Vinyl or Nylon: Choosing the Best Upholstery for Your Wheelchair


Contributor-Icons_Maria-Garcia-SilvaYou’ve finally decided which wheelchair you want, but what about the upholstery? Should that even be a concern?

Customers often debate between vinyl & nylon in choosing their wheelchair upholstery. Which is better?

The answer is, “it depends!”

Since comfort — or the lack of it — will be a significant factor in an individual’s overall experience with a wheelchair, take time to choose the right wheelchair with the appropriate upholstery for their needs, right from the start.

There are a couple of reasons why this makes sense. Financially, you don’t want to spend money on a wheelchair your loved one doesn’t want to use. Depending on the amount of time they spend in the wheelchair, your fabric choice matters because of general wear and tear too.

chairs-people-graham-field2Most importantly, though, if the wrong fabric is used for an individual’s specific needs, real medical problems can result. And no one wants that.

Nylon: Here’s What You Should Know

The most common type of fabric used in homecare equipment is nylon, since it is slightly less expensive than vinyl, especially when purchased as replacement upholstery.

Nylon has a woven appearance.

Nylon has a woven appearance.

Nylon, a synthetic fabric, is somewhat porous, and offers breathability when a patient sits. It is used commonly on ultralight, lightweight and rehab wheelchairs that are usually more expensive overall than standard wheelchairs, due to its porous nature.

Nylon takes longer to reach maximum body heat reflection, thus insulating the user better than vinyl.

A downside is that nylon is harder to clean. Because it is so porous, it absorbs more liquids like body fluids, which it almost permanently retains. This translates into more frequent upholstery replacement depending on the continence needs of the user, or other issues.

Vinyl: Here’s What You Should Know

Vinyl is also a synthetic material. It was created to simulate leather. That’s why it is also known by another nickname: leatherette. Vinyl is a non-woven material that is normally used in hospital settings.

It is non-breathable since it is not porous. As a result, it tends to be warmer than nylon, causing patient perspiration, since it does not allow airflow or ventilation.

Vinyl, a slightly more expensive material than nylon, is used for almost all standard wheelchair upholstery. Colors vary by manufacturer, with black and navy blue the most common. Vinyl upholstery comes in a much broader color range than nylon.

Health Considerations to Keep in Mind

As people age, they lose skin collagen and elastin, decreasing the skin’s tensile strength and making it more susceptible to tears or wounds. Also, this contributes to circulatory issues like the advance of vascular atrophy. If an individual uses a wheelchair for most of their mobility needs, they will have a tendency to develop pressure ulcers due to skin deterioration or muscle loss and pressure on extremities.

All of these issues should be points of discussion with a medical professional in the decision process for what type of wheelchair to get, along with the type of upholstery material used on the wheelchair.

Ask for advice from a trained professional in selecting the right kind of wheelchair for your loved one.

Ask for advice from a trained professional in selecting the right kind of wheelchair for your loved one.

Caring for Your Graham-Field Wheelchair

Normal wear and tear will cause all seat and back upholstery to stretch on a wheelchair. Room temperature does not affect nylon, so it takes longer to stretch than vinyl does. Vinyl is affected by temperature changes, and with normal wear and tear, vinyl seat and back upholstery will tend to stretch naturally, and much faster than nylon does.

The most important decision factor in choosing your wheelchair’s upholstery, though, is how easy the fabric is to clean and maintain from a hygiene standpoint.

Hygiene is the most important consideration when choosing the best wheelchair fabric for your needs.

Hygiene is an important consideration when choosing the right wheelchair fabric for your needs.

That said, vinyl is extremely easy to clean and disinfect. It is easier to disinfect in accordance too with Centers for Disease Control guidelines for maintaining healthcare vinyl. Vinyl is also ideal for patients with incontinence issues as vinyl’s surface is not porous and will not absorb body fluids. Any liquid can be wiped from vinyl with a cloth, leaving the fabric almost dry.

