Olefin vs Sunbrella: What is the Best Fabric for Outdoor Furniture?

olefin vs sunbrellaLike most Aussies, you probably like to make the most of the warm, sunny weather that swings around every summer. Owning a swimming pool or hitting the beach are both great ways to take advantage of the summer months, and the right outdoor furniture can make a significant difference in terms of comfort and enjoyment. Investing in a pool bean bag or outdoor bean bag by Bean Bags R Us is always a smart move, but it also pays to understand the differences between the most popular outdoor fabrics found in such products. In this post, we’ll examine the differences between two of today’s leading options: Olefin and the well-known solution-dyed acrylic fabric known as Sunbrella. But who wins when Olefin vs Sunbrella? And where can you find the best outdoor bean bag chairs on the market?

Exposure to the Elements and How it Affects Fabrics

The majority of fabrics don’t stand up well to the elements when left outdoors. Options like cotton, polyester and nylon are all susceptible to fading quickly from exposure to things like UV rays, saltwater and chlorine, found in pools.

After investing your hard-earned money into a quality outdoor bean bag chair or other types of outdoor furniture, you’d likely prefer for it to continue looking great for years to come. If so, you’d be wise to steer away from fabrics like nylon, canvas and polyester in favour of ones designed to withstand harsh outdoor elements. Such materials tend to fade quickly, losing their colourful designs and patterns and ending up bleached and unattractive before too long. Furthermore, elements like chlorine and saltwater wreak havoc on the structural integrity of such materials, causing them to wear thinner and thinner over surprisingly brief periods. Before you know it, they are tearing, ripping, developing worn patches and otherwise falling apart.

How Modern Technologies Have Improved Upon Traditional Outdoor Fabrics

Throughout most of modern human history, people were limited to options like cotton when seeking materials for outdoor use. In awnings, for example, cotton was once the most frequently used material. However, shopkeepers bemoaned the speed with which such materials would start appearing worn and unappealing. When fresh and new, cotton awnings brightly displayed shop names, attracting business with ease. Before too long, however, they would become faded, warped, torn and otherwise damaged – and that reflected poorly upon the stores that they represented. Starting around the mid-20th century, however, new fibres and materials were developed using complex chemical processes, and they have transformed the world of outdoor furniture through their improved strength, durability, colourfastness and other positive attributes.

Properties to Look for in Quality Outdoor Furniture

When shopping for outdoor bean bags and other types of outdoor furniture, some of the top properties to look for in terms of fabric and materials include:

  • UV resistance
  • Colourfastness and fade resistance
  • Water resistance
  • Durability
  • Comfort
  • Stain resistance
  • Style and appearance
  • Eco-friendliness
  • Resistance to mildew, insects and chemicals
  • Ease of maintenance and cleaning

The Importance of Choosing Solution-Dyed Fabric

Another critical factor to take into consideration when investing in outdoor furniture involves how its fabrics are dyed. Although very affordable, materials like nylon and polyester are piece-dyed, which means that the fibres are soaked in dye after being produced. As a result, the colour is applied only to the surface; the core remains undyed. Materials that are coloured using solution dyeing, on the other hand, feature fibres that are dyed all the way through. As you can likely surmise, this means that they stand up far better to elements like UV rays, chlorine and saltwater, maintaining their style and visual appeal for significantly longer.

Sunbrella: The Household Name in Solution-Dyed Acrylic Fabrics

For several decades now, the leading fabric used in outdoor furniture has been Sunbrella. Sunbrella is the brand name of the most popular type of solution-dyed acrylic fabric, and it is used extensively for everything from awnings to cushions to outdoor bean bags like the ones that are supplied by Bean Bags R Us. In his quest to find an alternative to cotton for store awnings, textile innovator Glen Raven developed the first solution-dyed acrylic fabric during the 1960s; his company ultimately trademarked the Sunbrella name that has been in use ever since.

How Sunbrealla Fabric is Made

To understand how solution-dyed acrylic fabrics like Sunbrella are made, it helps to know a bit about acrylic itself. Acrylic is a synthetic fabric that is designed out of a polymer called polyacrylonitrile. Invented by DuPont in the early 1940s, it quickly caught on for outdoor use. This is thanks to its superior softness, mildew resistance, ability to stay cool in direct sunlight and quick-drying nature. Until the advent of solution dyeing, it would typically still fade when exposed to the sun for extended periods. Solution dyeing changed this by adding colour to the chemical solution before it was drawn through the spinneret. A spinneret is a showerhead-like device with tiny holes. In turn, the resulting fibres boasted the benefits of acrylic along with amazing colourfastness.

Benefits of Sunbrella

As the best-known solution-dyed acrylic or SDA, Sunbrella boasts many advantages that have made it the household name in outdoor fabrics. Some of its top benefits include:

  • Fade-resistant – Although not impervious to the effects of the sun, Sunbrella can withstand up to 1,500 hours of exposure before starting to fade.
  • Water-resistant – Sunbrella isn’t completely waterproof, but it resists moisture quite well.
  • Mildew resistant – Because of its water-resistant nature, this material resists the development of mildew.
  • Comfortable – Compared with materials like canvas and polyester, in particular, Sunbrella is soft and comfortable to the touch.
  • Cool – Even when exposed to continuous, direct sunlight, synthetic-dyed acrylics like this tend to remain cool to the touch.
  • Durable – Thanks to the unique chemical process that is used to create it, Sunbrella is very strong and resilient.
  • Stylish – This popular material is available in a wide array of eye-catching colours, patterns and designs.

