Cleaning & Restoration Association News

The Upside to Upholstery Cleaning

October 12, 2004
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I am often asked which I prefer more, carpet cleaning or upholstery cleaning. And while I enjoy the opportunity to restore a beat-up, heavily soiled carpet to an almost-like-new condition, I'll take upholstery cleaning any day.

Sure, upholstery cleaning has its ups and downs like any other specialty, but the "ups" far outstrip the "downs." Let's look at the advantages of adding and marketing this lucrative service to your clients.

Wear and tear. No, not to your equipment. Wear and tear of the physical variety is more what I had in mind. When cleaning upholstered furniture, our company sets up a workstation in front of the item being cleaned. Sheets are laid out over the muslin backing. Clean towels are placed alongside the tech where the assortment of tools, e.g. brushes, pre-conditioner spray bottle, spotters, etc., are placed. Hardwood floors, carpeting and other floor coverings (when not being cleaned) are also covered. Unlike carpet cleaning, there is no need to move furniture around. The item is right in front of you, resulting in much less wear and tear on the body.

Number of techs required. Simple: just one. While two techs are arguably necessary on many carpet-cleaning jobs, it only takes one qualified tech to clean upholstery. This translates to bigger profits per man-hour.

Consider this: A two-man crew takes approximately one hour to clean a living room/dining room combination for $98. One tech can easily clean a sofa/loveseat combination in that same time for $109. Of course, these rates vary by region and item condition, but you get the picture: larger profits and less physical work.

Now for the downside.

Training. Unfortunately, many professionals jump into upholstery cleaning without the proper education and training. While some material can be safely wet-cleaned without problems, others cannot. Dry cleaning, shampooing, etc., are required for some fabrics, which leads us to:

Liability. I've never known a cleaner who had to buy a "ruined" wall-to wall carpet, but I have known several who found themselves with a "new" sofa or chair!

Many of the problems encountered in upholstery cleaning are caused by improper drying or over-wetting some of the more delicate fabrics such as cotton chintz, taffeta and velvet, not to mention the infamous Haitian and Tahitian cottons (these particular materials used to send fear straight into the hearts of cleaners everywhere).

Other jobs turn into trouble when you least expect it. I can remember a job I did about 20 years ago involving a black, satin-textured cotton sectional. The piece was in great shape and required a light cleaning. Using an upholstery-foam cleaning agent, I prepared to dry extract with my upholstery tool.

As I passed the hand tool over the fabric, thin vertical lines appeared. It looked like the tool was actually scratching the material. I immediately stopped, explained the situation to the client, and declined the job. I had taken several upholstery cleaning courses at that point, yet still found myself with a potential problem. The sucking action from the tool was actually causing fabric pulls. The material ended up requiring hand cleaning with soft chamois cloth and dry solvent but, at that point, I did not perform that type of service. End result? Money out of my pocket and into someone else's.

The ability to offer upholstery cleaning is a necessity for any carpet-cleaning firm. Everyone has furniture, and it all needs to be cleaned sometime. If you don't do it for your client, another company will. With proper training, education, and some hands-on experience, upholstery cleaning may very well become your favorite, and most lucrative, service.

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