I can remember sitting in a UCSB Chemistry Lab years ago, staring out the window toward the blue Pacific and thinking, “When will I ever use this stuff?”
I knew I wasn’t studying to become a scientist—did I really need to understand pH, or diffusion, or UV rays? Well fortunately, I grasped the material pretty well and passed the course. Little did I know that I’d actually use this knowledge to clean upholstery—and I’m still learning, attending industry seminars on the latest fabrics and cleaning techniques.
Years ago, when we made the decision to clean furniture in addition to carpeting, I had no idea how big a step we were making. It’s taken years to master the art and science of it—and a bit of luck. Carpet cleaning does require a knowledge of chemistry, carpet fibers and equipment to produce the excellent results you expect of us. But upholstery cleaning is full of surprises and challenges for the unwary.
So Many Variables
Let’s say your toddler has just expressed her artistic ability on your favorite jacquard-covered club chair. Or your old dog’s taken to napping in the corner of your green, velvet-covered tuxedo sofa. Just the other day, a woman told me that when she ordered her natural, Haitian cotton-covered armchair, she never imagined her husband would decide to read his morning paper in it. And then there’s ultra-suede—great for evening wear but big trouble on a love seat. There are just so many variables to consider. In addition to type of stain, there are literally hundreds of fabrics that get stretched and tucked around furniture frames and cushions. Each fabric has a fiber type, finish, dye or print and level of quality. Then we have to consider the quality and variety of the upholsterer’s handiwork.
Faders and Bleeders
At Coleman’s, every upholstery cleaning job is unique. Sometimes, we have to use a different cleaning technique on each cushion of the same sofa. Print fabrics actually have ink painted on the surface of the fibers. We have to remove the dirt and oil without removing any ink and fading the beautiful color print. We call some jacquards “bleeders” because if we don’t carefully follow the right cleaning procedure, the color from one fiber can bleed into an adjacent fiber and you’ll think we delivered the wrong chair to your house. The natural Haitian cottons often harbor hidden dangers. Small brown flecks of cotton bowl shell are left in the yarn and may produce an ugly brown stain when dampened. It makes spot cleaning them difficult—perhaps you’ve tried it yourself, only to find a brown ring around the area you cleaned. We treat the faders and bleeders with kid gloves—and very special cleaning techniques.
Shrinking, Wrinkling, & Stretching
Some fabrics shrink while others stretch. Fortunately, we know which fabrics go which direction and clean accordingly. We often use steam pressing and occasionally even redo a seam on a cushion so that the couch we return to your home looks as crisp and sharp as you’d expect. In short, we use whatever it takes to produce the right result for that particular fabric on that piece of furniture. With velvets, the trick is to deep-clean the fabric without losing the soft, uniform feel of the nap. Even we’ve been surprised a few times over the years. Occasionally, upholsterers will mark fabric on the back side with the wrong marker. Thinking we’ve chosen just the right cleaning and drying technique, we’re shocked to see the upholsterer’s marks bleed up to the fabric surface. As I said, sometimes furniture cleaning requires a bit of luck.
Don’t Do-It-Yourself Spot Cleaning
I’m sure you’re beginning to see why we often dissuade customers from trying to spot-treat furniture stains themselves. Awaiting the amateur are water rings, uneven fading, stained fabric because of the wrong cleaning agent, fabric browning because of the wrong pH, color bleeding and loss of surface texture. There’s a really good chance the stained area will look worse than before you started. We don’t even recommend do-it-yourself Scotchgarding.
This may sound like more of a sales pitch than past issues but I want you to know the truth. Cleaning furniture is an art and a science—it’s not for the weak of heart. Hey, I’m just glad I stayed awake in class back at UCSB. Now I know that the wrong pH can make a white couch brown. And that’ll make my customer’s face red. So tell your kids to pay attention in school and be sure to call us when you need your furniture cleaned!