Drawbacks of Sunbrella

Although it is by far the most popular material that is used in premium outdoor furniture, Sunbrella poses a few notable disadvantages. In particular, it is the most expensive fabric that is used in such instances. Products that are designed out of it tend to be much pricier than others. In addition to paying a premium for products that are made out of Sunbrella, you may also notice that it’s not quite as soft and comfortable as materials like Olefin, which we will delve into more below. It also transmits static electricity, which can produce quite a shock to bare skin on hot summer days. Finally, because of its name recognition, many people assume that Sunbrella is the only option for outdoor furniture; as you will learn below, that isn’t the case.

Olefin: A Superior Outdoor Fabric with an Eco-Friendly Twist

Olefin, the trade name for the textile that is produced out of polypropylene fibre, was developed by Italian chemist Giulio Natta in 1957 in Italy. A few years later, in 1963, Natta and his partner, Karl Ziegler, won the Nobel Prize for their development of the process that was responsible for the creation of polypropylene. Using titanium as a catalyst, the chemists were able to transform polypropylenes into fibres successfully. This opened the door for the olefin fabric that is used today. Including in many of the pool bean bags and outdoor bean bags that are offered by Bean Bags R Us.

How Olefin Fabric is Made

Polypropylene is derived from a gas called propylene. A co-product of oil production as well as ethylene production through a process called steam cracking, the colourless gas has a slight petroleum-like odour. To make polypropylene, the small, single molecules that makeup propylene are polymerized. Or combined and linked, to form longer chain molecules that feature repeated structural units. The resulting polypropylenes, which resemble beads or pellets, are then melted and processed through a spinneret that links them into thread. Because this material is strongly stain-resistant, solution-based dyes are added during the melting process. The thread is then woven into yarn and woven to form textiles.

Benefits of Olefin

Some of the top advantages of Olefin include:

  • Less expensive – The process that’s used to create Olefin is widely available. As a result, Olefin is more affordable than materials like Sunbrella.
  • Environmentally friendly – Propylene was traditionally burned off during oil production because it wasn’t considered to have many practical uses. Now, however, the former waste material is upcycled to create polypropylene or Olefin. No land or water is used during production, lending it a low carbon footprint. What’s more, is that the fibre itself is highly recyclable and can be re-extruded up to 10 times to create new products.
  • Comfortable – Olefin does not transmit static charges, and it is remarkably soft and smooth.
  • Water-resistant – Moisture is wicked away and dries off quickly when it comes into contact with this material.
  • Durable – This material is highly durable and stands up particularly well to abrasion.
  • Colourfast – Solution dyeing is used in production, lending Olefin incredible colourfastness.
  • Versatile – This material is available in a vast range of colours, patterns and designs and is therefore quite versatile.

Additionally, Olefin is resistant to mildew, chemicals and insects and is easy to clean and maintain.

Drawbacks of Olefin

There are very few drawbacks when it comes to Olefin. The biggest one is that it is highly sensitive to heat and can melt when exposed to extreme temperatures. Therefore, extra care is required during cleaning, and this material should be air-dried after being washed. It is naturally sensitive to sunlight, but UV inhibitors are added during chemical processing to counteract this.

Olefin vs Sunbrella

So, which material is superior for use in outdoor furniture? Let’s examine a few key important properties:

  • Durability: Olefin boasts superior durability versus Sunbrella and is especially resistant to abrasion.
  • Water-resistance: Although Sunbrella tends to be more water-resistant, Olefin wears less over time, even when frequently exposed to saltwater and chlorinated water.
  • Style: In terms of style, Olefin and Sunbrella are pretty much on equal footing. Both are available in a wide range of patterns, colours and designs.
  • UV and fade resistance: Solution dyeing is used in the production of both fabrics, so each is quite resistant to fading. Olefin is naturally not resistant to UV rays, but UV inhibitors are added during processing to put it on equal footing with SDAs like Sunbrella.
  • Eco-friendliness: Olefin is the clear winner here. The process behind creating it has a low carbon footprint, and it can be recycled up to 10 times without adverse results. The acrylic that is used in Sunbrella, however, is not readily biodegradable – and it is not easy to recycle.
  • Comfort: Both fabrics are quite comfortable to the touch. They both remain cool when exposed to direct sunlight. However, unlike Sunbrella, Olefin doesn’t transmit static charges.
  • Stain resistance: It’s a draw when in terms of the stain resistance of these two fabrics. Both are quite impervious to stains and resistant to things like mildew.
  • Maintenance: Sunbrella and Olefin are both easy to clean; spot-cleaning typically does the trick, and both can be cleaned with bleach. However, Olefin is sensitive to extreme heat and should be hung up to dry rather than placed in a dryer.

Bean Bags R Us: Your Source for Premium Olefin and SDA Outdoor Bean Bags

In addition to offering a standard line-up of polyester bean bags, Bean Bags R Us boasts a wide array of outdoor and pool bean bags that are made out of Olefin and solution-dyed acrylics or SDAs. When it comes to withstanding elements like chlorine, saltwater and UV rays, for example, our Portsea Premium bean bag pool float – featuring Olefin — is a definite standout. In terms of outdoor bean bags, you can’t beat our Olefin-designed products, which include the Copacabana outdoor bean bag and the Costa Premium bean bag. Both Sunbrella and Olefin are reliable options for outdoor furniture. However, Olefin ekes out the other material for its relative affordability, superior comfort, exceptional eco-friendliness and incredible water resistance.


This entry was posted in Fabrics, Outdoor Furniture.