Sunbrella vs Olefin: what’s the difference in performance?

August 3, 2023

Sunbrella® vs olefin fabric: what’s the difference in performance? 

Olefin and Sunbrella® are two outdoor fabric materials that feature in outdoor furniture sold here in NZ.  When deciding on a new outdoor lounge set and what calibre of fabric to choose, here’s a concise summary of the key differences between these two fabrics.

1.Material Composition:

Olefin: Olefin is a synthetic fibre made from polypropylene. 

 Sunbrella: Sunbrella® is also a synthetic fabric but is made from acrylic fibres, referred to as 100% solution-dyed acrylic.  Agora® is another brand of 100% solution-dyed acrylic with the same level of performance and warranty as Sunbrella.

2.UV Resistance and Warranty

Olefin: While Olefin is resistant to fading, it is not as effective as Sunbrella when it comes to UV protection. Prolonged exposure to intense sunlight may cause some colour fading over time. Olefin fabric typically has a 3-year sunfade warranty.

Sunbrella: Sunbrella is renowned for its exceptional UV resistance, making it ideal for outdoor use in sunny regions. It can endure long hours of direct sunlight without significant fading. Sunbrella and Agora both have a 5-year sunfade warranty.

3.Water and Stain Resistance

Olefin: Olefin is naturally water-resistant and repels stains, making it easy to clean and maintain.

Sunbrella: Sunbrella fabric is also water-resistant and repels stains effectively, allowing for simple cleaning and preventing mildew growth.

4. Feel and Comfort:

Olefin: Some Google searches indicate that Olefin has a softer feel than Sunbrella. Also, Olefin also does not transmit any static charge, which can occur in dry climates.

Sunbrella:  Some blogs contradict the above and state that solution-dyed acrylic fabrics are softer than Olefin fabrics .  Sunbrella is also reported to transmit static electricity in dry climates but this is simply not a factor in New Zealand.  The Relative Humidity (RH)  needs to be lower than 55% for static charge to build up and  New Zealand has a year-round outdoor RH of between 70–80% in coastal areas and about 10% lower inland.

5. Cost:

Olefin: Olefin is often more affordable compared to Sunbrella, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious buyers.

Sunbrella: Sunbrella fabrics are known for their premium quality and superior longevity which is reflected in their higher price point.  The difference in price for a set with superior fabric is a fraction of the cost of replacing faded and marginalized fabric squabs, or in the worst case, having to replace the whole outdoor set.

Specifically, why isn’t olefin fabric as fade-resistant as acrylic fabrics such as Sunbrella and Agora?

Polypropylene outdoor fabric, such as Olefin, is not as fade-resistant as 100% solution-dyed acrylic outdoor fabric due to the fundamental differences in their chemical compositions and dyeing processes.

 Polypropylene is a synthetic polymer that is not inherently resistant to the damaging effects of UV rays and exposure to sunlight. When used in outdoor fabric, polypropylene fibres can be more susceptible to colour fading over time as the UV radiation breaks down the dye molecules, leading to a dulling of the fabric’s colour. 

On the other hand, 100% solution-dyed acrylic fabrics, like Sunbrella and Agora undergo a specialized dyeing process where the colour pigments are added to the fibres during manufacturing, making the colour integral to the fabric itself.

 This results in a significantly higher level of colour retention and fade resistance, as the dye is deeply embedded within the acrylic fibres and is not merely adhering to the surface. 

As a result, 100% solution-dyed acrylic outdoor fabric maintains its vibrant colours and overall appearance for much longer, even in the face of prolonged exposure to sunlight and outdoor elements.

In conclusion, both olefin and Sunbrella/Agora have strong water, stain and mildew resistance.   However, when it comes to UV resistance and colour retention,  Sunbrella and Agora fabrics are superior in performance. They are renowned for their exceptional durability and longevity,  making them an excellent choice for outdoor applications in the sunny and harsh weather conditions of New Zealand. 

At Outside Space,  we only use 100% solution-dyed acrylic fabric brands Sunbrella and Agora (both have an unsurpassed 5-year sun fade warranty) for our outdoor furniture squabs. Some of our accent and throw cushions are made from Olefin fabric, as we have less vigorous standards for these smaller items.

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Happy shopping and I hope your experience is positive!  If you want more advice, click here for a list of questions to ask yourself before you go outdoor furniture shopping.

Kerry is the co-owner of OutsideSpace NZ, offering a range of contemporary outdoor furniture for coastal living kiwis seeking premium quality products and design at  achievable prices.