During my long career in the furniture business I’ve often been asked, “What is the proper way to care for my fabric?” After all, you’ve purchased your dream furniture piece but you’re terrified to use it out of fear of damaging it. But you don’t have to live in fear! After extensive research and testing I have found the following guidelines and suggestions to be helpful.
Because of the wide variety of fabrics and fiber combinations, there is no guarantee that these methods will be completely successful and I recommend that a professional upholstery cleaner be contacted in particular cases. However, these simple solutions will keep your new upholstery crisp and clean for years!
• Vacuum at least once a week to remove grit that can cause abrasion, and be sure to dust vacuum the top surfaces as often as possible. Professional cleaning is the best way to make a slightly soiled sofa look new again, but weekly vacuuming will make professional cleaning a less frequent event. (Never brush any fabric with a stiff fiber or metal brush, since they’re destructive to the fibers. Instead, use your vacuum attachments like the upholstery brush or the attachment for dusting draperies and furniture. The latter brush has longer bristles and is less abrasive to your upholstery fabric. It may be your best option if your fabric deserves a softer brushing.)
• Reverse the cushions each week after vacuuming. Rearrange the furniture occasionally to ensure even wear of the cushions and other areas.
Cushions and pillows filled with down or similar cushioning material should be hand-fluffed and reversed regularly to retain their original softness and resiliency.
• Protect fabrics from the sun. Fabrics should not be placed in direct sunlight because the ultraviolet light will cause the fibers to degenerate and colors to fade. Occasionally dyes can fade from impurities in the air as well, but protection from the sun is a good way to prevent premature loss of color.
• Keep pets off the furniture. Pet urine and pet body oil can be difficult to remove.
• Use proper care with structural weave fabrics (where the design is created by the weave) to protect against snags. These fabrics may be cleaned by sprinkling dry powder cleaner over the fabric, spreading it uniformly and letting it stand for the recommended period before vacuuming with gentle suction. (However, I do recommend professional cleaning with stains on a woven fabric.)
• Caution those wearing clothing with transferable dyes, such as blue jeans, that the dye could transfer onto light-colored furniture.
Fabric Cleaning Guide
Today’s new fabric treatments improve the chances of your fabric’s survival. Fabric protection products are usually applied by the retail store for an additional cost. Most of the various brands work the same way by causing spills and soil to sit on the surface of the fiber instead of migrating to the fiber’s interior.
Today’s fiber protection products are free of ozone damaging chemicals, and most are hypoallergenic and invisible to the eye. Some even provide additional UV protection from color fading caused by intense light. One of the greatest benefits of fabric protection products is that they come with specific written warranties that provide peace of mind.
Whether your new upholstery has been fabric protected or not, you should follow the same basic guidelines in cleaning liquid spills or surface soil that can’t be brushed off (such as newspaper ink).
Fabric Cleaning Codes
Before attempting to clean a spill or spot on your furniture, you should identify the fabric and the correct cleaning method recommended by the manufacturer. This information is represented by a cleaning code (W, S, WS, or X) often found under a cushion, on the bottom of the furniture or on the manufacturer’s tag. If you cannot find this information, contact your salesperson at the furniture store where the item was purchased.
W – Spot clean only with water-based shampoo or foam upholstery cleaner.
S – Spot clean only with water-free cleaning solvent. Do not overwet. DO NOT USE WATER.
WS – Spot clean with upholstery shampoo, foam from a mild detergent, or a mild dry cleaning solvent. Do not overwet.
X – Clean only by vacuuming or light brushing with a non-metallic brush. DO NOT USE WATER OR DRY CLEANING SOLVENTS. Do not use a foam or liquid cleaner of any type.
Never apply cleaning solutions to visible areas of your upholstery fabric without first testing on areas that are not visible. It is important to pretest for color loss and fabric compatibility.
As a general rule, when a spill occurs, it is important to clean the fabric immediately. The longer a spot remains, the harder it is to remove. It may even become permanent.
Blot, don’t rub. If the spill is still “fresh”, use a clean, dry and very absorbent 100% cotton cloth. Should you have to use paper towels to blot out spills, be sure the paper towel (or cloth) is white, as colors in the towel may, when applied to a wet surface, fade onto the upholstery. Color from one fabric can rub off onto another fabric, even when dry -- a process known in the industry as “crocking”.
If blotting with a dry cloth doesn’t quite finish the job and you have cleaning directions from the furniture manufacturer, follow those. If none are available, use the instructions provided here.
I hope this information has been insightful. Use these tools when necessary, but most importantly, enjoy your upholstered piece -- it was meant to be used!