Although soil removal is the primary goal when we clean, the cleaning technician has to keep in mind the adage “do no harm”. When cleaning carpet this is rarely an issue because the fibers and the backing are synthetic.
When cleaning upholstery the fabrics can be much more sensitive as they’re often made of multiple yarns (cotton, rayon, nylon, polyester, wool, silk, etc.) and multiple dyes. Each may react differently to cleaning agents.
The two main possible negative outcomes we seek to avoid are
- Fabric shrinkage and
- “Dye bleed” otherwise known as color migration.
Unfortunately, I’ve observed that even when the furniture manufacturer has a cleaning label on the piece, the tag routinely mislabels the type of cleaning that should be used. It’s apparent that most manufacturers really don’t know much about how to clean the fabrics they use.
The two primary types of upholstery cleaning are “wet” cleaning and “dry” cleaning. “Wet” refers to the use of cleaning agents that are water based. “Dry” refers to the use of cleaning agents that are solvent based.
“Dry” is the safest in terms of assuring there won’t be any dye bleed or fabric shrinkage. And it’s the type of cleaning the furniture tags often specify. However, we try to avoid using it. Unfortunately because it is solvent based, it’s not good to breathe. So we have to wear a respirator when we use it. And it simply does not remove as much soil from the fabric as wet cleaning.
How we clean upholstery
Our preferred method of cleaning is one that is water based but uses very little water and dries fast. So we get the advantage of wet cleaning chemistry, without over-wetting the upholstery. Since fabric shrinkage is the result of over-wetting, this method solves that problem. To address the dye-bleed issue we first test the fabric in an inconspicuous place. In most pieces the dyes are very stable enough to allow us to use this method.
Lastly we like it because it works well on human and pet body oil… the primary soil on upholstery.