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What is a rub test and how does it work?

When buying a new sofa or reupholstering an old settee, it’s all too easy to be seduced by the prettiest fabric on the shop floor.

But no matter how nice it may look in your living room, you need to know how that material will hold up against mucky hands, excitable pets and other day-to-day challenges.

This is where it helps to know about a material’s rub count. If you’re not sure what this means, don’t worry – just read on for all your answers.

Easy to clean handmade fabric sofa covers

Firstly, what is a rub test?

A rub test is a method of assessing the durability (or ‘abrasion resistance’) of a fabric.

During the test, a specialist machine vigorously rubs the fabric. When the fabric begins to show signs of wear and tear, the test finishes by counting the number of ‘rubs’ up to that point. This gives a textile a ‘rub count’.

Manufacturers typically rely on rub tests to determine what function a textile should be used for. For example, materials with low rub counts are usually used for decorative functions, such as scatter cushions and throws. They are also usually only suitable for dry cleaning. High rub counts, however, are better matched with frequently used furniture, such as office chairs and sofas.

What is the Martindale test?

Samples Of Upholstery Fabrics

Type “fabric durability” into a search engine and you’re likely to see several mentions of the ‘Martindale test’. But what does it mean? And why do we use it?

Essentially, the Martindale test is one of the ways rub count is assessed. Named after its inventor, Dr R.G. Martindale, this test is carried out by a specialist textile device called the ‘Martindale machine’. This machine comprises small discs of worsted wool or wire mesh, which are rubbed against the tightly-pulled fabric in a figure-eight motion. The test ends when the fabric begins to break down.

Today, the Martindale test is the most commonly used method for assessing fabric hardiness. It is also the test we use on all our Plumbs sofa covers, reupholstery materials, curtain, and bedding fabrics.

TOP TIP: Watch out for the term ‘double rubs’. This is a special term that is used for the Wyzenbeek test, another method of assessment. Where the Martindale method counts in ‘single rubs’, the Wyzenbeek test uses a different machine that counts in ‘double rubs’.  

What do rub counts mean for my furniture?

Decorative fabrics used for cushions

Thankfully, you don’t need to be an expert upholsterer to understand what a durable rub count looks like for your furniture.

Carry on reading for tips on how to read rub counts:

Less than 10,000 rubs

These are delicate fabrics and should only be used for decorative purposes, like for cushions and throws. Just be careful about using these pretty materials on frequently-used furniture, as they’re prone to wear and tear.

Between 10,000 – 15,000 rubs

These kinds of fabrics are ideally suited to light domestic furniture, such as occasional dining chairs and pouffes. Delicate materials, such as silk, typically fall into this category.

Between 15,000 – 25,000 rubs

These are usually classified as ‘general domestic’ fabrics, as they are best suited to furniture that is used every day, like curtains and bedding.

Between 25,000 – 30,000 rubs

Hardwearing materials, these are often called ‘heavy duty fabrics’ as they can withstand frequent usage without wearing out or fraying. These are ideal for upholstery fabrics that need to withstand children, pets, or frequent visitors.

30,000+ rubs

The strongest textile of all, these materials are often used for busy commercial use, like office and restaurant furniture.

Of course, there are also some incredibly durable fabrics that you can use domestically, too. For instance, at Plumbs, we offer high rub count fabrics for all our sofas, chairs, and curtains. Just look at our Amalfi and Kentash ranges. These boast a whopping 60,000 and 40,000 rubs respectively and are built to last the long-haul.

Now you know everything there is to know about rub counts, check out our range of sofa fabrics today.

Sophie Page
Sophie Page

Sophie is a great granddaughter of the founders of the business - so fabrics and furniture are almost part of her DNA! Her interests include home interiors and upcycling, and her favourite show to watch after work is The Repair Shop. Some of the topics she covers on the Plumbs blog include sofa reupholstery and furniture protection.

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