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Furniture fabrics and the professional cleaner

by Jeff Cross 

Furniture cleaning is not carpet cleaning.

The abundance of various fabrics and fibers in furniture makes furniture a bigger challenge, but for many pieces, it’s still possible to clean them quickly and efficiently – after testing to determine the best cleaning system.


For more information and to see other technical bulletins that will help your business or facility, click here .


In furniture, you can find fibers such as polyester, cotton, polypropylene, rayon, acrylic, nylon, wool, acetate, linen and others.


Most furniture fabrics are blends of the above.


This can make furniture cleaning a potential nightmare to both the experienced and inexperienced alike.


But with some simple testing procedures in place — along with an effective cleaning system — furniture cleaning for your customers or facilities is a project that can be both profitable and safe.


Most cleaners get themselves into trouble because they treat furniture cleaning as they do carpet cleaning.


(Click here for carpet fiber identification information. The information is good for both carpet and furniture fiber ID)


The key is to step back and say to yourself: “I need to find out what material this piece of furniture is made from, and clean accordingly.”


A large percentage of commercial carpet is a combination of olefin (polypropylene) and nylon, typically at an 88 to 12 percent blend.


A large portion of commercial carpet is nylon, while wool takes a single-digit share.


Nylon is king of the residential market.


Most furniture fabrics , however, are a blend — but not the type of blend found in carpet. Cotton and polyester is a typical blend, and it’s the cotton component that can cause trouble.


Look at the following photo. The upholstery fabric is mainly polyester, which means it is easy to clean and hard to damage in your cleaning process, despite its “soft” look and feel. The tech is using high heat and agitation and, after cleaning, grooms the cleaning tool marks from the piece:



If you need information on cleaning heavily soiled furniture quickly and effectively, click here to read a technical bulletin on proper steps and procedures.


For special chemistry to handle cleaning challenges, click here. The information is good for both carpet and furniture cleaning.


This next photo shows a piece of furniture that is a bigger challenge. The fiber content is cotton.



This doesn’t mean it is hard to clean, but you have to keep in mind the limitations in heat, moisture, agitation and chemistry.


The difference is that you can clean the first piece with more moisture, higher heat, agitation and stronger chemistry, but the second one you must be careful with, especially with moisture and chemistry.


For you commercial cleaners: Don’t assume that you won’t see delicate fabrics and fibers in commercial buildings.
Interior decorators are known for their wicked sense of humor.


Testing is a must


Test each piece you will clean, with fiber ID as the first step.


The contents tag on furniture is not for you. It indicates the filling content of furniture. Ignore it.


If there is a cleaning code on the piece (S for solvent cleaning, W for water cleaning, and X for dry vacuum only), you can use it as a guide, but don’t rely on it — except for the X, in which case you would only dry vacuum unless you are looking for trouble.


Why not rely on furniture cleaning codes?


Scenario: A tired replacement worker on a Friday night at the furniture plant slaps incorrect tags onto the furniture you are about to clean. Do you really want to trust those tags?


Mistakes can happen.


Being cautious


Some reasons to be cautious with furniture are due to cellulosic browning and color loss.


Browning occurs when the lignin in natural plant fibers break apart and wick, or move, to the fiber surface.


Lignin is a natural component found in cellulosic materials, and the less processed a fiber is, the more lignin you may find.


To be safe, use less moisture and less alkalinity in your cleaning process. That limits cellulosic browning opportunities.


If you do create a cellulosic browning problem, reverse the pH. Most browning problems are corrected with a formulated acid rinse or treatment. Follow manufacturer directions.


Dye loss or bleeding is more common with natural fabrics. If a fabric has a floral or print design, allow that warning bell in your head to make a difference in your judgment.


Those colors may move only a small fraction of an inch, but that’s all it takes to be called into court and be forced to replace the piece.


To test for colorfastness, apply your strongest cleaning agent onto an inconspicuous spot (such as on the inner skirt on the back of the piece) and clamp a white cotton towel onto the wet area.


If you have no color transfer after 10 minutes, you have — generally — a colorfast piece.


If you have tested your furniture and found natural fibers are present, and/or there might be a colorfastness concern, one option is a low-moisture cleaning system.   


If you determine from the test that the fiber content makes the piece a candidate for wet cleaning with less colorfastness concerns, proceed accordingly.  

For cleaning steps and procedures for many furniture cleaning applications, especially severe soils, click here .


For those setting up a furniture cleaning system, the following list may prove beneficial:

  • Fiber ID test kit
  • Portable or truckmount extractor with upholstery cleaning tool
  • Pump-up sprayers
  • Trigger sprayers
  • Horsehair brushes
  • White cotton towels
  • Three percent hydrogen peroxide (or stronger if the furniture is heavily soiled), or sodium percarbonate (a powdered form of peroxide, but with high alkalinity, so be cautious) to mix with warm water in the trigger sprayer
  • Upholstery cleaning preconditioner, preferably with solvency to break down oils, mixed according to directions
  • Solvent or water-based protector
  • Neutral or acid rinsing agent, mixed according to directions
  • Color stabilizer agents
  • Spot/stain removal kit
  • And anything else you think you need for your furniture cleaning system, such as cotton bonnets and agitation tools

For more information and to see other technical bulletins that will help your business or facility, click here .


Is your company or facility in need of specialized and/or customized carpet or furniture cleaning training?

Click here for specific information on private classes.

We will customize a training session for you, at your facility or in your own city.



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