Correction without Destruction


If you clean a natural fiber fabric that contains cellulose fibers such as cotton, linen, or regenerated cellulose such as rayon, there is a risk that a condition known as cellulose browning may occur.

Fortunately, if you use one of the new generation “dry” upholstery cleaning tools combined with acidic cleaning detergents, your chance of causing browning is far less than it once was.

However, if you tend to clean all upholstery with “the same stuff I always use” — usually an alkaline cleaner — and use old-fashioned wet upholstery tools, browning is a much greater possibility.

Should you ever cause browning on upholstery, follow these steps to correct it.

Step 1: Remove the furniture from your customer”s house whenever possible. Most browning removal procedures require repeated applications, and visiting a home several times is costly to you, and annoying for your customer — which means it can become very costly to you if they tire of your visits before you have solved the problem.

Step 2: Clean the furniture using only an acidic rinse agent. This method will also remove the alkaline cleaning agent residues that contributed to the browning in the first place. In most cases, this method, along with rapid speed drying afterward, should remove most, if not all, of the browning. Depending on the extent of the staining, you can apply an absorbent spotting compound to the stained area after rinsing, and allow the moisture (and brown stain) to be absorbed into the powder. This method is best done in-plant.

Step 3: If Step 2 does not work, apply an acidic neutralizing treatment, preferably one that does not contain surfactants. The reason not to use a product with a surfactant is that this minimizes the need to re-clean the fabric because of additional residue from the surfactant component of the neutralizing treatment. Repeated cleanings and accumulated residue will cause texture changes.

Step 4: If Step 3 does not work, apply a reducing agent, one that again does not contain a surfactant. This type of product requires time to work, and has a strong odor, and in this case may leave a powder residue than can be vacuumed away without causing distortion. Be sure to do the post vacuuming step in-plant with a respirator, as the powder will irritate your respiratory system.

Step 5: If Step 4 doesn’t work, you will need to rinse the fabric again, dry quickly, and then use a non-chlorine oxidizing agent added to a neutral shampoo. This application will need to be followed by another acidic rinse application, and speed drying. This step may result in over whitening and texture distortion, and should be avoided whenever possible.

Repairing the damage

While your first goal should be to never allow browning to occur, research shows that when browning occurs, there is some weakening of the fibers as a result. Anything destructive to the fabric, however minor, should always be avoided. If browning does happen, your best choice is to attempt to remove it with Steps 2 and 3, repeating those steps as needed and drying quickly.

In this way, you have the best chance of removing the browning, and also minimizing texture distortion and bleaching that cause additional damage.

As stated earlier, such restoration is always better performed in a controlled environment. You will more quickly remove browning by going to the bleaching step first, which may seem like the best option, but this process often weakens and over-whitens the fabric.

Whether you are correcting your own mistake, or working on an insurance claim, the individual with the damaged fabric will “look for trouble.”

The gentler applications of mildly acidic products are the least likely to change the original color and texture of the fabric, and therefore create the most acceptable result for the customer.

**This article was originally published Mar 22, 2011.

An industry trainer and consultant, Jim Pemberton is president of Pemberton”s Cleaning & Restoration Supplies and West Penn Cleaning Company, McKeesport, PA. Pemberton is the Cleanfax magazine 2007 Person of the Year. He has more than 30 years of experience in the cleaning and restoration industry. You are invited to visit his website at, or e-mail him at [email protected].

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