What’s the Best Awning Fabric?

A couple months back, I attended a home and garden trade show specifically to speak with all the awning manufacturers. Throughout my chats with each company, I was amazed how everyone explained how their material was the absolute best and that the other choices were wrong for every application. Several reps pitched their product line without asking a single question about how or where we planned to install the awning. The goal of this article is to offer a neutral opinion with independent research.

Primary Types of Awning Fabric

The material in cloth awnings can be grouped into five major categories which are:
  • Canvas
  • Vinyl
  • Acrylic

Just like in clothing, there are advantages and disadvantages to each option. For perspective, denim is the best choice for a comfortable pair of jeans; and silk does an amazing job at being colorfast and retaining a pattern for a silk tie. That being said, both denim and silk would be terrible options for someone looking to make a bikini. I hope this analogy helps visualize why fabric choice is so important. With that background, I’ll go into depth for each choice below.

Canvas Awnings

Historically canvas was the top choice for most awnings until around 1980. Canvas is a woven linen usually from cotton, hemp, or linen. They typically feature a “Plain Weave” which is what most people think of when they hear the term weave. There are some specialty awnings that use “Twill Weave’ which adds a degree of texture to the fabric. Personally, we have yet to identify any functional benefits over the standard weave option, and feel the twill weave an unnecessary expense. There are two classification models for canvas. The first is the grade system. The scale goes from 4 being the heaviest to 10 being the lightest. The second method is ounces/square yard. We prefer this method as it’s more precise. There is usually a direct relation between cost and weight of the canvas. This means that heavier fabric require more material, and therefore cost more. If this is the case, why would any choose the heavy fabrics? The reason is that they are sturdier and can handle more of a load. There are multiple types of strain that are put on awnings. This could gusts from winds, or weight from snow storms. It could also be pinpoint damage from falling hail, or just overall wear and tear from water freezing and melting that will wear the fabric over time. If the awning is going to be installed indoors such as inside a mall, and primarily used for marketing, the lighter fabrics are more than sufficient. If it is going to be installed on a retractable awning or one that is taken down before the winter months or retracted before any major windstorms, then the medium weight options will suffice. If this is a permanent structure or one that is going to be used year around such as attached to a food truck that will be in service everyday, you should spring for the heavier fabrics. You can read more about wind resistant awnings here. So what are the downsides to canvas as the fabric for awnings? There are actually quite a few reasons that someone may consider a more expensive fabric. The first is that canvas can mold ,mildew, and sometimes even rot. When the awning are new, they are usually covered with a clear varnish that will be resistant to this; however, over time this will wear off unless it is reapplied. The second reason is that color in canvas awnings come from a dye which will invariable fade over time. The length of time it takes to fade will depend on the quality of the dye used and its exposure to elements such as direct sunlight or prolonged precipitation. We recommend taking a picture when you first install the awning so that you have a point of comparison if you need to make a claim with either your insurance agent or against the warranty.

Vinyl Awnings

When most people hear “Vinyl”, they initially think of budget friendly furniture which has an incredibly thin layer of fabric that is extremely easy to tear or crack. While this is a type of vinyl, it is not the type that is being used here. This is much thicker and sturdier with a weight of 18oz per square yard which would place it on the heaver end of the canvas scale. These are the first synthetic material that we’ll be discussing in this post. The chemical composition is Polyninyl Chrloride and sometimes abbreviated as PVC. Yes, this is the same material that is commonly used in plumbing pipes. The rigid PVC is made pliable and flexible with the addition of specific chemicals so that the long chemical chains can be woven into fabric. The is an incredibly stable compound that is water resistant, flame retardant, and it is also quote mildew resistant. Because this is a laminated material, there are several layers to this fabric which greatly improve the awnings ability to be water proof. This however is also one of the drawback. These layers limit the fabric’s ability to dry or allow air to pass through. This can lead these awnings feeling a little stuffy or not getting all the cooling benefits from other fabric alternatives. The other primary consideration is cost because the fabric of a vinyl awning is about triple that of a canvas awning of the same size.

Acrylic Awnings

This is the luxury fabric for awnings. Acrylic is a synthetic material that was created in 1941 by Dupont (Source) which took many years to find a home. As the production cost became cheaper, it began to be produced in higher quantities. When many people thing of “Acrylic”, their minds are taken to the fake fingernails that feel like a cross between plastic and ceramic. This couldn’t be further from the feel and texture of an acrylic awning. The FTC requires that material claiming to be acrylic composed of at least 85% acrylonitrile units. There is a specific chemical compound that is extruded into fine thread and then woven together to form the fabric. While the material feels a lot like wool, it is water-repellant with a high degree of moisture wickan. It is most commonly solution dyed which means the chemical compound has its color added before the individual threads are created or the material woven. This is the absolute best at retaining the initial color and nearly eliminates all sun damage and fading. In our opinion, the primary drawback to acrylic fabric for awnings is the cost. Depending on the manufacturer, this fabric can cost between 2.5 and 10 times the cost of the traditional canvas awning. These awnings will last for years and keep the appearance of the first day they are installed. They can be a great choice for businesses who need to keep the awning extended year around.

Our Choice for Best Awning Fabric

If you are on a budget, there is nothing wrong with starting out with a canvas awning. They are quite inexpensive and may not last more than a few seasons. If you and your family find that you really enjoy the indoor outdoor living of the covered space then you can upgrade to either a vinyl or acrylic awning. The choice between those two is more of personal preference whether you are looking for something that will meet the basic needs or whether you prefer spending extra for the additional benefits. All that said, we’d love to get your opinions and hear which fabric you chose if you like to send us your story via our contact form.

Last Updated:May 31, 2024