You know when you have a girl's night and open that extra bottle of wine you had stashed away for a rainy day and someone's had just a liiiitttlllee too much to drink. Or maybe your kid's favorite Sunday morning routine is to bump into you causing your coffee to spill all over just as you sat down relax. We all know what it feels like, the dread of watching that spilled liquid inching towards your brand new white carpet or couch. You might have even tried to prevent this feeling from disasters like this by preemptively purchasing stain-resistant furniture (a.k.a. performance fabrics). BUT, let's be real, when fabrics are treated with a stain-resistant finish, what's in that finish is a whole lot of chemicals that you might not want in your home.
What's in my performance fabric?
Stain resistance essentially works by preventing liquids from being absorbed and fine particles from adhering to fabrics. It can be accomplished by either using the natural properties of different fibers (some being more stain resistant than others), or by applying stain resistant coatings (1). Unfortunately, these stain resistant coatings that are used to make"performance fabrics" are full of fluorinated chemicals, that are no good for health and the environment.. Even if you are a do-it-yourself Scotch-guard type of person, those stain resistant sprays contain the same fluorinated chemicals. These sprayed coatings are what make your furniture and rugs resistant to liquids and oils if you choose not to go with more stain-resistant fibers.
Do you really need it?
Well, probably not! To start off with, fluorinated coatings are not good for you! Otherwise known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, PFAS causes negative cardiovascular, endocrine, immunologic, reproductive and developmental effects (3). Even if you aren't directly exposed during the spraying process, the coating can easily come off and migrate into dust and the air that you breathe, since it's only on the surface of fabrics. And guess what? Even after you've gone through the hassle of purchasing stain-resistant furniture or fabrics, it won't last forever. The shelf-life of performance fabrics from companies is generally a couple years and if you're spraying fabrics yourself, it'll wear off within the year. These performance fabrics also don't offer protection against pollution, dust and skin oils that will build up on your fabrics over time (1). But don't despair, there are a multitude of ways to keep your furniture looking like new that are safer and just as effective!
Here are some better stain resistant choices
- Going synthetic is a great choice if you really need stain resistance! Polyester and other synthetics fabrics are essentially made up of small fibers of plastic. We know we've warned you against the dangers of using plastic, but in this case, it's okay because you aren't heating up your couch or using it to hold food! Many upholstery fabrics that are made of polyester tend to be better at naturally resisting stains or being washed because of the inherent non absorbent nature of plastic. Polyester is not treated with PFAS, so definitely a winner in our book. A fabric with some recycled polyester would be even more awesome.
- Choose a deeper palette for your furniture. Yes, seriously! Darker colors hide stains better, so even if that red wine stain is stubbornly staying in, your charcoal grey couch won't spill your secret. If you're into lighter colored furniture, try purchasing patterned pieces or heathered fabrics which also are great at hiding residual stains.
- Go microfiber. Microfiber has amazing properties in addition to being super soft and comfy. It tends to have water resistant properties because of its very tight knit, which encourages the liquid to bead instead of soaking through. Yay!
And hey, if all else fails and you're thinking of buying a new couch, check out our article on how to purchase the cutest and safest furniture! And if you're already an owner of performance fabrics, stick with vacuuming instead of dry cleaning that couch. In all seriousness, try and stay-away from stain-resistant fabrics. The health considerations that are associated with fluorinated compounds are much more important for you and your family than ensuring that your furniture is stain-free forever.