Photo: Glenda Taylor for Bob Vila
High-quality furnishings can cost a pretty penny, so protecting your investment from everyday accidents is wise. Fabric protectors create a water-repellent and stain-resistant barrier against spills, stains, odors, and sun fading. We wanted to know how effective these products are, so we tested them on our furniture, draperies, rugs, and other items.
We also chatted with Asad Shamim, CEO of Furniture in Fashion, a leading contemporary furniture brand with a strong presence in both the United States and the United Kingdom. “Fabric protectors work by creating a barrier on the fabric that repels liquids and dirt,” Shamim said. “This makes it easier to clean up spills and prevents stains from setting in.”
When used as directed, these products protect furniture, curtains, and rugs from looking old and dingy before their time. The best fabric protectors are simple to apply, leaving a transparent, breathable, and effective protective layer. Ahead, learn the best ways to keep your fabric items looking new, and find out how the following products earned a spot in this lineup of the best fabric protectors.
- BEST OVERALL: Scotchgard Fabric Water Shield
- RUNNER-UP: Guardsman Fabric Defense
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: SoftClad Extra-Strength Fabric Protector
- BEST FOR CARPETS AND RUGS: Scotchgard Rug & Carpet Protector
- BEST FOR OUTDOORS: Scotchgard Sun & Water Shield
- BEST FOR CARS: Chemical Guys Fabric Guard Interior Protector
- BEST FOR LARGE AREAS: TriNova Non-Aerosol Stain Guard
Photo: Glenda Taylor for Bob Vila
How We Tested the Best Fabric Protectors
Before testing the fabric protectors, we researched more than 20 different products. We considered the brand to an extent—after all, Scotchgard is highly regarded for its fabric-protecting products. However, we didn’t automatically eliminate a product from a lesser-known manufacturer if users liked it and it performed well. We wanted to find the best products, no matter who made them.
In actual testing, we applied each product to various fabric types—in conjunction with the fabric types they were each made to treat. We followed the manufacturer’s recommended application method and number of coats. When the fabric protectors were dry, we applied different liquids to the surface, including water, coffee, and wine. We waited a few minutes and then blotted them up to see if they left stains.
We awarded points based on a rubric; the better a product performed, the more points we awarded. We also noted whether the product affected the fabric in any way and whether it had a strong or disagreeable odor. We recorded the pros and cons we found so our readers would know what to expect from each product before purchasing.
Our Top Picks
The best fabric protectors are lightweight in texture and effective at shielding upholstery and furnishings, making them easier to clean without affecting the color and finish of the material. The following products vary in the type of fabrics they treat, but all were effective in adding a measure of waterproof protection.
- Form: Spray
- Compatible items/fabrics: Furniture, household linens, clothing, and accessories
- Quantity: 13.5 ounces
- Exceptional liquid-repelling properties; water beads up and doesn’t absorb
- Lightweight application; the product won’t change the feel of the fabric
- Stains didn’t soak in during our tests; we were able to blot them up easily
- This Scotchgard product is not suitable for outdoor furniture, carpets, rugs, or leather
- Very strong chemical odor during application—requires adequate ventilation
- Scotchgard Fabric Water Shield product must be reapplied after fabric is washed
Scotchgard’s Fabric Water Shield can protect almost any fabric surface typically found in the home. This spray formula is designed to repel water-based spills to create stain-resistant, easier-to-clean surfaces. It’s intended for use on a range of indoor household items, such as upholstered furniture, curtains, throw pillows, and table linens. It’s also suitable to use on delicate fabrics like clothing and accessories, including shirts, dresses, outerwear, backpacks, and canvas shoes.
Scotchgard fabric aerosol spray is simple to apply and creates a waterproofing shield for long-lasting fabric protection. In our tests, Water Shield did a great job of repelling liquids and stains—after two light coats of the product. Wine, water, and coffee beaded up on the surface and then wiped right off.
We wondered how long the water would bead, so we left it on a treated fabric swatch for 2 hours. When we checked—it was still on the surface; it hadn’t been absorbed.
