The Best (& Worst) Sofa Fabrics for Pet Owners

There are people in this world who don’t let dogs on sofas (or even on rugs). I’m not one of them. Why even have pets if they can’t be on the furniture with the rest of the family, am I right? #dogsfirst!

So when my husband and I find ourselves on the hunt for a new couch, the biggest consideration is not how nice it is, or how pretty, but how well it will hold up to paws and shedding fur and the mud and who knows what else our two pups bring onto the couch with them. That makes this velvet Chesterfield I pine for an impossible dream. But what makes for the best sofa fabric, anyway?

To find out, I talked to some people who would know — the makers of both dog beds and people furniture: Denise Eddy is the home and gift buyer and Jon Comeau is the pets product development specialist at Orvis. They tag team their knowledge in coming up with products (like this bed) made with materials that can withstand life with pets. The two main things to consider, they say, are how well the material can stand up to being soiled, and if it will survive a flurry of claws.

I also turned to some fellow pet families to hear about real world experiences with different sofa fabrics.

First things first: what should you avoid if Fido and Fluffy are going to snooze on the sofa with you?

Lose the loose weaves and anything high maintenance

The trouble with fabrics like tweed, Denise says, is hairs and dirt can get trapped in the weave — not to mention claws can snag and tear it. And forget something high maintenance like velvet. It’s a magnet for hair, she says.

Sondra, who lives with Buddy and Jelly Bean, doesn’t dig her “nubby fabric” sofa. “It traps dirt and pieces of random sticks I don’t see them bring in until it’s too late,” she says.

Skip the silk

Silk can stain very easily, Denise says. And everyone loves a beautiful dupioni silk sofa but if they can get a claw into it it’s going to be pieces. (Chelley, who I spoke with for real-world advice, learned about silk the hard way when her Shih Tzu shredded a silk-covered sofa.)

Say no to suede

While true suede is durable, the Orvis team says, “the problem in a sofa fabric is cleaning it. If it happens to get soiled, it’s a lot more difficult to clean than leather.”

So what should you look for?

Team tight weave

In general, you want a fabric that’s tightly woven. Think canvas, denim, microfiber, or a tight-weave twill. “The dirt is going to roll right off of it,” Denise says.

Leather love

Echoing almost every person I heard from in the real world of pet life, the Orvis advisors say leather is the way to go — as long as you don’t mind a distressed look. AND as long as you avoid a very smooth leather. If it’s been treated to be smooth not only will it scratch more easily, Denise explains, but it also weakens the leather.

Be sure you’re getting real leather, Jon warns. There have been issues with a “fairly well known mid-grade furniture supplier” who used synthetic leather, he says. And some manufacturers may combine thin leather with a synthetic backing, Denise adds. Textiles like bonded leather will flake and fall apart in no time, so make sure your sofa has the “genuine leather” seal.

That said, leather has many advantages. “It is extremely durable and easy to buff out marks and the occasional scratch,” Denise says. (I can vouch for my sister-in-law’s leather seating where my mountain dog and her pittie curl up together with no problem!)

Theresa and her miniature schnauzer agree: “I’ll take leather over fabric any day. I have both and the amount of staining on my fabric sofa from drool, wet paws, pee (yes pee), etc., has driven me nuts. My leather one has been so much easier to clean off when messes occur.”

Bring the outside in

Our experts’ biggest raves were for performance/outdoor acrylic fabric like Sunbrella and Perennials. It’s not just for your patio cushions anymore, it seems. “They have some beautiful fabrics,” Denise says.

The colors are actually impregnated with dye, she explains, making it ideal for colorfastness. Better still, “cleaning is super easy,” she says. “It spot cleans very well and you can literally clean it with a bleach solution.” The only downside, she says, is that it’s so durable you’re going to be looking at that sofa for a long time!

And even though it’s acrylic, it can, through some wizardry, have the look and feel of other materials like velvet or linen. That’s also just like the description I found from RH’s Perennials line, and other manufacturers use similar materials. Places like Pottery Barn and West Elm also offer numerous “performance” options for their sofas, which seem to have similar properties (minus being able to bleach them!).

Finally, there’s always the “get whatever sofa you want and cover it” approach.

Claire chooses her battles with her black Lab Max. “We just cover our sofa with blankets,” she says. “I can’t bear to deny him the sofa so we go through a lot of laundry! Max favors a blanket that has sherpa on one side — he loves to snuggle on it.”

But maybe you don’t want a blanket covering your sofa all the time — now what?

I don’t know why this never occurred to me until I asked our trainer, Tyler. He probably has half a dozen dogs at his home at any given time, but they’re not allowed on the couch unless he has a blanket down. That seems like asking some advanced reasoning on dogs’ part! Not so much, he says. If dogs get on the couch without the blanket, he says, move them off, then put the blanket on and tell them they can get up there. “They put two and two together pretty quickly,” he says.

So maybe that velvet sofa’s not out of the question after all, it might just take a little more training…

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