Steps in cleaning upholstery
Pre-inspection is by far the most important step in cleaning upholstery. Examine the upholstery piece extensively and document all pre-existing conditions. Inspect for previous damage and possible problems. Look for loose buttons, tears, holes, loose legs, mold, etc.
Questions to ask the customer:
- How old is this piece of furniture?
- Has this piece been professionally cleaned before?
- Have you spotted or cleaned the piece yourself?
- What is this material primarily made of?
- Has this piece ever been reupholstered?
- Note overall soiling condition.
- Check headrest and arms for oil.
- Look for yellowing due to age.
- Check for loose or missing buttons, loose cords, loose seams, loose tufts.
- Check for rusty buttons.
- Check skirt or flounce and corners for shoe polish and scuff marks, as well as for shrinkage and the possibility of fabric detached from the frame.
- Check the back for dust or dirt from air vents.
- Check for frayed areas, especially at corners and on arms.
- Check for previous dye bleeding.
- Check for weakened areas, rips or tears in fabric.
- Check for shoe polish and scuffs on skirts.
- Check for shrinkage and foam rubber deterioration.
- Check for pre-existing furniture stains on carpet.
- Check for nicks in wood.
- Check for pre-existing stains.
- Inspect cushions for spots, stains and frayed piping or thin material from wear.
- Unzip cushions and check stuffing material and underside of face material (possible bleeding). Also check for ink or magic marker which could bleed through. If any marker is on the foam, put a Super Tab between it and the fabric. Check for “filler fibers” that might bleed to the surface.
- Confirm the sturdiness of all furniture legs.
- Proceed with testing for color fastness of the material and underlining.
- Sometimes code numbers and words are marked on the backs of the fabric or on the cushions with grease pencils or markers or rubber stamps. These can bleed through
- Write all imperfections on quote, work order or invoice and be sure the customer is aware of them.
- If needed, have the customer sign a release.
Prepare a written review that the customer can acknowledge as to its condition before cleaning. Be certain that any pre-existing problems or defects are also noted on your invoice.
Check for a cleaning code tag to give you an idea of the materials of construction and proper cleaning method. Unfortunately, the manufacturers are not required to reveal the type of face fabric used, only the filling material. Many manufacturers will tag furniture as solvent-clean-only when it can be wet-cleaned if done carefully. In fact, over 80% of all upholstery can be wet cleaned if proper procedures are followed.
Upholstery Cleaning Codes:
- Code S and Code D: Dry cleaning by a professional furniture service is recommended. Use a mild, water free dry cleaning solvent. CAUTION: Use of water-based or detergent-based cleaners may cause excessive shrinkage. Water stains may become permanent and unable to be removed with solvent cleaning agents. To prevent overall soil, frequent vacuuming or light brushing to remove dust and grime is suggested.
- Code F: Foam clean.
- Code W: Clean this fabric with water-based cleaning agents or water-based foam to remove overall soil. Many household cleaning agents are harmful to the color and life of the fabric.
- Code SW (W/S): Clean this fabric with water-based cleaning agents, foam, or pure solvents. Professional dry cleaning is recommended. To prevent overall soil, frequent vacuuming or light brushing to remove dust and grime is suggested.
- Code X: Clean this fabric only by vacuuming or light brushing to prevent accumulation of dust or grime. Water-based foam or solvent-based cleaning agents of any kind may cause excessive shrinking or fading.
2. Identify Upholstery Fibers:
Identifying fibers is extremely challenging, but is sometimes necessary. Cut a small piece of material from under the skirt or the inside seam allowance inside of a cushion. Hold this sample over a fireproof surface, and ignite it with a cigarette lighter, not a match. Make note of the odor - wool and silk smell like burned hair and cotton smells and looks like burned paper. Examine the ash. Synthetic fibers will look melted, natural fibers will look charred. If cotton is present, there may be an “afterglow”.
