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The abundance of various fabrics and fibres 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. In furniture, you can find fibres 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. A large percentage of commercial carpet is nylon or a combination of nylon and olefin (polypropylene), typically at an 8-12% blend. A large portion of residential carpet is nylon, then olefin and polyester, while wool takes a single-digit share.

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

Browning occurs when the lignin in natural plant fibres 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.

To test if the colour runs, apply your strongest, heated 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 colour transfer after 10 minutes, you have generally a colourfast piece.

Be sure to also test the chemical with agitation, to see if there could be a ‘crocking’ problem.

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

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

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

  1. Fiber ID test kit
  2. Portable or truckmount extractor with upholstery cleaning tool
  3. Pump-up sprayers
  4. Trigger sprayers
  5. Horsehair brushes
  6. White cotton towels
  7. 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
  8. Upholstery cleaning preconditioner, preferably with solvency to break down oils, mixed according to directions
  9. Solvent or water-based protector
  10. Neutral or acid rinsing agent, mixed according to directions
  11. Colour stabilizer agents
  12. Spot/stain removal kit
  13. And anything else you think you need for your furniture cleaning system, such as cotton bonnets and agitation tools.
Jeff Cross

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