Types of Fabric in Car-Seat Upholstery

by Mike Biscoe

Car-seat upholstery utilizes a handful of fabrics in multiple forms to create the ideal product. Fabric design; resistance to temperatures, water and other liquids; durability and personal taste are all important. Whether for a refurbished Ford Model T, or one of Tesla Motors' sleek new electric cars, these fabrics set industry standards.

Polyester & Nylon

Polyester, specifically polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE--also known as Teflon--is commonly used for car seats, due to its strength. UV-resistant, PTFE is ideal for the sun-heated interior of a car. Additionally, polyester is resistant to cleaning chemicals, mold and mildew. Nylon is similarly tough, and somewhat easier to sew, making it a common alternative to polyester. Both materials can also be combined into a commercial type of polymer, melding the best qualities of each. Their combination of cost effectiveness and strength make them the most common upholstery materials used.


Wool was the fabric of choice for cars manufactured between 1920 and the early 1950s. Wool was woven into patterned cloth, plain broadcloth or Bedford cord before being used as seat upholstery. Some specialty manufactures still produce wool fabric for car-seat upholstery and offer replica services for fabrics no longer in production.


Vinyl is actually not a fabric, but a type of plastic made from petroleum, natural gas and salt--and frequently used to upholster car seats, Vinyl is somewhat durable, as it's difficult to tear, and can stand up well against spills, alcohol and, to some extent, oil. As far as temperature is concerned, vinyl retains its form until 150 degrees F. Available in a variety of colors, vinyl can also be manufactured so it is transparent.


Leather is not officially a fabric, but is not uncommon in high-end sports cars and SUVs. Leather is tanned and treated with chromium salts, which soften the material. Leather is drawn from a variety of animals including calfskin, buffalo, kiwi and ostrich. Many companies manufacture synthetic leathers for those seeking an alternative, while retaining the visual aspect of the real thing.

Seat Piping

Seat piping, also referred to as seat welts, is the material found along seams of upholstered seats. It's used to both strengthen the joining of two pieces, and to lend a decorative element. Seat welts can be composed of all the materials listed here, although vinyl and leather are the most common.

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