What abrasion tests mean

Which tests are used and what do the test results mean?

Abrasion tests try to forecast how well a fabric will stand up to wear and tear as upholstery. 

There are two tests: Martindale and Wyzenbeek. Martindale is the preferred test in Europe. Wyzenbeek is preferred in the US.

In the Wyzenbeek test, a piece of cotton duck fabric or a wire mesh is rubbed in a straight back and forth motion until “noticeable wear” or thread break is evident. One back and forth motion is called a “double rub.” All of the particulars of the Wyzenbeek test such as the pressure of the rubbing, etc., are detailed in ASTM D4157-02 specifications. (ASTM is the American Society for Testing and Materials.) 

In the Martindale test, the abradant is a piece of worsted wool or a wire screen, and the rubbing is done in a figure 8, not in a straight line as in Wyzenbeek. One circle 8 is a “cycle.” All of the particulars of the Martindale test like the pressure of the rubbing, etc., are detailed in the ASTM D4966-98 specifications. (ASTM is the American Society for Testing and Materials.)

The Association for Contract Textiles (ACT) is the national trade association for suppliers of “commercial” grade fabric – that is, fabric that is suitable for commercial settings such as hotels and restaurants. ACT has published performance guidelines for fabric, and the ACT guidelines list the following durability test results as being suitable for commercial fabrics:

  Wyzenbeek Martindale
Low traffic / private spaces 15,000 20,000
High traffic / public spaces 30,000 40,000

According to the Association for Contract Textiles, end use examples of “ “low traffic” areas include executive offices, corporate boardrooms and luxury hotel lobbies, suites and guest rooms; examples where 30,000 WZ results should be sufficient are single shift corporate offices, waiting rooms, and high traffic hotel lobbies and guest rooms. 

Sina Pearson, the textile designer, has been quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer as saying that 6,000 rubs Wyzenbeek may be “just fine” for residential use. Many residential furniture collections give similar ratings to these for residential use:                           

Light use 6,000 - 9,000
Medium use 9,000 – 15,000
Heavy use 15,000 – 30,000
Maximum use > 30,000

 Theoretically, the higher the rating from either test the more durable the fabric is. However “…test results are so unreliable and the margin of error is so great that its competency as a predictor of actual wear is questionable” (Maripaul Yates, Fabrics: A Guide for Interior Designers and Architects, W.W. Norton and Company). Even the Association for Contract Textiles notes on its website: “If abrasion results were indicative of durability, we would expect to see extended life spans for fabrics with higher abrasion results, and more field failures for fabrics with lower results. In fact this is not the case."

Neither, alas, do the tests produce consistently analogous results. A fabric which scores high in Martindale may not score nearly as well in Wyzenbeek and vice versa.

Test results are affected by many factors, some of which can be intentionally tweaked. For instance, the abradant must be replaced every million double rubs. If a fabric test is conducted using a new screen versus a screen on its 900,000th double rub – well, you can see the potential for skewing results.

The one most important thing you can do to insure that your fabric lives a long and happy life is to vacuum or otherwise clean it.

Dirt is the worst enemy of fabric durability. You can prolong the life of your fabric through regular vacuuming and/or other cleaning. 

But even given the squishiness of the durability tests, we do test our fabrics and give you the results because the tests can be useful. You just would not want to use a 9,000 rated fabric under either Martindale or Wyzenbeek for a “kids and pets” sofa. The fabrics which we categorize as our upholstery fabrics are well suited to put up with many years of heavy use in your home.