I have a surplus of fabric intended for outdoor upholstery. I'm not sure what kind it is specifically, but it's brightly colored and water resistant, but not water proof.

Is it safe to make clothes out of it? Meaning, could rashes develop, is it safe to wash in a washer & dryer with standard detergent, what if a dog or child puts it in their mouth, etc...?

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    What do you mean by "for outdoor use"? Synthetic tent fabric, for example, is the same stuff you might use to make a waterproof poncho. Water repellent coatings are as likely to be found on clothing as on anything else. Heavy duty stuff might be uncomfortable and not drape well, but not unsafe
    – Chris H
    Commented May 1 at 5:39
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    Or take for example modern sail "canvas" (not the kevlar stuff) which is saturated with chemicals to protect it from the sun and salt water. I think formaldehyde is a major component of that stuff.
    – rebusB
    Commented May 1 at 15:24
  • @ChrisH I'm not sure honestly. This was a sidewalk find (common method of giving things away in my neighborhood), and the edge says "For outdoor use". It seems appropriate for outdoor upholstery - some kind of canvas with a bright color pattern.
    – jackwise
    Commented May 1 at 15:26
  • So it's probably synthetic, quite possibly nylon. Synthetic fabrics will melt if heated over a flame, which may be a good way to get an idea (on a small scrap, taking care in case it catches fire). If the pattern is distinctive you could try photographing it and a reverse image search with a selection of possible keywords. You could also test whether it's actually waterproof by holding a piece so it forms a bowl and pouring water in. That would tell you whether it is just capable of getting wet, or of keeping water out. All this might help you decide what to do with it
    – Chris H
    Commented May 1 at 16:44
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    I was rushing to write my previous comment before my train went into a tunnel. Following on from my original comment, I meant that waterproof upholstery fabric wouldn't feel nice against the skin, and might be better used for other things. But if it is meant for outdoor upholstery it's meant for contact with skin (sitting outside in shorts for example) and I wouldn't worry. Neither would I personally worry about wrapping myself in tent fabric.
    – Chris H
    Commented May 1 at 19:07

1 Answer 1


I'm afraid it's impossible for anyone to tell you if this fabric contains harmful chemicals if you don't know what exactly this fabric contains. But AFAIK simple outdoor fabric usually doesn't contain much in terms of chemicals. After all, it would regularly come into skin contact if you made a chair cushion out of it.

Special purpose fabrics (like for theater or public locations) are a whole different story and they often contain at least flame retarders.

I don't see much of a risk if you make outer wear like hats, jackets or bags from your fabric. Whether or not it's suited for shirts mostly depends on how soft it is and how it drapes. Also keep in mind that outdoor fabrics are very often 100% plastic fibers and wear just as comfortably as a plastic bag...

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