ICS Magazine

Cleaning Upholstery: Where the Science of Cleaning Becomes an Art

April 10, 2006


Back in late 1974 (yes, I am that old) I was getting ready for my day of cleaning appointments. My first appointment was a short drive to Mrs. Brown's home. She needed her living room carpet cleaned. No problem there; I had been doing this for four months already and was an "expert." She also asked if I could clean her two high-back cotton-velvet chairs. With a moment's hesitation - just enough time to take a deep breath - I told her, "No problem, I can do a great job on your chairs." After all, I had already cleaned two couches and a chair since getting started in the business, so I knew what I was doing.

Now, to spare you - but mainly me - the pain of re-telling the brutal details, let's just say that Mrs. Brown's two cotton-velvet chairs ended up looking like terrycloth rags by the time I was finished with them. All was not completely lost, as the upholstery could be cut up and used as hand towels in the bathroom. I got the chairs clean, but had no idea how to protect the look and feel of the velvet Mrs. Brown prized.

To make sure you don't find yourself in the same situation, let's look at a couple of tools and techniques to keep you out of trouble.

What to Look For

Any upholstered fabric with a raised pile can be a potential problem. We see many more microfiber and faux suede finishes today as opposed to the cotton velvets of years past. Our obligation as professionals is to return the upholstery, whatever the fiber, to like-new condition whenever possible. With this in mind, we must be prepared to groom the upholstery when it has a raised pile finish. If you simply scrub, extract, and do your regular cleaning, you run a risk of distorting the pile and creating an unhappy customer.

Clean It Safely and Effectively

Our space here is too short and the format too limited to give you all the proper techniques for cleaning velvet-type upholstery. Know that you must protect the integrity of the pile by extracting properly. Any pre-scrubbing must be done with caution using the proper tools. Please attend an IICRC upholstery cleaning school, or at the very least get a manual and read it. Your local distributor can help you get the training necessary to process this type of upholstery.

The Magic of Grooming

Perhaps you have come across a corduroy fabric with thick rows of raised pile just waiting for you to ruin it - or clean and groom it to perfection. Using the correct technique while cleaning, and then grooming with the proper tool, sets you up as a true professional and provides a backdrop for the statement, "Where the Science of Cleaning Becomes an Art." Using the grooming tools to return the upholstery to like-new condition is an art rather than just technique.

The Tools

The first tool every professional must have is the velvet carding brush. With more than 2,000 strands of cadmium-plated steel wire, this brush will groom and set the nap of fine velvets with no worry of texture damage. It is especially necessary when correcting a problem from a previous cleaning or from the spot remover the customer may have performed on the piece. If the pile is already distorted, the carding brush may be able to restore it, combining the right amount of stiffness with an abundance of steel strands to dig in and straighten out distorted pile.

The other important tool is the brass velvet brush. This brush has hundreds of fine brass bristles. Pick this brush up from your local distributor rather than a hardware store. The brass brush supplied through your distributor will have finer bristles than brushes the hardware store sells to clean barbeque grills. The brass brush is often used initially to groom the pile smooth after cleaning or sometimes used as a last step to smooth the pile after the carding brush. I find the brass brush especially useful when fluffing velvet that has been previously cleaned. You can also use one of these to remove pet hair from upholstery.

Using the proper tools proves to your customers that you are both a professional and an artist. Never assume they won't know the difference; the effects are apparent even to the layperson.