How to Choose the Best Fabric for Sun Protection

What is a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) Rating?

In an era where skin protection is paramount, the emergence of fabrics embedded with Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) has revolutionized the way we safeguard our family against harmful sun rays. From beachgoers to outdoor enthusiasts, the allure of UPF-treated fabrics lies in their ability to offer an additional layer of defense against the sun's damaging effects. But what exactly is UPF, how does it work, and why should you consider incorporating it into your wardrobe? In this article, we will explain how to choose the best fabric for sun protection. 

Wearing sun protective clothing offers numerous benefits for maintaining skin health and preventing sun damage. These specially designed fabrics provide an extra layer of defense against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, shielding the skin from potential sunburns, premature aging, and even skin cancer. Unlike sunscreen, which requires reapplication, sun protective clothing offers consistent protection throughout the day, even when wet. Additionally, it reduces the need for applying and reapplying sunscreen, minimizing the risk of skin irritation and allergic reactions. Sun protective fabrics come in many weights and styles. By incorporating sun protective features in your fabric choices, you can enjoy outdoor activities with peace of mind, knowing that your skin is well-protected from the sun's harmful rays.

Understanding UPF

What is UPF?
UPF, short for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, measures the amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that penetrates a fabric and reaches the skin. Similar to SPF (Sun Protection Factor), which is commonly associated with sunscreens, UPF indicates the level of protection against both UVA and UVB rays provided by the fabric. However, unlike SPF, which primarily focuses on protection against sunburn (UVB rays), UPF accounts for both UVB and UVA radiation, offering comprehensive shielding against long-term skin damage and premature aging.
UPF Treatments:
UPF treatments involve incorporating UV-absorbing or UV-blocking agents into the fabric during manufacturing. These treatments can vary, ranging from chemical additives to physical alterations in the fabric structure. Chemical treatments typically involve adding UV-absorbing compounds, while physical alterations may include tighter weaves or denser fibers to create a barrier against UV penetration. Many technical fabrics use a combination of both.
Natural vs. Synthetic Fabrics:
When it comes to inherent UPF protection, natural and synthetic fabrics exhibit different characteristics.

Natural fabrics like cotton, linen, and wool often provide a small degree of UPF protection due to their dense fiber structure. However, this protection may vary depending on factors such as fabric weight, weave tightness, and color. On the other hand, synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, and spandex can be engineered to offer higher UPF ratings through specialized treatments and fiber blends.
Durability of UPF Treatment:
The longevity of UPF treatment in fabric depends on various factors, including the quality of treatment, fabric care practices, and exposure to environmental elements. Generally, UPF-treated fabrics can maintain their sun-protective properties through multiple washes and prolonged use, especially if handled according to manufacturer guidelines. However, over time, repeated washing, exposure to chemicals, and wear and tear may gradually diminish the effectiveness of UPF treatments. This is one reason why a fabric that is knit or woven to resist the suns rays will do its job more effectively over time.
UPF in Light vs. Dark Colors:
Contrary to popular belief, the color of the fabric does not necessarily dictate its UPF rating. It does help somewhat. While darker colors may absorb more UV radiation than lighter colors, the UPF protection offered by a fabric is primarily determined by its construction and treatment rather than its hue. Therefore, whether opting for light or dark colors, selecting UPF-treated fabrics is key to ensuring adequate sun protection.


Although UPF and SPF serve similar purposes—protecting against UV radiation—they differ in their application and measurement. 

SPF primarily applies to sunscreen products and indicates the level of protection against sunburn caused by UVB rays.

 In contrast, UPF pertains to fabrics and denotes the fabric's ability to block both UVA and UVB rays from reaching the skin. While SPF requires reapplication, UPF provides continuous protection as long as the fabric is worn.

Shirt shown is an example of a stretch woven lightweight fabric called Sunpro, which has 50+ UPF rating. 

What is the Maximum UPF Rating?

UPF 50+ is the maximum UPF rating achievable and it denotes that only up to 2% (or 1/50th) of UV radiation can penetrate fabrics.