The lightweight formula didn’t change the texture or feel of fabrics. On the downside, the chemical smell during application was strong. We ended up treating the fabric swatches, opening the windows, and leaving the room to keep from getting headaches. The product also slightly darkened the colored portions of our swatches, which we didn’t care for. Not much—just a tad—and the manufacturer states right on the can that it could make some colors deeper and richer. We’d advise testing it on a hidden area before using it to treat an entire upholstered item.
If you can tolerate a potent odor during application and don’t mind a very slight hue transformation, this Scotchgard product offers a high level of liquid and stain protection.
Get the Scotchgard Fabric Water Shield fabric protector at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Walmart.
- Form: Spray
- Compatible items/fabrics: Furniture, rugs, household linens, and car interiors
- Quantity: 11 ounces
- Effective in repelling liquids such as water, coffee, and wine, preventing stains on various fabric types
- Versatile application suitable for different fabrics and carpets, ensuring comprehensive protection
- Aerosol application facilitates even coating; particularly beneficial for textured surfaces like carpets
- Off-putting chemical-like odor during application, although not as overpowering as some other products
- Not suitable for use on leather, requiring a separate product for leather protection
Guardsman recommends its upholstery protector for upholstered furniture, rugs, carpeting, drapery, table linens, and car interiors. It shields most fabrics except for finished and aniline leather.
Guardsman’s Fabric Defense performed well in our tests. It protected test fabrics (and rugs) from stains. The fabrics we treated with Guardsman repelled water, coffee, and wine, with all three liquids beading up and remaining on the surface. When we blotted up the liquids, no stains were left behind.
The manufacturer recommends applying two coats, with a 4-hour waiting period between. The downside is that this product produces a strong chemical smell during application; we recommend using it only with adequate ventilation.
Its aerosol application seemed particularly effective in ensuring a consistent coating, even on the textured surface of our throw rug.
This pick didn’t change the look or feel of our test fabrics. It’s odorless once it dries, provides long-lasting protection against stains, and makes treated materials easier to clean. However, it’s important to note that it’s not suitable for use on leather, which typically requires a specialized product for adequate protection.
Get the Guardsman fabric protector at Amazon, The Home Depot (2-pack), or Walmart.
- Form: Spray
- Compatible items/fabrics: Upholstery, leather, canvas, suede, and felt
- Quantity: 32 ounces
- Virtually odorless during application, ensuring a comfortable user experience
- Does not alter the color or texture of treated fabrics, preserving their original characteristics
- Provides reliable liquid repellence for various fabric types when applied uniformly
- SoftClad Fabric Protector is not recommended for outdoor fabric or furniture
- May require more than 2 light coats to protect thickly textured rugs and carpets
SoftClad’s Extra Strength Fabric Protector spray is a good pick for repelling liquids and is effective at shielding various fabric types for an affordable price. We applied two light coats per the manufacturer’s recommendation, waiting 24 hours between coats. We also treated the surface of a throw rug because the manufacturer lists carpeting among the items the product protects.
SoftClad did a great job of protecting our fabric swatches: The liquids beaded on the surface, didn’t soak in, and didn’t leave a trace when we blotted them up. Unfortunately, the product faltered when we applied it to a rug, which might not have been quite as protected due to its bumpy texture. While the test liquids did bead up on some areas of the rug, they soaked into other spots, and after blotting, some stains remained. We feel this product is best suited to flat-surface fabrics, such as upholstery and curtains.
One notable highlight of SoftClad was its almost undetectable smell during application, which vanishes entirely upon drying. Additionally, the product did not change the color or texture of the fabrics. Best of all, it comes at an attractive price point.
Despite not successfully protecting the rug in our tests, SoftClad’s Extra-Strength Fabric Protector did an excellent job repelling liquids and stains from our fabric swatches. Best of all, it’s nearly odorless. This fabric protector spray comes in a pump spray bottle and dries clear.
Get the SoftClad fabric protector spray at Amazon.
