Tools of the Trade: Upholstery Cleaning
December 11, 2008
If you were cleaning textiles in the early 1970s as I was, you may have struggled as I did with the lack of equipment available to clean upholstery. The tool I first used with my portable extractor was a spray gun to squirt on the solution and a hand-vacuum head (the same kind they used at a carwash to vacuum the car out) for extraction.
The machines, tools, and chemicals were just being thought of and slowly brought to market as we moved into the mid ‘70s. It was a great help as manufacturers began to introduce machines designed for upholstery cleaning that would heat the solution and handle solvents at the same time. They developed cleaning tools that were designed for the low pressure, high heat applications and they were actually quite comfortable to use. Several machines are still manufactured and offer great versatility in cleaning. I cut my teeth using these types of portable machines and prefer them for specialty, high-end upholstery cleaning.
While this article concentrates on some of the tools available for turning you and your truckmount into an excellent upholstery-cleaning duo, I must say I believe there is much more to successful cleaning of upholstery than a hand tool or the machine. Much more depends on the experience and training of the technician. In addition, a qualified technician will carefully test the upholstery to be cleaned and make a determination as to what techniques and chemistry should be used. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you avail yourself of one of the many upholstery-cleaning training classes taught by some of the great trainers in our industry.
That said, let’s look at some of the upholstery cleaning tools available today to give you more information as you look to add upholstery cleaning to your offering, or perhaps improve your current operation by moving up to a superior tool. (Author’s Note: Please understand that I cannot mention every tool available; there just isn’t the space. I selected five I believe to be some of the most widely used; I am not going to push my favorites, because each of these tools is held in high regard by their many raving fans.)
Kleenrite Jet By-Pass Tool
This tool is very comfortable to use. It has a low-profile enclosed vacuum chamber that eliminates overspray. Kleenrite was one of the early innovators in portables and tools for upholstery cleaning. This tool was developed based on the portable tool with specific adaptations for truckmount use. It has a built-in bypass to ensure constant hot water while cleaning, and adjustable vacuum release that allows for delicate upholstery cleaning – even with truckmounts. Designed with an aluminum head for durability and lightness, the head swivels 360 degrees, allowing for operator comfort. With a rounded leading edge, it allows for strokes in the forward and backward direction. The tool also comes with a 5-foot smooth lead hose to keep the connectors away from the furniture.
Prochem Upholstery Tool
Another comfortable tool introduced many years ago, the Prochem upholstery tool is made of stainless steel for the durability required for years of usage. The polished stainless steel finish reduces snagging and hang-ups and comes with a 10-foot hose and internal solution line. The tool features a built-in bypass to maintain desired water temperature and provide an even chemical flow. The tool includes a vacuum breaker that will adjust suction for different job requirements.
Hydry Upholstery Tool
Made of stainless steel, this Hydro-Force designed version of an internal spray tool integrates the spray jet into the vacuum chamber, creating a compact tool that is easy to use in tight places. With the spray directly combined with the vacuum, a vacuum relief slide can be adjusted and actually controls the amount of moisture hitting the fabric. Designed to use the high flow and pressure from a truckmount for better cleaning, the Hydry comes with 6-feet of vacuum hose and internal pressure hose. This tool will work with portables or truckmounts from 30 - 500 PSI, and is available in 3.5-inch or 4.5-inch widths.
The driMASTER tool manufactured by HydraMaster is one of the industry’s most popular tools. It incorporates a jetless technology where high volumes of solution flush soil out of the fabric. Over wetting and overspray is never a problem and the solution floods the surface fiber without wetting the backing. There is seldom a need for a vacuum stroke as the fabric is barely damp after the initial pass. The driMASTER does not have an on/off trigger; it has a volume-adjusting valve that allows for more or less solution flowing, the idea being to keep a steady flow of hot solution constantly moving. Never pulling a trigger makes the tool very comfortable to use. It has a low-profile head that fits into tight spaces, and the head has a sight glass for observing moisture removal. The driMASTER incorporates a solution swivel assembly and vac hose swivel cuff incorporated into its lead hose for easy flexible use.
The original Hydrokinetic tool was invented by Ron Toney many years ago and has recently been improved and updated.. The design allows the professional to use higher solution pressure and volume to achieve maximum cleaning without fear of over wetting. The angle of the spray in relation to the fabric produces a greater shear factor to remove soil form the fabric. The open port airflow chamber allows full kinetic force of the cleaning solution over the surface of the fabric, not through it, and at the same time removes the soil and cleaning solution prior to the final vacuum suction creating very quick dry times. The tool comes complete with a Teflon head for easy movement and 5-feet of vacuum and pressure lead hose.
I have cleaned upholstery with each of these tools. They all do a very good job – really! They are all designed for thorough cleaning and quick drying. So, which one should you buy? That will depend on your own technique and comfort level as you use the tools. Many of your local distributors will have loaners or rental tools to give you a chance to experience the individual benefits. Find your favorite, get training and get to work in a very rewarding field – upholstery cleaning.