Cleaning Residues


When you have observed fabric protector demonstrated at a cleaning class or trade show, you might have noticed that it always seems to be applied to new fabric or tissue.

There isn’t anything wrong with that, but bear in mind that when on a job you are almost always applying protector to fabric you just cleaned, not something new and never used — and never cleaned.

What’s the difference?

When you clean upholstery, you are attempting to remove foreign matter from the fabric, and in your effort to do so, you apply cleaning agents that are designed to dissolve, emulsify and/or suspend soils so that you can rinse them away.

What isn’t so obvious is that if you apply more preconditioner than you can rinse from the fabric, a protective treatment that you apply afterward may not bond properly. Cleaning agent residues interfere with the protector’s ability to bond to the fabric; thus your protector will be ineffective, or at least not as effective as the demonstration you may have given your customer might have implied.

The most important steps you could do for yourself, and ultimately your customer, are as follows:

  1. Obtain some soiled cushions. These can often be found at a local thrift store.
  2. Clean them using the prespray and any booster additives you might need to restore heavily soiled upholstery.
  3. Rinse as thoroughly as you feel necessary to completely remove the suspended soil and detergent residues.
  4. Apply your protector according to instructions for the product.
  5. Test with drops of water and cooking oil after complete drying has occurred.

You’ll find that if you over-preconditioned and under-rinsed, your protector might not work. You can see the effect of this in the following images.

Combined images

The example to the left is of fabric that was cleaned but not thoroughly extracted, dried and then had protector applied. The example to the right is of a similar fabric that was cleaned with thorough extraction, dried and then had protector applied.

In both cases, after the protector dried, water droplets were added to the fabrics. The difference in fabric protection performance, as you can see, is significant.

What should you do?

In many cases, cleaners apply far more preconditioner than is necessary because they are used to preconditioning carpet.

Here’s an easy test for you to see you don’t need as much product for upholstery. Take a trigger sprayer of water and spray your pant leg or shirt sleeve. How much does it take to wet out the fabric until you feel it against your skin? That is already more product than you would need to apply to loosen soil.

When you precondition with a sprayer, apply only a light mist of preconditioner. If the soil level is such that you need to apply a heavier amount of product, apply your product to a soft horsehair brush instead of directly to the fabric. If you use shampoo or encapsulation products as your preconditioner, apply them to your brush, sponge or towel with a sprayer designed to create a foam, but not directly to the fabric and not by dipping a brush into a bucket of solution.

By applying preconditioning agents in this fashion, you’ll get enough product on the soil, but not with as much saturation as you might have previously encountered.

You can also purchase cleaning tools with a clear “window” or a completely clear cleaning head. If you use such a tool, you’ll be able to observe if detergent residues remain in a fabric you are cleaning as you rinse.

Practice these suggestions. Build the confidence that you are cleaning fabrics not just to improve their appearance, but also to prepare them to properly accept protector so the customer can receive the value they expect.

An industry trainer and consultant, Jim Pemberton is president of Pembertons Cleaning & Restoration Supplies. Pemberton is the Cleanfax magazine 2007 Person of the Year. He has more than 40 years of experience in the cleaning and restoration industry. You are invited to visit his website at, or e-mail him at [email protected].


Cleanfax Staff

Cleanfax provides cleaning and restoration professionals with information designed to help them manage and grow their businesses.

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