- Form: Spray
- Compatible items/fabrics: Rugs and carpets
- Quantity: 14 ounces
- Triple-action formula provides spill, soil, and stain protection for rugs and carpets
- Easy application; spray foam comes out uniformly and gradually soaks into carpet fibers
- Effective against liquid spills, staining, and makes vacuuming more effective
- Square-foot coverage is low per can, so several cans may be needed
From dirty shoes to daily spills, carpets and rugs fall victim to constant household messes. Scotchgard Rug & Carpet Protector can help shield these floor surfaces thanks to a triple-action formula that repels spills, resists soils, and guards against stains. Once applied, the protector repels liquid spills so they won’t sink deep in carpet fibers, making them easier to wipe up.
We tested this Scotchgard product only on rugs since that’s what it’s primarily designed to protect. We followed the application instructions and sprayed the product evenly to our test area from about 2 feet away. It goes on as a foam and within about 10 minutes, the foam soaked into our test rug’s textured surface. We waited 6 hours and then applied a second coat and let it dry.
In addition to applying small amounts of water, wine, and coffee, we also walked across the rug with muddy shoes and let the mud dry before vacuuming. This Scotchgard product repelled the liquids and left no stains behind when we blotted them up. After the mud from our shoes was completely dry, we vacuumed, and the dirt came away quickly and left no stains. We were impressed.
The product protected well and didn’t change the look or feel of our rug, but we were disappointed with the coverage. One 14-ounce can treats a 6-foot-long by 5-foot-wide area—and that’s just one coat, not two—so it could take several cans to treat most carpeted rooms. The manufacturer recommends re-treating every 6 months or after every carpet cleaning.
Get the Scotchgard Rug & Carpet fabric protector at Amazon, Ace Hardware, or Walmart.
- Form: Spray
- Compatible items/fabrics: Outdoor furniture and fabrics
- Quantity: 10.5 ounces
- Effectively repels water from outdoor fabrics and prevents staining
- Designed to protect outdoor fabric colors from fading in strong sunlight
- Suitable for several outdoor items, including tarps, umbrellas, outdoor cushions, flags, and tarps
- Easy 1-coat application is all it takes to protect outdoor fabrics
- We were unable to personally verify protection from fading as testing period was too short
- Limited application scope: This product is not intended for indoor fabric items
Outdoor fabrics face their own set of challenges. Rain, snow, and ultraviolet (UV) rays can all cause damage, including staining, mildewing, and fading, as well as the spills and stains of everyday use. Scotchgard Sun & Water Shield is designed for outdoor use to protect from these damaging dangers.
This fabric-protecting spray treats outdoor fabrics with a water-repellent and UV-blocking coating. This coating helps to resist stains, make spills easier to wipe up, and protect colors from sun fading. It’s suitable for various typical backyard surfaces, including patio cushions, umbrellas, grill covers, tarps, flags, and awnings, to keep outdoor items stain-resistant and vibrant.
We applied Sun & Water Shield to outdoor canvas cushions and a patio umbrella by spraying a single coat uniformly over the fabrics and then allowing it to dry completely. A second coat is not necessary. Since we tested over just a couple of weeks, we couldn’t determine whether this outdoor Scotchgard fabric protector would protect against harsh UV rays that might fade the fabric’s color. Still, we were able to test its waterproof and stainproof factor.
We sprayed the patio umbrella with the garden hose, and the water ran right off, leaving the fabric feeling dry to the touch. We applied small amounts of wine and coffee to the outdoor cushion, and neither soaked in. When we blotted the liquids, the fabric was clean—no sign of a stain.
Another upside—we didn’t notice any harsh chemical smell with this spray, although that could have been due to being outdoors. It didn’t seem to change the fabric’s color; it was clear and unnoticeable when it dried.
Get the Scotchgard Sun & Water fabric protector at Amazon, The Home Depot, or Walmart.
- Form: Spray
- Compatible items/fabrics: Car seats, panels, and carpets
- Quantity: 16 ounces
- Repels stains and prevents spills from soaking into car seats and carpets
- Liquids bead on top of fabric where they can be easily blotted away
- Product has a pleasant aroma that makes the car interior smell fresh
- Could not verify UV protection factor due to limited testing period
Daily activities like commuting, shuttling kids, and grocery runs can quickly make a mess of car interiors. To reduce wear and tear, consider this interior protector product from Chemical Guys, a stain-repellent and UV protector. The product’s hydrophobic technology prevents spills from soaking deep into car seats and carpets.