This feature alone maximizes the lifespan of the wheelchair and its upholstery. Just dry and wipe down the fabric with a mild soap solution for easy cleaning. Vinyl can be disinfected with a diluted bleach solution (1 to 100 bleach to water) to kill bacteria.

A key factor to note as well is that all Graham-Field wheelchairs feature fire-resistant upholstery, regardless of whether nylon or vinyl, that meets the flammability requirements of California’s state laws.

Graham-Field Wheelchair Recommendations

For Home Use:

Nylon is best used in a home environment. For that reason, we recommend our Traveler L4 wheelchair to home shoppers because of its superb nylon upholstery.

The Traveler L4 is a high strength, lightweight Medicare approved K0004 wheelchair designed for both the home and rehab markets.

The Traveler L4 is a high strength, lightweight Medicare-approved K0004 wheelchair designed for both the home and rehab markets.

For Hospice Use:

For patients in hospice settings, we recommend the use of premium vinyl upholstery to boost patient comfort. Graham-Field’s TRAVELER LX wheelchair line has a layer of premium polyurethane foam on top of an extra-duty, no-stretch liner. This construction method offers the necessary flexibility to provide maximum comfort and contour to the user’s body.

traveler lx

The Traveler LX incorporates the legendary Everest & Jennings® wheelchair frame with saddle-joint tubular construction and industry standard front rigging.

For Hospital Use:

The most popular type of upholstery in the hospital environment is leatherette or vinyl due to the low absorbency rate of the material, and its easiness to clean.

For heavy-duty hospital environments, Graham-Field offers the Traveler HD wheelchair, with a double liner — a piece of fabric that prevents the vinyl from stretching so quickly.

traveler HD

The Traveler HD provides the ideal solution to the need for a heavy duty frame designed to support up to 500 lb users.

Reinforced vinyl upholstery is important in a heavy use setting because it prevents the eventual sagging of the seat, as that can lead to less adequate distribution of the user’s weight along the wheelchair. For the hospital setting, sturdier reinforced vinyl translates to a longer life with less maintenance and replacement, and that means less cost overall.

Graham-Field’s Traveler HD, HTC and SE wheelchairs come with vinyl upholstery and all feature a chart pocket on the back of each wheelchair, making it handy for patients who love to carry books or magazines while waiting for a procedure, as well as convenient for the attendant or caregiver who carries an institutional check-off form or patient charts.

chairs colors

Additional Options & Recommendations

Custom color upholstery is available now for hospitals that use color coding for equipment identification. Depending on the needs of a hospital, Graham-Field offers Gray, Burgundy and Orange upholstery in addition to more traditional color options within our Traveler HD and Traveler HTC wheelchair lines.


Everest & Jennings Duragel Base 3G Wheelchair Cushion

For users who need more breathable options, our Everest & Jennings wheelchair line also offers a variety of gel wheelchair cushions that can alleviate heat and perspiration coming from a vinyl seat.

Wheelchair cushions such as the Dura-Gel™ BASE 3G wheelchair cushion (manufactured in our Atlanta, Georgia, USA facility), shown at right, reduce surface pressure through the use of a support layer of non-aqueous Dura-Gel. The cushion has a high-density foam base for durability in combination with a convoluted topper for comfort and airflow.

Contact us for more ideas and advice.


Maria Garcia Silva is a Product Manager/ International Marketing Manager at Graham-Field.

About GF Health Products, Inc.

Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, with more than 300 US-based employees, GF Health Products, Inc. is a major manufacturer of healthcare products for the acute care, extended care, homecare and primary care markets. The Graham-Field family of brands includes Basic American Medical Products, Everest & Jennings, Grafco, Hausted, John Bunn, Labtron, Lumex and Lumiscope. Visit or call 770-368-4700. Everest & Jennings, Graham-Field, and Traveler are trademarks of GF Health Products, Inc. © 2016, GF Health Products, Inc., all rights reserved.