Five Upholstery Cleaning Myths

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It’s been said: “It ain’t what a man don’t know that gets him into trouble, it’s what he knows that just ain’t so!”

So, it seems to be with some of the myths that continue to be perpetuated in our industry.

Each of the following myths have basis in fact — as do many cultural myths — but also have flaws in them that can cost you time, customer goodwill and often money if you fall into the trap of believing them.

  1. Dry cleaning is always the safest way to go

Since problems related to upholstery cleaning — such as texture distortion, cellulose browning, color bleeding and color fading — are often associated with cleaning with water-based solutions, it seems that dry cleaning with solvents is the logical method to use when there is any doubt as to the possibility of damaging a fabric.

While this is sometimes. true, it’s not often true.

Dry cleaning solvents are the least likely to damage delicate textures like a chenille fabric made from rayon, but there is no guarantee that dry cleaning solvents will not cause color bleeding.

There are several ways to stabilize dyes, some of which use dye setting agents that allow for cleaning with water-based solutions.

While these methods are not 100 percent safe at all times, neither are dry cleaning solvents.

All cleaning and spotting products should be tested on the fabric that is being cleaned to assure that it is colorfast to those materials.

2. Always clean with the hottest water possible

Synthetic fibers, especially oil-loving fibers such as olefin and polyester, release oily soils readily when cleaned with hot cleaning solutions.

The use of hot water speeds cleaning and lessens the need for highly buffered alkaline cleaning detergents that might otherwise cause bleeding or fading of colors.

However, there are two distinct situations where “hot is not so hot:”

Non-colorfast fabrics: Depending on the cleaning agents used and the dyes that are present, there are times, contrary to popularly held belief, that hot water may contribute to color bleeding when warm water may not.

Synthetic fiber velvets: Under certain circumstances, such as heat spikes in equipment with poorly regulated heat systems, permanent distortion can occur when a burst of heat contacts some synthetic fiber velvet fabrics. Very warm, consistent temperature is safer on such fabrics than extremely hot water that might not be easily controlled.

3. The tags are accurate cleaning guidelines

There are two tags commonly found on furniture: Fiber content tags and cleaning code tags.

Both can be misleading.

Fiber content tags most always describe the material used for “fill” or “stuffing” in the furniture. If you see a tag that says the material is some percentage of cotton/polyester felt, it’s likely to describe the materials under the fabric you are cleaning. There are cases when you might discover tags that do list the fiber content of the fabric that you are cleaning, but this is very rare.

Cleaning code tags are actually colorfastness code tags used by furniture manufacturers to assist the consumer to determine which products they might use to maintain their fabric. These codes do not eliminate the need for you to do your own inspection and testing of the fabric.

While many cleaners find that the “S” code, which means “dry clean only,” is rarely accurate, you cannot overlook the fact that these codes do create questions and concerns for your customers.

You should discuss the codes, remind your customer that those codes are not a guarantee of cleanability and that, in the end, it is you and your customer who must agree to what method best suits their needs.

Never for a moment should you believe that blindly following these codes will release you from responsibility if you damage the material in any way. These codes are merely guidelines, not guarantees.

4. Fiber ID tests are useless

Many cleaners become frustrated when they attempt to perform burn testing on upholstery fabric.

Because a variety of fibers may be blended when making upholstery fabrics, there are often conflicting results when such materials are burnt together.

In addition to the issue of blended fibers, there is also the fact that many fabrics have material applied to the back of the fabric to stabilize it that also creates false reads when a cleaner attempts to identify a specific fiber.

However, completely overlooking the benefits of understanding at least which fiber family is to be cleaned is not wise.

If your burn test can tell you, at the very least, if the fabric is made of natural fibers, synthetic fibers or blends of both, you have a better understanding of the risks of cleaning such a fabric and what soil removal levels might be possible than if you do not know how to determine the basic fiber family.

5. Synthetics are “trouble-free”

While it is often true that synthetic fiber fabrics — those that contain nylon, olefin, polyester or acrylic — are easier to clean and are very unlikely to experience color or fiber distortion problems, this “rule of thumb” is not always true.

A few examples include:

Heat damage to synthetic velvets: As described earlier in this article, synthetic velvets may be permanently distorted by high temperature cleaning.

Color bleeding: Some synthetic fibers, especially acrylic and sometimes nylon, may not be as colorfast as you might expect. Surprisingly, more than a few acrylic fiber fabrics have been found to bleed to dry cleaning solvents and solvent-based protectors.

Debunk the myths

Debunking these commonly held myths is not meant by any means to frighten cleaners away from cleaning upholstery.

Instead, it is meant to protect you from needless and potentially expensive claims and to remind you that the best way to prevent these problems is to rely on your own tests and evaluations and not on some things that “just ain’t so” — or, at least — not so all of the time.

 


An industry trainer and consultant, Jim Pemberton is president of Pemberton”s Cleaning & Restoration Supplies and West Penn Cleaning Company, McKeesport, PA. Jim 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 www.ecleanadvisor.com, or e-mail him at [email protected].

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