We tested this fabric protector on our car’s seat upholstery as well as the floor mats, which feature thin-nap carpet on a rubber backing. The instructions say to apply a coat and let it dry for 20 minutes before applying a second coat. The spray went on uniformly and was quickly absorbed. The first thing we noticed was that this spray actually smelled good! With a name like Chemical Guys, we were ready for an overbearing toxic smell and were surprised by the pleasing aroma. That’s a definite plus.
After the second coat dried, we used water, coffee, and wine to test the product’s water-repellent ability. All three beaded on the top of the fabrics and didn’t soak in or leave stains. We could not verify the product’s ability to prevent car interiors from fading since our testing period only lasted a few weeks. Still, its water-repellant factor alone was worth its application.
Chemical Guys is made for use on car seats, carpets, and door panels, and the formulation won’t harm automotive finishes.
Get the Chemical Guys fabric protector at Amazon, Walmart, or AutoZone.
- Form: Spray
- Compatible items/fabrics: Upholstery, carpeting, and other fabrics
- Quantity: 128 ounces
- Nonflammable, waterproof formula that’s safe for indoor use
- Dries clear and odorless
- Ample quantity provided to treat a variety of fabrics
- No spray bottle included with 128-ounce size; users must provide their own
- Pricey as compared to other products on our list
Those with large surfaces to protect might want to consider this 128-ounce TriNova Non-Aerosol Stain Guard bottle. Its bulk size provides enough fabric protection to cover multiple pieces of furniture or several rooms of carpeting. This large jug is a refill size, with no sprayer included, so we filled a separate spray bottle with the solution for easy spraying.
We applied TriNova to fabric swatches and a throw pillow, and since it’s also suitable for outdoor fabrics, we treated a cycling jacket as well. The manufacturer suggests spraying in a crisscross pattern for uniform coverage and then waiting 24 hours before using the item. The smell was mild but slightly disagreeable. The odor was much better than some of the other products we tested, but it’s still a good idea to open the window for ventilation.
We tested the swatches, jacket, and pillow with water, coffee, and wine. The liquids beaded up on all fabrics and left no stains after blotting. Since the size of the container is so large, we felt we could have used it in a small pump sprayer if we’d wanted to treat an entire carpet or other large item.
The downside is that this product doesn’t have quite the staying power as some of the others. The manufacturer recommends reapplying it every 35 to 45 days.
Get the TriNova fabric protector at Amazon, Lowe’s (18 ounces), or Walmart (18 ounces).
What to Consider When Choosing a Fabric Protector
There are various types of fabric protector products, ranging from multipurpose formulas for a host of materials to task-specific sprays made for maintaining outdoor fabrics, vehicle interiors, and marine fabrics. Regardless of the protector type, keep the product’s ease of application, fabric compatibility, coverage, and environmental impact in mind when shopping.
Photo: Glenda Taylor for Bob Vila
Most fabric protectors come in spray form, which enables users to coat the fabric surface quickly and evenly, usually by either depressing a trigger or holding a button. Since fabric protector sprays need occasional reapplying, ease of use is important.
Don’t let the simplicity of the application make you trigger-happy! Keep colorfastness in mind before treating any fabric, making sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on what surfaces can be treated. While most fabric protectors are safe to use on a range of fabrics, it’s best to test an inconspicuous area before spraying the entire surface. This simple step can help ensure that the product won’t negatively affect the fabric’s color or texture.
To provide proper protection, the spray will need to dry fully. Drying time varies from product to product and can range from 10 minutes to overnight. Quick-drying formulas are available and they’re ideal for high-traffic, heavy-use pieces like an entranceway rug or family room sofa, which can be used fairly quickly after treatment.
Different fabric protectors work on specific fabric types. You’ll find sprays designed for indoor or outdoor use. Other sprays are specified for synthetic or natural fabrics.
Multipurpose sprays can protect a range of upholstery, curtains, carpets, and other furnishings as well as other household items, such as shoes, hats, and backpacks. Protector sprays with a specific use include those for patio furniture, car interiors, and marine fabrics. Before using any spray, read the label directions to make sure it is safe on your intended surface, especially for delicate fabrics like velvet, silk, and some leather types.