Synthetic fibers such as nylon and olefin will melt leaving a hard bead that you can’t crush between your fingers. Natural fibers will crumble to a soft ash. Blends will, of course, exhibit both types of ash. More complex tests with solubilities in various chemicals as well as microscopic examination will yield more information. ASCR, now called Restoration Industry Association, has an upholstery identification class which is excellent.
3. Pre-Test Before Cleaning Upholstery:
- Pre-test everything before you clean it! Always pre-test the appropriate agents at proper use dilution. Allow adequate dwell and drying time to best realize the final result. After pre-testing, choose the proper cleaning agents and cleaning method.
- First, moisten a white Turkish Towel with your hot PCA™ Formula 5 cleaning solution and spray onto it some of your diluted Preface® pre-spray. On an inconspicuous area, such as a skirt on the back, lightly rub the towel on the fabric and look for dye transfer. Wait at least 5 minutes and retest. If the piece did not bleed, you can probably safely clean with it.
- However, if you did observe some dye transfer, retest with diluted LCA® 256 in the same manner. With its lower pH, dye bleeding is much less likely.
- If dye transfer was evident with the LCA 256, test with Natural Fiber Cleaner.
- If dye transfer still occurs, you can only dry clean this piece!
- Of course, if your pre-inspection indicated that this is Haitian Cotton, Osnaburg, or white cotton, you should use only Natural Fiber Cleaner or wet-dry-wet clean.
- If pre-inspection indicates that this is a material that should only be dry cleaned or wet-dry-wet cleaned, proceed accordingly.
4. Use Furniture Pad:
The furniture pad prevents overspray from getting onto the carpet or wood floor. Move the furniture piece onto one or more furniture pads.
NOTE: To avoid damaging the carpet (especially olefin) or creating furniture stains on the floor, ALWAYS use the E-Z Moves or Bane-Glides to move any furniture!
To save your back, use the Lift Buddy™ to raise the furniture piece up while sliding the blocks or tabs under the legs.
The appropriate cleaning process is determined directly by the results of the pre-testing process.
Once complete and the cleaning system is chosen, begin by vacuuming. Vacuum the shelf and the crevices and remove all debris.
5. Precondition Upholstery:
- Do not remove zippered cushion covers for cleaning - if excessive shrinkage occurs, backing compounds may be damaged.
- If pre-inspection indicated that the piece can be safely wet-cleaned with your standard cleaning solutions, overspray entire piece with diluted Preface.
- Wipe all overspray off the wood surfaces.
- If pre-testing indicated that a milder prespray is needed, use Chemspec Heavy Duty Soil Lifter, which is a neutral pH co-solvent prespray. It is used full strength before dry cleaning or diluted before wet cleaning.
- Use a Turkish towel or the Furniture Upholstery Brush to mildly agitate the heavily soiled areas, especially on the arms. Avoid excessive agitation as pile removal, pile distortion, or matting can occur.
6. Clean Upholstery:
- The detergent solution to be used depends upon your pre-testing results.
- Take cleaning strokes in only one direction, taking as many as necessary but always use extra vacuum strokes to shorten drying time and reduce the possibility of browning. Clean the skirts in vertical strokes to help set the pleat. Avoid excessive moisture to avoid shrinkage.
- Use a dry towel to wipe down the piping area, behind buttons, and in any creases to eliminate trapped moisture and to remove surface soil. Wipe down the entire piece with dry towels to accelerate drying and to remove surface soil.
- Place slit foil or plastic tabs behind any steel buttons to avoid any rusting problems.
- Lightly overspray and extract the cambric fabric on the shelf of the piece to avoid water spotting.
- If velvet or microfiber your cleaning tool may leave cleaning marks, so be sure to groom them out and set the pile before the piece dries.
7. Spot and Stain Removal from Upholstery:
- For any remaining spots or stains, blot the stain-removal agent and the stain using a fresh towel, but don’t rub; rubbing can smear the stain.
- Once the stain is removed, lift the residual cleaning agent from the fabric by blotting and rinsing, or drying for solvent-based cleaners.
- When spotting, apply a small amount of stain-removal agent on a damp towel and work it from the outside edge of the stain to the center. Be careful - too much stain-removal agent may cause overwetting or stain spread.