  • UPF ratings of 15 and 20 are considered to provide good levels of sun protection.
  • UPF ratings of 25, 30 and 35 are considered to provide very good levels of sun protection.
  • UPF ratings of 40, 45, 50 and 50+ are considered to provide excellent levels of sun protection.

The best fabric for sun protection should have a minimum of 40 UPF in our opinion.

Shown here are a pair of leggings made with Chitosante Extreme, which is both antimicrobial as well as highly sun protective. This is an example of a good sun protective fabric.

A woman is wearing a pair of black  and purple print Chitosante fabric

The Best Fabrics for UPF Sun Protection

Best Fabrics for Sun Protection

Sun Lite Jersey

Lightweight Sun Lite Jersey boasts great 4-way stretch and a UPF rating of +50 This is a great fabric for all your summer activities. Perfect for tops, arm sleeves, tanks and light dresses. Fabric is smooth and soft and slightly cool to the touch. 

Polartec Power Dry

Power Dry comes in dozens of styles. It is a superior moisture-wicking base layer. Check the Specs and Features tab of the webpage to see the UPF rating for each style. We classify Power Dry styles as Lightweight or Midweight

Polartec Delta

Delta is a cooling fabric that utilizes the body's natural cooling process - sweat. Some styles offer high UPF ratings. It is wonderful for summer cycling, running or hiking or activities where you will be sweating. 

Breathe Tek

Breathe Tek Athletic is our signature compressive athletic fabric. It's super soft interlock knit has been hand sanded to create a velvety feel. The fabric offers good compression, is squat proof  with a UPF rating of 50+  An extremely versatile base, it can be used for both top and bottom weight garments  a favorite for leggings, shorts and dresses!

Solar Stretch

A fast-drying, 4-way stretch with UPF 50+ sun protection! It's resistant to pilling and has good shape retention.This is such a versatile fabric that it has been made into everything from leggings and dresses to tops and hats. Check out our Clearance and Deadstock page to see discontinued prints.

Coolfab Jersey

This silky smooth fabric breathes well, is snag resistant and manages moisture efficiently so you feel drier. As you sweat, the moisture cools as it releases in a controlled fashion, keeping you 20%-30% cooler than ambient temperature.

Chlorine Resistant Swim

Swim fabric is perfect for making rash guards and beachwear. It has 50+ UPF. While many fabric stores will recommend swim for sun shirts, we know it can be too hot when temperatures are high if you are not in the water. For those situations we recommend Sun Lite JerseyDelta or Power Dry in high UPF styles. 

Our swim material uses Lycra Xtra Life®, a top quality spandex developed for the swim industry that is 10-15% more resistant to chlorine than regular spandex ensuring your swim suit will last. Note: chlorine resistant does not mean fade resistant.

Sunpro Stretch Woven

Sunpro is one of the many styles of Stretch Woven we offer. It was just enough stretch to add ease of movement. Perfect for long sleeve button-up travel shirts or other woven tops. For a super lightweight dress pant, choose the solid darker colors as they are more opaque

Here are some of the Best Fabrics for Sun Protection we stock.

Ask For Advice!

There are so many considerations when choosing the best fabric for sun protection  such as whether you will be very physically active, the overall temperature, and whether you will be in the water. We love to help, which is why we hlove our friendly  Facebook Group. When you ask a question in this discussion group, be specific about what you are making and for which activity. We will try to make suggestions that will fit your project and in many cases other members will share photos and advice. We are always happy to chat in the group, where everyone can learn from the answers! Our Facebook group is Sew Inspired by Discovery Fabrics. Join us!


Fabric with UPF presents a compelling solution for individuals seeking reliable sun protection without compromising style or comfort. Whether lounging on the beach or engaging in outdoor activities, investing in UPF-treated fabrics offers peace of mind and long-term benefits for skin health.

By understanding the intricacies of UPF treatments, comparing natural and synthetic fabrics, and recognizing the distinction between UPF and SPF, you can make informed decisions to choose the best fabric for sun protection which will help shield your family from the sun's harmful rays while embracing the great outdoors