So, you have a stain on your upholstery fabric? Where do you go from here?

So, you have a stain on your upholstery fabric?  Where do you go from here?

Upholstery Stains

The first thing to do is to check the cleaning code for the fabric you’re suite is manufactured with. This is normally marked on a tab under the cushions on your suite.  There are several common fabric cleaning codes.  Fortunatelythey’re easy to remember:

  • S – Solvent clean (that is “dry-cleaning”)
  • W – Water clean
  • WS – Water or Solvent clean
  • X – No liquids, vacuum clean only

Sometimes (actually quite often) there is no label. Thankfully this is not a problem because you can clean almost all fabrics with a water-based cleaning system, if done carefully.  The most common tool is water-extractor upholstery cleaner (sort of like a wet-vac with a spray). If you are unsure what the material is then call us at West Cork Cleaning Services and we can advise you on how to determine what the fabric is.

What cleaner do I use?

When it’s just a spot then a factor more important than the cleaning code is to use what’s appropriate for the staining material.  You must use a cleaning solution that will clean the staining material.  The basic chemical rule is “Likes dissolve likes.”  There are two broad classes of solvents:

Polar solvents (e.g., Water-based).  They are called polar because they have a positive side and a negative side on a molecular level.  Use water-based cleaners for stains that are water-based:

  • Most foods
  • Body fluids (hair and skin oils, urine, vomit, blood, and faeces)
  • General overall soiling from use
  • Some inks.

Non-polar (e.g., hydrocarbon based).  Examples of these are odorless mineral spirits, acetone, citrus-oil-based cleaners.  You can use these sparingly with a cotton bud, swab or clean cloth. Use these cleaners for stains that are hydrocarbon or petroleum based:

  • Tar
  • Grease
  • Shoe polish (wax)
  • Candle wax
  • Some inks
  • Lipstick

Various cleaners work by attracting and holding the stain particles, using enzymes to break them down, attacking them with acidity or alkalinity, adding or removing oxygen from the stain, or changing them chemically into something that is easy to remove.

 NOTE: Before using any cleaner, test on an inconspicuous spot for damage or color loss before attacking a stained area.  Fabrics with a rubberized backing may be damaged by non-polar solvents.  Put a bit of the cleaner on a clean towel or swab and rub and press against the fabric for several minutes and observe any colour transfer or discoloration.

For spot stains you should circle the stain with solution and work your way inward to keep the stain from bleeding away. Don’t remove the fabric from cushions when cleaning or you may never get it back on correctly if it shrinks or skews.

What are the most important factors of cleaning?

If you think about any cleaning you do, whether it’s your washing machine, your shower, or washing your car, there are four important factors, remembered as TACT.

Time – the amount of time that the cleaning solution is in contact with the stain.  Usually the more the better.

Agitation – a little mechanical agitation, tamping, or rubbing will help break up most stains.  Too much can start to abrade the fabric, though.

Chemical action – using the right solution and letting the chemicals do the work.

Temperature – most chemical reactions double in speed with every 18 degrees F (10 degrees C).  You can also help reach the melting or plasticizing point of some of the staining material to aid in its removal.

For almost any stain, if there is debris on the surface scrape it up and dry vacuum before beginning any wet cleaning.  Blot up liquid stains with a dry towel as soon as possible.

What are some problem fabrics for cleaning?

  • 100% cotton – this fabric “stains easily and cleans with difficulty.”  In addition, the darker colors such as reds and greens are prone to fading and color-bleed with water.  Some color bleed with dry abrasion on a white towel or general use. Consumers have a hard time believing that something as durable as jean material makes a lousy upholstery fabric.
  • Haitian cotton – this is cotton that’s minimally processed, usually white or off-white with little brown specs (sort of like vanilla bean ice cream).  The problem is, when wet, the lignin in the specs (the woody part of the cotton plant) bleed brown and turn the whole piece into a yellow-brown.  Avoid excessive water, dry quickly, and avoid excessively high pH (alkaline).  There are special cleaners for water-cleaning Haitian cotton.
  • Olefin – being a petrochemical, it loves petroleum and releases it with difficulty.

What are some problem stains for cleaning?

Blood – use hydrogen peroxide – My advice with blood is that this type of stain is best removed by using a professional upholstery cleaner. It is important that the area is properly disinfected and sanitised using a professional solution.

Ink – the longer ink sits, the more difficult it is to remove.  Most inks are like paint that sets up and the resins and pigments bind.  Ink stains also vary by color of ink and manufacturer.  Some inks are water-based.  Most are solvent based, so use a solvent cleaner or a special ink-removing cleaner.

Red food dye, found in red beverages, candy, some tomato products like ketchup or spaghetti sauce.  Call a professional for this type of stain. These require quite aggressive soltions to remove the stain.

Vomit, acne medicine, laundry bleach, etc.  Sometimes, these will bleach the dye out of fabric.  No cleaner will clean back lost color.

Rust – there are a number of specialized rust removing solutions, most of them are acid-based.  I’ve had luck using white vinegar on very fresh rust stains.

Animal or vegetable oil (including food stains, hair or body oil) – use an alkaline cleaner to saponify (turn the grease into “soap” like the pioneers made lye soap)

This information is provided to help you the consumer an occasional staining problem.  Use at your own risk and only after testing on inconspicuous areas or scrap fabric.  There are too many fabrics, dyes, and cleaners to ensure compatibility without testing.   It is collected from a variety of sources.

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