability Code and the fabric’s cleanability code.

Fabric wearability
The Fabric Wearability Code is the government’s standard guide that indicates if a fabric is strong enough for your needs. You can find fabric wearability codes on manufacturers’ swatch samples at your furniture store. If you can’t find it, just ask a salesperson to help you. The standards for fabrics’ wearability are as follows:

  • Heavy Duty (HD) – If a fabric holds up to more than 15,000 double rubs it is classified as heavy duty. It will be stiffer and thicker than most fabrics, but there are some incredible new blends in this rating that seem to belie it because they are supple and soft enough. This would be a good choice for family room furniture.
  • Medium Duty (MD) – Medium duty fabric can withstand 9,000 to15,000 double rubs. The closer the fabrics get to 15,000 the stiffer they are. Medium duty fabrics are versatile and can be used for many purposes, and in family rooms as well as living rooms.
  • Light Duty (LD) – A fabric that can take anywhere between 3,000 to 9,000 double rubs, is classified as light duty fabric. These fabrics can withstand one to three years of regular use and are generally very delicate. They are suitable for pieces that get only occasional use, such as sofas that only get used when guests arrive, or an occasional chair that is used more for its looks than any function.
  • Delicate Duty (DD) – Delicate duty fabrics with 3,000 double should only be used on furniture that is purely decorative, or in pillows.

Fabric cleanability
Knowing the cleanability code for your fabric helps you make smart decisions by knowing how you are able to care for and clean your upholstered piece. You will either find the code on the manufacturer’s label, or you can ask for it when you are selecting fabric for your sofa. Obviously, if cleanability is a huge issue for you, then you’ll want a fabric that gives you the most options for getting out stains. These are the cleanability codes and their descriptions:

  • Code “W” – Fabrics should be cleaned only with water based cleaning agents or non-solvent cleaning products. Apply foam with a soft brush in a circular motion, and vacuum when dry.
  • Code “S” – Mild water-free cleaning solvent or dry cleaning product is appropriate. Make sure the room is well ventilated and there are no open flames, such as from a candle or cigarette lighter.
  • Code “W-S” – Fabrics that can be cleaned with either water- or solvent-based products. Use a mild solvent, an upholstery shampoo, or the foam from a mild detergent.
  • Code “X” – Clean this fabric by vacuuming or gently brushing only. Do not use cleaning agents at all on this fabric, as it may cause staining, shrinkage or distortion.

Think low-maintenance and well-made
Whatever decorating style you choose, low-maintenance is a must. But low-maintenance doesn’t have to look cheap – think well made, durable, and easy to clean. For upholstery, leather sometimes seems like a luxury, but it’s actually very durable – it wipes clean and ages beautifully (as long as no permanent markers are involved). For fabrics, you’ll want something that is soft, but also washable. Choose those with a flat weave, which will hold up better than lightweight or looped fabrics. Easy-care, practically stain-proof choices include vinyl, “pleather,” ultrasuede, twill, denim, velvet, wool, felt, and other natural fabrics with a touch of synthetic fiber woven in for added toughness.

Be sure to buy the best furniture you can afford. It may seem paradoxical, but when you have children it makes sense to buy the best-made furniture you can afford because it will last longer. When purchasing upholstery, be sure to invest in the stain-resistant finish, or consider a sofa with washable slipcovers or zip-off cushion covers. And as a general maintenance rule, regularly clean your fabrics by vacuuming or light brushing. There’s no rule that says your style has to suffer just because you have kids. With today’s fabrics and leather options, it’s more than possible to put together roomfuls of furniture that can stand up to an active family life and still look fabulous!