What is Waterproof Upholstery Fabric?

When you’re looking for waterproof fabric for outdoor seating, it can be a little confusing to understand what manufacturers really mean when they call something waterproof and how to choose outdoor fabric that delivers premium performance -- come rain or shine. Here’s everything you need to know.

Waterproof  vs. Water-Resistant Upholstery Fabric

 People and companies may use the word waterproof when they actually mean water-resistant or water-repellent. 

What is Waterproof Fabric? 

Truly waterproof materials may be made of rubber or plastic and do not allow any water to penetrate at all. That sounds great until you realize that a material that is waterproof is also air proof.

This is a problem for a couple reasons:

  • No Breathability

Without some degree of breathability, waterproof outdoor fabric can encourage the growth of mold or mildew inside a cushion: if a small amount of water sneaks in through a seam, it will stay there. Instead of drying out quickly, the dampness in the cushion will quickly become a breeding ground for microorganisms.

  • Uncomfortable Seating

Truly waterproof upholstery fabric that doesn’t breathe can also make for an uncomfortable seat on a hot day, creating a sweaty, sticky surface wherever it comes into contact with your skin.

When looking for outdoor fabrics for furniture applications, you should instead look for a fabric that is water resistant or water repellent and that also allows for good airflow.

What is Water-Resistant Fabric?

“Water-resistant” is a more transparent term for fabric that won’t be damaged by contact with water. Water-repellent means that the fabric is not absorbent: if you get it wet you’ll mostly see the moisture beading on the top of the fabric instead of soaking in. When water-resistant fabric does get wet, the water that remains on the surface of the fabric will dry out quickly.

What Makes an Outdoor Fabric Water-Resistant?

When a fabric is labeled as “water-resistant”, the term usually refers to one or more of a few different water-resistant qualities:


This is the most relevant factor. Man-made fibers can vary in their absorbency, but some are naturally hydrophobic, which means that they repel water on a molecular level. Fabrics with olefin or vinyl content are good examples of this.


Many so-called waterproof materials may not naturally repel water, but have been treated with special “waterproofing” solutions or agents that are applied or sprayed onto the surface of the fabric after it has been woven. The solution (which could be made from rubber, wax, polyvinyl chloride or some other mixture) forms a coating that acts as a barrier between moisture and the fabric.


High-denier or high-density fabrics can be more water repellent than more loosely woven fabrics. The more tightly a material is woven and the higher the thread count, the more difficult it is for moisture to penetrate the fabric.

Types of Water-Resistant Designed Fabrics

While almost any fabric can be treated to become more water resistant, if you are looking for water-resistant material for a DIY project you’ll have better luck with naturally water repellent materials such as:


Olefin yarns are spun from polypropylene fiber, which is water repellent. Not only does it not absorb moisture, it actively pushes it away. Because wetness doesn’t penetrate the fiber, a spilled glass of wine at a backyard cookout can be easily wiped up and is less likely to cause stains. It will also air dry in a snap after rain or a wash.


Polyester is naturally water-resistant, but once you coat polyester yarns with vinyl or PVC and weave them together, the water resistance is off the charts. The coating on each strand of yarn in the fabric protects the polyester, and keeps water from penetrating into the fiber. Because this brilliantly water-resistant outdoor fabric is a mesh, air flow is excellent as well.

Why Water-Resistant Fabrics Matter Depending on Where You Live

The more rain your location gets, the more important it is to choose a water-resistant fabric. Under these conditions, you need water-resistant fabric that will repel water and dry quickly between storms so that it’s ready to use when the sun does come back out. Constantly damp outdoor fabric isn’t just uncomfortable; it’s also at risk for developing problems with mold, mildew, and rot.

Phifer's Water-Resistant Fabrics

Phifer offers a wonderful range of water-resistant fabrics designed to stand up to the demands, spills, splashes and rainy weather.


Durability meets design in our vinyl-coated polyester fabric lines. Phifertex fabrics are extremely water resistant. What’s more, they are infused with Microban® protection, to disrupt and slow the growth of mold, mildew and bacteria.  The dimensional stability and exceptional strength of Phifertex means that it is a perfect choice for sling chair applications. This easy to work with fabric doesn’t fray when cut, so it’s also a beautiful option for quick no-sew projects like table runners or placemats.

Want to see how our water-resistant fabrics might look in your backyard? Try The Phifer Outdoor Fabric Visualizer! You can preview countless color and texture combinations with our sample images. Flex your design skills and get inspired!

Researching waterproof fabrics can be challenging. If you still have questions about Phifer’s water-resistant outdoor fabric, get in touch with us or contact us via our live chat feature! We are always delighted to offer you answers and advice, wherever you might be in the research process. If you need help sourcing fabric for your next DIY adventure, we can also connect you to retailers nearby or online who stock your favorite designs.