Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Restoring Lamp Shades

September 13, 2000
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Often, contents restoration includes “soft items,” such as lamp shades framed by delicate fabrics or acetate. Following the recommended steps will leave you and the insured pleased with the results.

In this series on “soft” contents restoration, we’ll be discussion lamp shades. Lamp shades are composed of a metal frame covered by a thin, somewhat delicate fabric of acetate, silk or some other light resistant fabric (even cardboard!). This fabric may be wrapped around the frame at the top and bottom and it may be sewn or glued in place. In addition, decorative trim may be applied to the top or bottom, and it too may be stitched or glued on. If glued, cleaning may dissolve the adhesive, causing the trim to fall off. If the decorative trim is dyed, anticipate that color may bleed during cleaning.

Today, many lamp shades are made of inexpensive, moisture and sun-resistant acetate. Cleaning acetate lamp shades is considerably less complicated than it was when they were made of all-natural fibers such as cotton or silk—even cardboard—and were limited to cleaning with dry sponge techniques exclusively. Even today, they are considered rather delicate objects.

Restoration Procedures

Dry Soil Removal Techniques: In light-to-moderate soot damage situations, the majority of today’s lamp shades are cleaned, as in the past, using “dry” techniques only (particularly if made of cardboard). Grasp the lamp shade by the metal frame only (never allow oily fingers to contact the fabric), and begin by blowing off light, loose soot with a controlled air source—you! A power blower or hair dryer (cool setting) may be used, as long as you’re careful not to damage the fabric that’s stretched over the frame with excessive air force. Gentle vacuuming using a perforated drapery tool also is possible. Dry Sponging: Next, thoroughly wipe down the shade, both inside and out, with a dry cleaning sponge. If the shade’s material is paper based, this is all you can do! Obviously, this means that many shades of this type must be replaced when smoke damage is severe. Indeed, using any “wet” cleaning technique on lamp shades involves an element of risk. Wet Cleaning: As mentioned, many newer lamp shades are made with acetate fabric. This allows more aggressive chemical cleaning techniques to be used, if dry soil removal procedures fail to produce satisfactory results. Chemical cleaning may occur on either the dry (dry solvent) or wet (water-based detergent) side. However, due to a lamp shade’s normal elevated position within the room (consider heat line), combined with smoky air circulation and the inevitable light color of the shade’s fabric, don’t expect dramatic results when shades are dry cleaned. And although water-based cleaning produces better results, the element of risk is greater as well, especially when older, degraded fabrics or adhesives are involved. Procedures for this process include: Coordination: First, as with any risky or salvage cleaning procedure, make sure that complete coordination has been made with the insurance representative (agent, adjuster) responsible for payment of the claim. Tactfully remind him or her that you didn’t manufacture the shade and that, if it falls apart during cleaning, we’re back to restoration option number three - replacement. Obviously, if scorching or stiffening of the fabric due to excessive heat exposure is apparent, replacement is the only practical option anyway. Chemical Application: Following dry soil removal, select an area where a little overspray or dripping won’t harm flooring (patio, carport, garage, bathtub), and, holding the lamp shade by its metal frame, spray a uniform application of mildly alkaline, upholstery pre-conditioner onto it. Make your application from bottom to top, both inside and outside. Bottom-to-top application prevents streaks that might complicate cleaning procedures. Next, gently agitate the preconditioning solution with a soft bristled brush (horsehair), for uniform chemical distribution and maximum soil suspension. Rinsing: After allowing a few minutes of dwell time and using your upholstery/drapery unit filled with warm water, spray the lamp shade liberally from top to bottom. Solution pressure should not exceed 50 psi due to the shade’s delicate construction, and the warm rinse solution should literally flush soil from the fabric, working from top to bottom, both inside and out. Drying: At this point the fabric is considerably damp, so it’s necessary to gently vacuum excess solution from the fabric using the perforated drapery tool that comes with your upholstery and drapery cleaning unit. Pay particular attention to vacuuming all excess moisture from around seam and frame areas where a double thickness of fabric is encountered; otherwise, water rings or circles may develop. Then, inspect the lamp shade carefully. Occasionally, a repeat of the preconditioning, brushing and rinsing process is needed for satisfactory results.

Finally, force dry the shade with plenty of air movement and sunshine when available. Failure to dry the shade quickly could result in rusting of the metal frame, water rings developing around seam or frame areas where fabric is attached, or even cellulosic browning when cotton or rayon fiber is encountered.

Multiple lamp shades can be cleaned efficiently in bath tubs using mild detergents, or even in sonic cleaning machines with sufficient capacity. Regardless of how they are cleaned, careful extraction of rinse water, followed by rapid drying is critical.

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