Out! Damned Spot!
So, you have a stain on your upholstered fabric? Where do you go from here?
What is a cleaning code?
There are several common fabric cleaning codes. Fortunately, they're easy to remember:
S - Solvent clean (that is "dry-cleaning")
W - Water clean
WS - Water or Solvent clean
X - No liquids, vacuum clean only
Truth is, you can clean about 80% of S-coded fabrics with a water-based cleaning system, if done carefully. The most common tool is water-extractor upholstery cleaner (sort of like a wet-vac with a spray). Dry cleaning machines are 10 times more expensive and are rarer.
What cleaner do I use?
Perhaps more important than the cleaning code is to use what's appropriate for the staining material. You must use a cleaning solution that will clean the staining material. The basic chemical rule is "Likes dissolve likes." There are two broad classes of solvents:
Various cleaners work by attracting and holding the stain particles, using enzymes to break them down, attacking them with acidity or alkalinity, adding or removing oxygen from the stain, or changing them chemically into something that is easy to remove.
For spot stains you should circle the stain with solution and work your way inward to keep the stain from bleeding away.
Don't remove the fabric from cushions when cleaning or you may never get it back on correctly if it shrinks or skews.
What are the most important factors of cleaning?
If you think about any cleaning you do, whether it's your washing machine, your shower, or washing your car, there are four important factors, remembered as TACT.
For almost any stain, if there is debris on the surface scrape it up and dry vacuum before beginning any wet cleaning. Blot up liquid stains with a dry towel as soon as possible.
Where can I find cleaning solutions?
Most carpet cleaning supply houses carry a complete selection of cleaning solutions for upholstery as carpet cleaners often sideline into upholstery cleaning. If you live in a small town, there are mail order firms. Eighty percent of carpet is nylon, and the majority of the rest is olefin, so carpet cleaners don't face the wide variety of fibers available in upholstery.
How do I identify a fabric's fiber?
The best way is if you can determine from the manufacturer. Finished goods are required to list the inside contents of a piece, but not the covering. The best way is to do a fiber id burn test (see http://www.bridgepoint.com/technical_help/guides_burn_test.html ). In this, you observe the flame, odor and ash of burning a fiber. This is not foolproof, though, since many fabrics are combinations of two or more fibers. I also recommend a butane lighter as matches and candles have their own odors.
Fiber id, though, is not necessary if you know the cleaning code and color-fastness properties. It's probably best left to testing labs.
What are some problem fabrics for cleaning?
What are some problem stains for cleaning?
For a reference on specific stains from one of the vendors:
If you are not doing this everyday, here's a guide using ordinary household supplies (the "consumer version") P.O.G = paint, oil, grease cleaner, e.g., a solvent.
This information is provided to help the upholsterer with an occasional staining problem. Use at your own risk and only after testing on inconspicuous areas or scrap fabric. There are too many fabrics, dyes, and cleaners to ensure compatibility without testing. It is collected from a variety of sources.
(Note: I have no interest in CTI or Bane-Clene other than I use many of their products)
Keith Mealy, Owner/Operator of Guardsman FurniturePro Cincinnati East, a franchisee of Valspar Corporation. Keith does furniture cleaning, repair and refinishing.