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The best pet-friendly fabrics and finishes to protect your furniture and floors

Experts share their their top materials for withstanding scratches, odors and stains

(The Washington Post illustration; iStock)

Taking care of an animal comes with as much responsibility as it does joy. Along with training, staying on top of feedings, making sure your pet gets exercise and visiting the veterinarian, you’ll need to animal-proof your home. But that doesn’t just mean installing gates and keeping chemicals out of reach. If you want to ensure the longevity of your furniture and floors, choose fabric and finishes that can withstand wear and tear from pets.

In general, it’s best for pet owners to opt for durable, easy-to-clean materials that resist stains and don’t easily absorb smells. Russell Hartstein, a certified dog behaviorist and trainer in Los Angeles and founder of Fun Paw Care, adds that properly training your pets about where to do their “business” and about what’s appropriate to scratch or chew goes just as far in protecting your furniture and flooring. In the event of a mess, always aim to clean it up immediately to prevent stains and long-lasting odors.

Luckily, you don’t have to sacrifice your interior design sensibility to incorporate animal-friendly fabrics and finishes into your home. Here are some of the best options, according to experts.

Ceramic and porcelain tile

When you’re choosing a floor, aim for a tough material that won’t put your pet’s scratches on display. Mark Cutler, an interior designer in Los Angeles, suggests using ceramic or porcelain tile. They’re scratch resistant and easy to clean, and because they’re nonporous, they won’t easily absorb smells from dog or cat accidents.

“The only thing to be concerned about is grout can be more absorbent, so keep the width to a minimum and be consistent with applying sealer twice a year,” Cutler says.

Treated or faux hardwood

If stone isn’t your style (or if it’s too cold), hardwood isn’t out of the question. Cutler suggests a factory-finished floor rather than true hardwood if your goal is to prevent wear and tear. Just keep in mind that even treated wood is naturally more porous than other materials, so you’ll need to notice — and quickly clean up — spills and messes.

How to clean and care for hardwood floors

For those with a large dog or more than one pet, Hartstein suggests using luxury vinyl plank, which is more resistant to scratches and liquid messes than laminate or engineered wood options.

Indoor-outdoor rugs

Wall-to-wall carpeting isn’t ideal when pets live with you, but if that’s what you have, protect as much as you can from animal messes and hair by investing in rugs. Keep in mind, though, that rugs made of natural materials could be harder to clean than synthetic rugs.

Nichole Schulze, Cutler’s design partner, recommends investing in a few indoor-outdoor rugs, which are designed with stain-proof, odor-proof synthetic materials. When your pet makes a mess on the rug, you can take it outside, clean it with detergent and spray it down with a hose. You may even be able to disinfect it with diluted bleach. (On any fabric, it’s always a good idea to spot-test first.)

With an indoor-outdoor rug, Cutler suggests using a rug pad and replacing it about once a year. “Oftentimes, animal messes permeate the rug and into the pad, which is more difficult to clean,” he says.

Wool rugs

There are plenty of attractive outdoor rugs, Cutler says, but if you’d like a more traditional look, a low-pile wool rug may be the best option. Sarah Tringhese, creative director at Matt Camron Rugs & Tapestries, says wool is naturally water resistant, so pet messes shouldn’t seep into it. It’s also relatively easy to spot-clean, but for tough stains, consider professional cleaning, which Tringhese says works extremely well with wool.

No matter what, avoid high-pile rugs if you have a pet. “These types of rugs are the most difficult to vacuum thoroughly, and it can take a few days to properly get smells out, since it’s difficult to reach the base and takes a long time to dry,” says Irina Nikiforova, owner of the Los Angeles-based cleaning company Rocket Maids.


To avoid having scratched-up upholstery, Schulze suggests using fabrics that pets can’t easily get their claws into. “Ultrasuede or mohair, if you’re looking for something a little more luxe, are excellent choices that Kitty will not be able to get a grip on,” she says. Ultrasuede, a synthetic form of suede, is also designed to be stain resistant; follow the instructions that come with your furniture to effectively clean it.

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Because it doesn’t absorb pet smells and it’s easier to clean, leather could be a reasonable choice for furniture. “When it comes to sofa material, leather or faux leather are my number one choice, because you can simply wipe the hair off,” Nikiforova says.

But keep in mind that leather is easy to scratch. Schulze suggests choosing distressed leather over a smooth option. “If the leather already looks like it’s worn, it’ll be more forgiving if a dog or cat scratches it,” she says. “But leather may not be the best option if you have a cat who routinely shreds up your furniture.”


For a more laid-back look that’s also easy to clean, Nikiforova suggests using canvas, because pet hair isn’t as noticeable on the natural, woven material. Choose a couch with removable cushion covers that you can routinely throw in the wash, or toss a blanket over the cushions for extra protection.

Washable slipcovers

Although treating your upholstery with a layer of Scotchgard can prevent stains from absorbing into any chair or couch, Cutler says you may want to consider a slipcover for better protection. Fortunately, he says, slipcovers have evolved a lot over the past several years, so you should be able to find one that fits snugly over your couch. If your furniture isn’t a standard silhouette, Cutler recommends using a custom slipcover, ideally one in an easy-to-clean outdoor material that will withstand use. You can also find slipcovers for chairs, headboards and ottomans. Because slipcovers are relatively inexpensive, Cutler says, you can grab a few and swap them out seasonally.

Ashley Abramson is a freelance writer in Wisconsin.

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