Also consider if the spray is for indoor use, outdoor use, or both. Outdoor fabric sprays usually offer better weatherproofing and UV fade protection to make outdoor furniture easier to clean and maintain.
Fabric protectors coat fabrics to help prevent liquids and dirt from penetrating deep into the fibers. Some protectors also guard against UV damage that causes fading. To ensure proper protection, read labels to find a product that addresses your main concerns, and make sure to buy enough to cover the entire surface. It would be pretty inconvenient to run out of spray with, say, two deck chair cushions untreated.
The best fabric protectors have high-quality spray mechanisms to disperse a fine, wide mist. A good sprayer and a steady, methodical application is key to ensuring an area is properly protected.
Aerosol spray containers and pump spray bottles are both common. Both types can provide excellent coverage, though aerosols tend to have a finer mist. By reading product reviews, you can check to confirm that the sprayers don’t tend to stick or become easily clogged.
Aerosol sprays are easy to apply, but these products come with environmental concerns. While aerosol products no longer contain ozone-depleting ingredients like chlorofluorocarbons, they may still contain hydrocarbons, compressed gases, and volatile organic compounds, all known to be environmentally hazardous. Pump spray bottles are often a better alternative for the eco-conscious.
Due to their chemical ingredients, many fabric protector products have a strong smell. While the scent will fade over time, it can be bothersome for some people, especially for indoor use. Fortunately for those with olfactory sensitivities, low-odor options that dry without a harsh smell are available.
Tips for Using Fabric Protector
With the right fabric protector, you can make your furniture look brand new, be easier to clean, and have better resistance to spills and stains. Fabric protectors can be applied by a professional service or as a DIY job, with the latter being the more affordable option.
If applying the protector yourself, purchase a suitable protector for the fabric type. Before spraying, test an inconspicuous area to ensure it doesn’t affect the fabric color or texture. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for preparation and apply the spray in steady, sweeping strokes to completely cover the surface. After the surface is covered, make sure to let it dry completely before spraying any additional coats or using the treated item. In summary, adhere to the following for a hassle-free and protective application:
- Consult the product directions to ensure it is safe to use on your chosen surface;
- Conduct a colorfastness test on an inconspicuous area before applying; and
- Ensure the surface is fully dry before applying more layers or using the furniture.
A fabric protector can provide your couch, rug, car interior, and other surfaces with an extra layer of protection against spills and stains. Once you’ve selected the best fabric protector for your needs, consider the following frequently asked questions and answers for the most effective use of the product.
Q. What can a fabric protector be used on?
Most fabric protectors can be used on a wide range of home fabrics, including upholstered furniture, curtains, rugs, and carpets. Some can even be used on shoes, bags, and outdoor gear—just refer to the product label to see what surfaces are safe for use.
Q. Are fabric protectors safe for all fabrics?
Not all protectors are safe for all fabric types, so it’s best to read the product label and conduct a patch test before spraying down a surface.
Q. How long does fabric protection last?
According to Shamim, “Fabric protectors typically last for several months, but their lifespan can vary depending on the type of fabric and the amount of wear and tear it receives.”
Q. Can you wash a fabric that has a protector on it?
Yes, but the fabric protector may need to be reapplied after laundering.
Why Trust Bob Vila
Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series including “This Old House” and “Bob Vila’s Home Again,” he popularized and became synonymous with “do-it-yourself” home improvement.
Over the course of his decades-long career, Bob Vila has helped millions of people build, renovate, repair, and live better each day—a tradition that continues today with expert yet accessible home advice. The Bob Vila team distills need-to-know information into project tutorials, maintenance guides, tool 101s, and more. These home and garden experts then thoroughly research, vet, and recommend products that support homeowners, renters, DIYers, and professionals in their to-do lists.
Meet the Tester
Glenda Taylor is a product tester and writer specializing in the construction, remodeling, and real estate industries. She and her husband own a general contracting company, and Taylor is experienced in both residential and commercial building applications. She tests a wide range of power tools as well as other home improvement, household, and lawn-and-garden products.
Additional research provided by Jasmine Harding.