Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Cleaning Smoke-Damaged Window Treatments -- Part 2: Sheers, Top Coverings and Blinds

Restorers have been overwhelmed with stories of shrinkage, fabric deterioration, circling and sun streaking of window treatments. The probability of problems with is greatly reduced if restorers follow a few simple guidelines.

Sheers may be wet-cleaned on the window or on a worktable using a low-pressure, hot water injection/extraction unit.

Because of their elevated position, top coverings receive substantial soiling during a fire loss.
In Part 1 of this series, we covered draperies. In this edition, we’ll discuss sheers and top coverings.


Sheers are thin, light-colored woven fabrics that are usually found between windows and draperies. They’re designed to protect expensive drapery face fabrics from some of the adverse effects of light rays. In addition to illumination, light rays contain heat, which accelerates chemical reactions when pollutants from air currents are filtered out on drapery fabrics.

To compound the heat problem, light rays also have an actinic (energy) property that bombards drapery fabrics with invisible, high-energy rays, thus assisting in the destruction of chemical-weakened threads. Sheers provide a minor amount of protection for other fabrics and furnishings within a room, while they darken the room and help insulate as well.

Years ago, most sheers were made of cotton, which absorbed moisture and soil. These could be very difficult to clean, especially when smoke damaged. Like cotton drapery linings, cotton sheers were also subject to deterioration when the atmospheric pollutants that filtered out on them combined with moisture to form acids. Today, most sheers are made of sun-resistant, colorfast, chemical-resistant polyester. As with any light-colored fabric, sheers show the effect of smoke damage vividly. Fortunately for restorers, they clean exceptionally well, as long as the heat from the fire wasn’t too intense (scorching), or if the acid soot residue isn’t allowed to remain too long.

One important point: Although polyester sheers are durable and chemical resistant, that doesn’t mean the thread used to sew panels together or to sew in hems will be. During cleaning, cotton thread in polyester sheers has been known to disintegrate completely! Also, older sheers may display sun streaks that have nothing to do with the smoke damage. To avoid potential liability from these problems, inspect and test carefully, and explain the necessity for repair work before beginning.

There are three options available for the restoration of sheers:
In-home Washing

Since most sheers are easily machine washed, many insureds may volunteer to clean them themselves. In light smoke damage situations, this may be a practical alternative. Even when smoke damage is moderate to heavy (assuming that home appliances are still operational), you may want to remove the sheers, pre-treat them at their tops with a pre-conditioner to suspend heavier smoke staining, and then wash them in a home washer with an appropriate detergent. While the sheers are washing, you may have time to clean the draperies with on-location dry cleaning techniques. Upon completion of the wash cycle, place sheers in a dryer set on moderate heat and tumble them until almost dry. It’s important not to allow warm sheer fabrics to lie in the bottom of a dryer for even a few minutes, since this creates substantial wrinkling. Simply monitor the drying cycle and remove the sheers before the dryer stops. Remove one or two sheers and quickly rehang them while the rest continue to tumble; then, remove the remaining sheers for rehanging. Minor remaining moisture evaporates as the sheers hangs on the window, and wrinkles are not a problem.
On-location Cleaning

Sheers may be wet-cleaned on the window or on a worktable using a low-pressure, hot water injection/extraction unit. It’s a somewhat messy, time-consuming procedure but it’s possible when other options aren’t practical (washer availability, cost or the size of sheers). Be careful here: the delicate nature of a sheer fabric’s weave makes it easy to snag or otherwise damage.
In-plant Cleaning

Sheers may be transported to your facility for washing; or sheer curtains or “sheer draperies” (sheers with pleats, headers and decorator folds) may be taken to a dry cleaner for wet or dry cleaning and pressing, as necessary. When sheers of any type are heavily soiled, your dry cleaner may not have the heavy-duty pre-conditioner that you use regularly on carpet or upholstery. Therefore, it may be necessary for you to pre-treat heavily soiled sheers prior to wet cleaning for the subcontractor; or you may decide to provide the dry cleaner some of this product in a trigger sprayer. Otherwise, heavily smoke-stained sheers may be returned with graying along upper areas that were above the heat line.

Top Coverings

The term “top covering” encompasses a variety of materials that cover the top of windows, draperies or curtains. Included are valances, cornices and swags. Although the term valance refers to all top coverings, generally, valances are defined as fluffy, gathered materials that are “threaded” onto a curtain rod and placed at the top of a window over curtains or draperies. A cornice consists of a board or box on which fabric, usually matching custom-made draperies, is upholstered (stretched and attached). Like upholstered furniture, cornices may have foam pad or bats of polyester stuffer material located under the face fabric to create softer lines, smoother transitions around corners or better pattern definition. Swags are defined as material draped in loose symmetrical folds or “scallops” and attached to a top mounting board. The material is usually gathered (overlapped) in three or more sections and the pleats forming the folds are sewn in at the top of each section. Then the individual swags sections are attached in overlapping layers (nailed or stapled, but not stretched) onto the top mounting board.

Because of their elevated position, top coverings receive substantial soiling during a fire loss. Restoration of these top coverings usually is the same as that required for the fabric comprising the curtain or drapery located below or underneath.


Valances (material threaded or gathered on a curtain rod) associated with inexpensive curtains are normally washed—just like the curtain. Those associated with more expensive drapery fabrics are simply unthreaded from the rod and dry cleaned, along with the drapery.

Cornice Boards

Cornice boards, like upholstery, normally must be cleaned on-location. Usually, it’s best to clean them with the same dry cleaning method used to clean associated draperies—especially when materials used for both are the same. Cornices simply are dismounted from the L-brackets attaching them to the wall, and are clamped to the top of a five-foot ladder. Then, injection/extraction dry cleaning may be applied. When complete, place the cornice on a drop cloth for drying, and continue cleaning the drapery using the same ladder that served as your cornice mount. When the draperies are clean, and the headers are given a little time for drying (30 minutes), cornice boards may be remounted.

Occasionally, cornices may be subjected to more severe smoke damage than is associated draperies. Further, more aggressive in-plant dry cleaning may produce a discernable difference in color and appearance, compared to more the gentle, on-location dry cleaning. Result: Fabrics that appear considerably different to insureds. When this is the case, an additional option involves wet-cleaning stretched fabric on cornice boards. Carefully tested and carefully applied, wet cleaning may, as a last-ditch effort, “even up” the difference in appearance between the two.


Dismount and clean swags after clamping them to a ladder for safe, convenient accessibility. Vacuum thoroughly, dry sponge, and dry clean, usually with on-location injection/extraction techniques. Since the fabric isn’t stretched and attached to the mounting board, any form of wet cleaning is out of the question due to major shrinkage considerations.

When soot soiling is extremely heavy on swags, and on-location cleaning simply doesn’t allow you to achieve results comparable to in-plant dry cleaning, one additional option exists. That option involves dismounting the individual swags and cleaning them with the immersion processes. By the way, this option assumes that the overlapping folds creating the swaged effect are sewn in (usually the case), otherwise, dismounting by anyone other than an experienced drapery maker would create disaster upon attempting to remount! Even with the following procedures in mind, if you think you’ll have problems, subcontract the work to a decorator or drapery maker.

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