Shade fabric, also known as shadecloth, is a popular way of providing shade for people outdoors

Image of Shadeloth in use over a public swimming pool
Shade fabrics were originally designed to provide climate control in greenhouses and plant nurseries. Nowadays it's widely used for personal protection from the sun and is available in a variety of materials, colours and shade ratings so you can choose an appropriate product for your shade situation.

Shade is one of the most comfortable forms of personal protection from ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in sunlight. When used effectively most forms of shade can reduce UVR exposure by up to 75%, especially if used with other sun protection measures.

Important factors relating to UVR exposure when using shade structures are:

  • the ability of the shade material to block UVR
  • the positioning of the shade structure in relation to the sun and the people it is protecting
  • the angle of the sun in the sky.

There is an Ultraviolet Effectiveness (UVE) rating that shows how effective a shade fabric is at providing shade for sun protection. When designing shade structures for people consider using shade fabrics that have highest UVE ratings available.

UVE (%)Protection category
80.0 to 90.9Effective
91.0 to 94.9Very effective
95.0+Most effective

There are many resources available online to assist with designing comfortable and effective shade structures for private and public use such as these examples from SunSmart and Sun Safety Queensland.

Important considerations about shade protection

As well as ultraviolet radiation that reaches us directly from the sun, we can receive UVR exposure from what is known as indirect UV radiation (also known as diffuse or scattered radiation). Indirect UVR occurs when solar radiation is reflected to the ground from particles in the atmosphere, or reflected off nearby surfaces such as buildings, snow or water. This means that we can still receive some UVR exposure even when we are shaded and can't see the sun directly.

Indirect UVR can reach the ground from low angles so when designing shade structures we need to consider that radiation may be able to enter the shade structure from the sides. In the laboratory, shade fabric is tested in close proximity to the detector of the measuring equipment and these measurements will show how effective the material is against direct UVR but cannot account for the additional effects of indirect UVR which will vary depending on the factors listed above.

Which rating system to use for shade structure?

With the release of an updated version of the shade fabric standard, Australian Standard AS4174:2018 Knitted and Woven Shade Fabrics, a rating system has been introduced for human sun protection that wasn’t included in earlier editions of this standard. This means that shade structures intended for human protection can now be tested to this standard. Products tested to this standard will be issued with Ultraviolet Effectiveness (UVE%) rating which is essentially a protection factor rating expressed as a percentage.

In the past (prior to the release of the AS4174:2018 Knitted and Woven Shade Fabrics), fabrics used for shade structures may have been tested to the sun protective clothing standard, AS/NZS 4399, where an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating system is utilised. AS/NZS 4399:2017 Sun protective clothing – Evaluation and classification states that: “Products such as umbrellas and shade structures which are not in close proximity to the skin will provide a lesser degree of protection than would be indicated by the rating of the material from which the product is made, because of the amount of scattered radiation that could enter from around the edges of the product. The amount of this radiation will vary with the area of the product, and the distance of the product from the body. This Standard is therefore not appropriate for evaluating such items.”

ARPANSA recommends for the UVE rating to be applied to shade structure fabrics instead of a UPF rating. Although the same considerations still apply about sunlight entering a shade structure and reducing the protection rating, the protection rating from the shade fabric standard is intended for use with shade structure fabrics and is stated to be applicable. Note that New Zealand opted not to adopt this document as a joint Australian/New Zealand standard.

Shade fabric and shade fabric testing at ARPANSA

ARPANSA operates a service for measuring the UVR and visible transmission of shade fabric. The testing is performed in accordance with the UV-visible transmission requirements of Australian standard AS4174:2018 - Knitted and woven shade fabrics. Copies of this standard are available from Standards Australia.

Note that samples sent to ARPANSA for shade fabric testing must be at least 1 metre by 1 metre in size. The samples cannot be returned after testing as they are cut into smaller pieces. Allow up to ten working days for the testing of the materials.

Ultraviolet Effectiveness (UVE) swing tags

ARPANSA now offers swing tags for shade fabrics (for Ultraviolet Effectiveness of 95+%). After you have received your UVE test report, you are eligible to apply for a licence to use the Australian government trademark and purchase UVE swing tags to use on your item. Please see UPF certification trade mark information for more information (the same licence application process and pricing schedule applies for UVE tags).

Schedule of charges

Number of samplesCost per sample (including Australian GST)Cost per sample (excluding Australian GST)
1 to 10$200.00$181.82
More than 10$170.00$154.55

Prices quoted are in Australian dollars. Payment is in Australian dollars, either by electronic funds transfer (EFT), BPAY or by credit card (VISA or MasterCard) up to $10 000.

Shade fabric testing request

Please complete the online shade fabric testing request webform to request testing of your samples.

After completing the form, you can send your shade fabric samples to:

UVR Services
619 Lower Plenty Road
Yallambie VIC 3085

Terms and conditions - UPF

Terms and conditions for service and conditions for test samples

Sample shade fabric test report

Payment methods

Re-issue of test reports

If you require changes to a test report after it has been issued, a processing charge of $35 per report will apply.

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