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Upholstered Furniture Care

Once you’ve purchased quality upholstered furniture, you’ll want to take the necessary steps to protect it from damage so it will last a very long time. The first step in buying upholstered furniture that will last is to select the right fabrics when you make your purchase.

Fabric selections should be based not only on beauty and comfort, but on the type of wear and abuse the upholstered furniture can be expected to experience in your home. Because each fiber has its own benefits, you’ll see a variety of blends used in furniture upholstery. Another factor for durability is how tightly the fabrics are woven. Common fabrics found in upholstered furniture include:

Nylon – Upholstery that includes nylon in the fabric is a great choice for furniture that will get a lot of usage. Today’s nylon is strong and has among the best soil resistance because of its acid dye resistors, so it wears better and cleans up easier than many other fabric choices.

Olefin – Olefin upholstery fabrics are made from solution-dyed yarns, so they are colorfast and excellent for withstanding sun fading. They also have a smooth hand feel, are resistant to most chemicals and possess good stain and soil resistance characteristics. Because olefin fabrics dry quickly, they resist damage from human perspiration and mildew. However, olefin is sensitive to heat. Although olefin is a man-made fabric, it is highly recyclable.

Cotton – Cotton has a soft feel, dyes well and provides fair resistance to sunlight. Stain resistance can be poor unless the fabric is specifically treated to resist stains.

Polyester – Most like cotton in appearance, polyester has good resistance to wear and sunlight and is somewhat sensitive to heat.

Rayon – Rayon dies well, has a soft feel and offers fair resistance to sunlight and wear.

Leather – Beautiful, comfortable, durable, elegant and surprisingly easy to clean and maintain. See the Leather Furniture Care page for tips on caring for your leather furniture.

Preventing Damage to Upholstered Furniture

The primary risks for upholstery damage and wear are sunlight, spills and soil.

Sunlight – If possible, keep upholstered furniture out of direct sunlight to avoid fading. You’ll especially want to avoid allowing the sun to shine on just a section of your upholstered furniture as any color fading that occurs will be uneven. If your upholstered furniture is near a window, use curtains, blinds, shades or window film to help keep the sun’s ultra-violet (UV) rays off of the fabric.

Spills – It’s only common sense to want to avoid spills on upholstered furniture. Depending on the soil resistance of your upholstery, spills can result in permanent stains, especially if they’re not discovered and treated immediately. This advice applies even to fabrics that have been specially treated for stain resistance.

Soil – If not removed regularly, soil can get ground into and embed itself in your upholstery. Regular vacuuming and brushing will prevent loose dirt from becoming embedded and difficult to remove.

Upholstered furniture should also be protected from temperature and humidity extremes. Excessive heat is bad for upholstery because it causes the fabric to become brittle and, as a result, more prone to wear. Extremes of humidity or dryness can also be harmful to furniture because overly moist air may lead to mold growth and both extremely dry or excessively moist air can weaken or damage the wood framing used in your upholstered furniture.

Cleaning Upholstered Furniture

Special soil and stain resistant fabric treatments may have been applied to the upholstery fabric when your furniture was manufactured. Additionally, some commercially available fabric protectants can be applied at home. However, even treated upholstery fabrics need regular care to maintain their good looks and durability.

Always follow any available cleaning instructions provided with your upholstered furniture. Care instructions are often provided on a label attached to or sewn on the furniture. For example, you’ll find care instruction labels for most sofas under the seat cushions and care instructions for most upholstered chairs on the underside of the seat.

Standardized Upholstery Cleaning Codes

In most cases, care instructions follow the standardized letter coding adopted voluntarily by the furniture industry in 1969. One of four letters or letter combinations is commonly used, although you may occasionally encounter variations depending on the manufacturer:

W - To prevent overall soil, frequent vacuuming or light brushing to remove dust and grime is a recommended step in furniture cleaning. Spot clean, using the foam only from a water-based cleaning agent such as a mild detergent or non-solvent upholstery shampoo product. Apply foam with a soft brush in a circular motion. Vacuum when dry. Pretest a small area before proceeding. Use a professional furniture cleaning service when an overall soiled condition has been reached.

S - To prevent overall soil, frequent vacuuming or light brushing to remove dust and grime is recommended. Spot clean using a mild water-free solvent or dry cleaning product. Spot clean using a mild water-free solvent or dry cleaning product. Clean only in a well ventilated room and avoid any product containing carbon tetrachloride, which is highly toxic. Pretest a small area before proceeding. Furniture cleaning by a professional cleaning service only is recommended.

W-S (sometimes shown as SW) - To prevent overall soil, frequent vacuuming or light brushing to remove dust and grime is recommended. Spot clean, with a mild solvent, an upholstery shampoo, or the foam from a mild detergent. When using a solvent or dry cleaning product, follow instructions carefully and clean only in a well ventilated room. Avoid any product which contains carbon tetrachloride, which is highly toxic. With either method, pretest a small area before proceeding. Use a professional furniture cleaning service when an overall soiled condition has been reached.

X - Clean this fabric only by vacuuming or light brushing to prevent accumulation of dust or grime. Water-based foam furniture cleaners or solvent based furniture cleaning agents of any kind may cause excessive shrinking, staining or distortion of the surface pile and, therefore, should not be used.

Upholstered Furniture Care Tips

Here are a few tips for keeping your upholstered furniture looking its best for a very long time:

Vacuum upholstered furniture regularly. Once per week is recommended. You can also brush lightly to remove dust and dirt. Use your vacuum’s upholstery brush attachment (making sure the brush is clean) and use the crevice tool to vacuum hard-to-reach areas.

Where possible, rotate and reverse cushions frequently. Fluff up loose pillows. This is easy to remember since you’ll want to remove loose cushions during vacuuming.

Clean spills and stains promptly – before they set. When spot cleaning upholstered furniture, follow the manufacturer’s directions and pre-test the fabric for discoloration and shrinkage on a less noticeable part of the upholstery. For cleaning an entire piece of upholstered furniture, professional cleaning usually provides the best results.

As a rule, removing cushion covers or arm caps for separate cleaning is not recommended. Doing so can damage backing materials and may cause fabric shrinkage and/or undesirable color variations with the rest of the upholstery.

Don’t use upholstery cleaners on non-fabric furniture elements. Wood, metal and other component materials in upholstered furniture may be damaged by any fabric cleaning or stain removal products you may use for spot cleaning the upholstery.