- Check the Pet Problems article for more details.
8. Prevent Browning after Cleaning Upholstery:
When wet-cleaning, it is imperative that you ALWAYS apply a neutralizing agent to the fabric to prevent browning, to stabilize and brighten colors, reduce the chance of dye bleeding and to provide a soft hand. Lightly apply Brown Out® diluted 8 ounces per gallon to the upholstery with a sponge. Apply Phase II™ for any odors that need to be controlled.
Above is an example of NOT applying Brown Out after wet cleaning upholstery - Notice the color bleeding on this Jacquard!
9. Apply Protector to the Upholstery
After you have cleaned, you need to restore the protective finish with Sta-Clene®. Towel off exposed wood areas.
10. Move Furniture Back:
- Using E-Z Moves or Bane-Glides, move the furniture pieces back to their original location.
- Be sure to set the legs on foam blocks or protective tabs.
- To save your back, use the Lift Buddy™ to raise the furniture piece up while sliding the foam block or tabs under the legs.
11. Dry and Groom the Cleaned Upholstery
- Groom velvet upholstery or any fabric with a nap using a Handi Brush™. Charge an extra 20% for velvet furniture.
- Set cushions on brown paper in a tee-pee fashion away from the furniture - NOT on the shelf of the chair or sofa!
- Tell the customer not to use the furniture until it has completely dried.
- Set up air movers to speed up drying of the cleaned pieces. Proper drying time is the key to successful Haitian Cotton cleaning. Place air movers so that air is moving across the fabric not into it.
DRY CLEANING UPHOLSTERY CONSIDERATIONS:
One of the most important tools for solvent-cleaning “S” coded upholstery is a dry cleaning machine. Dry cleaning of upholstery is used where wet cleaning can’t be because of potential dye bleeding, shrinkage, removal of finishes, etc. However, dry cleaning will never clean as well as wet cleaning and cannot remove water-based stains and water marks. The biggest mistakes made in dry cleaning are overpromising results and spraying the solvent too heavily. Only a light mist should be used. The dry cleaning solvent, such as Solv-A-Clene™ dries much more slowly than water and has a solvent odor.
When dry cleaning, the only products you can use are Per-Scent® fragrance, Saf-T-Solv™ Dry Volatile Spotter, Phase II™, Solv-A-Clene™ Dry Cleaning Solvent, Sta-Clene® Solvent-Based Upholstery Protector and sometimes 91% Isopropyl Alcohol.
There are many potential upholstery cleaning problems when dry cleaning. If the face fabric has a latex backing, it should not be dry-cleaned. Excessive application of dry cleaning solvents may damage the latex, which supports the fabric. Sometimes the cushions or padding, which are hidden by the face fabric, contain impure or colored yarns, stuffing or even colored fabric that has been reprocessed or reused. When these are exposed to dry solvents, they can bleed and the fugitive color will wick through the face fabric. A black buckram or cambric is sometimes used to give body to the face fabric or to hold the padding in place under the cover fabric. The black dyes used may bleed through the face fabric. Sewing threads used to seam material together and to hold welt cords in place may not be colorfast. The glossy sheen on older chintz will be removed by cleaning. Pile fabrics, such as velvets,are often difficult to clean successfully. The crushed or embossed Velvets have been finished using a technique that is often nondurable. Cleaning (wet or dry) can cause pile distortion, matting or loss of texture. Bengaline, crushed velvets, damask, frieze, furs (fake and real), heat-set pile fabrics, matelassé, moiré, osnaburg, satin, silk and some chintzes must be dry cleaned.
Dry-cleaned furniture should not be used until completely dry and all solvent has evaporated. Do the cleaning in a well-ventilated area and vent the solvent outside. Wear a protective mask and solvent-resistant gloves. Some dry cleaning solvents are toxic chlorinated solvents. Solv-A-Clene contains no chlorinated solvents.
Care and Cleaning of Leather Upholstery is covered in a separate article
Care and Cleaning of Microfiber Upholstery is covered in a separate article