By Sharon Naylor

October 3, 2014 7 min read

When selecting the interior materials for your car, you'll certainly want to choose a material that looks good, but keep in mind that the material you choose will determine your experience while spending time in your vehicle. A soft, upscale fabric can be far more enjoyable during a long car ride, and if you've ever burned the backs of your thighs hopping into a sunbaked car with vinyl or leather seats on a hot day, you know the pain that can bring.

Quality, comfortable fabrics can impress important people who travel with you, including friends, relatives, bosses and colleagues. Children, too, may be better behaved when they're not stuck to a cheap-fabric car seat, or complaining about too-hot seats.

And don't forget the important issue of keeping the interior of your car clean and well-maintained. Some materials are easier to clean, and some may require a complete (and pricy) replacement of upholstery if there is a spill or a burn inside your vehicle.

To help you consider which type of interior material you'd like inside your car, here are some details on a selection of interior material types:


--Rayon or polyester. These materials wear well, are colorfast and come in styles that may be UV-protectant to keep them from losing their hue when exposed to the sun's rays.

--Velour. A common choice for high-end cars, velour has a soft, luxurious, comfortable feel, but if any part of your velour-covered seats gets torn or burned, you will most likely have to replace the entire seat fabric. Velour doesn't patch attractively.

--Suede velvet. A luxe feel adds to the allure of this soft fabric, but it's not the most durable fabric and may require professional stain removal or specialty products.

--Cloth. Cloth upholstery fabric comes in a variety of types, both synthetic and in natural materials. Nylon comes in many colors and is considered among the more stain-resistant fabrics. Keep in mind that nylon and other tightly woven cloth fabrics may be easier to clean in case of spills. Some cars are now being styled to include designer fabrics in luxe feel, pattern and style.

--Chenille. According to the experts at KOVI, chenille "captures the heart of many people" because of its soft and luxurious texture. Since time spent in a car is ideally comfy, many people choose the same type of fabric used in furniture, and this type of upholstery fabric is among the top styles in cozy couches and ottomans, as well as in car seat covers designed for comfort.

--Microfiber upholstery fabric. According to the KOVI experts, microfiber materials are soft, durable and cleanable, and they feel like an elegant textile.

--Wool. Just like your comfiest wool sweaters and pants, this heavier material too can have a luxe texture and convey a sense of comfort. Coming in different shades and patterns, wool interior fabric is also durable and cleanable. An interesting factoid about wool interiors, according to the experts at SMS Auto Fabrics, is that "most older classic cars from the 1920s, 1930s, 1940a and early 1950s have wool interiors." So you'd get a classic car feel when inside your modern vehicle. Auto-fabric companies often supply patterned wool, Bedford cord and plain wool broadcloth to match original, retro patterns and colors. Speaking of colors, the experts at KOVI say that blue interior materials are popular now, since blue creates a calming environment inside your car, and dirt and dust are not as easily seen on blue materials, as they may be on gray, black or brown.


Vinyl seat fabrics come in many colors and a variety of textures, and they are easy to clean and repair in case of burns and tears. You might choose an all-vinyl interior or vinyl elements complementing cloth or leather. According to the experts at KOVI, vinyl upholstery fabric comes in a plentiful variety of designs and textures, and, of course, vinyl makes cleanup easy since it repels dust and is not a woven fabric; it takes just a wipedown with little special treatment. It is easier to repair than some other fabrics in case of burns or tears.


Leather seats may be your idea of the ultimate luxury fabric in a car, and since the price of leather has dropped somewhat in recent years, it may be more affordable to outfit your vehicle with leather interiors. Leather may accent your seats, dashboard elements and door panels, and leather is known to be very durable. As it lends panache to a car's interior, it's also a material that does get hot in summer sun, and authentic leather brings that unmistakable leather smell to your vehicle. You'll find leathers in different textures, including retro styles, as well as in styles known as "semi-naked" (untreated), embossed, glossy pearlized and antiqued. Leather requires little maintenance, save for the occasional leather protection treatment, and some leather may be treated to be waterproofed.

You'll also find faux leather upholstery material that comes in a range of quality types, and do avoid cheaper faux leathers since those may wear more quickly, making it obvious all too soon that you invested less.

Leather can be custom-matched to your car's original color and grain.

*Additional Materials

You'll also find an array of unique and exotic interior materials, ranging from ultra-suede to ostrich leather, crocodile and baby croc, and even high-tech fabrics that car companies and tech corporations are working on right now. For instance, Ellen Lee, Ford Motor Co.'s tech expert in plastic research, reports that Ford is working on plans to use recycled materials from H.J. Heinz Co.'s production of ketchup in eco-friendly car interior materials. The stems and skins from tomatoes, for instance, may soon be a base for upholstery materials.

And some new materials are also being treated for antibacterial and antimicrobial protection.

To further help you choose the type of fabric that is most durable, think about the wear and tear your car regularly gets. Do you load your trunk or seats with lots of boxes? Transport bags of mulch? Ride with your pet in the back seat, not in a carrier? Drive with the top down? Park in the sun? Your car's functions will play a part in selecting the fabric that works best for you.

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