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How To Earn a Great Living by Cleaning Fine Fabrics

How to Clean Fine Fabrics

There are numerous ways to earn a great living in the Cleaning and Restoration Industry. Tile & grout cleaning, fire & water damage restoration, residential carpet cleaning, commercial carpet cleaning, etc., all offer some great opportunities. Each option has potential problems and dangers.

Let’s not forget the cleaning of fine fabrics, especially regarding upholstery.

Never think that if you can clean carpet, you can clean any fabric.

Furniture, draperies, and other fine tapestries require very special attention. However, there are riches to be had for those that master the cleaning of these.

If you become an expert in the cleaning of delicate fabrics, you will carve a niche out for yourself that will be virtually competition-free, and you can charge whatever you wish! BUT even more so than in other areas of our industry.

If you are going to specialize in delicate fabric care, you should have all of your ducks in a row! So, this article will warn you about common dangers and how to address each case.

Are you interested in the possibility of making more money in the cleaning industry? Dumb question! Of course, you are! But before you jump in head first, carefully study this article and determine if Fine Fabric Cleaning is for you!

Thinking you can clean fine fabrics just because you clean carpet is like saying you can safely fly a jumbo jet just because you have been a passenger on one several times. The challenge is that cleaning fabrics made from olefin, nylon, polyester, and acrylic is similar to cleaning carpet and offers minimal risk.

BUT the cleaning of wool, cotton, linen, rayon, and even a little silk is not for the faint of heart. If you aren’t cautious, you will be the proud owner of a living room full of furniture that doesn’t match!

On the upside, IF YOU CAN successfully learn the niche of fine fabric cleaning and restoration you can build a virtually competition-free business where you can charge whatever you want! So, let’s look at some of the risks of fine fabric cleaning BEFORE you plunge into this potentially disastrous pool.

BROWNING

Veteran cleaners remember browning from the days of jute-backed carpet. Today’s carpet has synthetic backing and cannot brown. Wonderful! But fine fabrics are the flip side of carpet. A high percentage of upholstery fabric being sold today is made from cotton, linen, rayon, and blends.

These materials are stylish, take dye well, and have a great feel. BUT they are also CELLULOSIC (plant-based) and are prone to browning in the presence of water and is accelerated by alkalinity. Understanding the chemistry of fabric cleaning can prevent browning.

BLEEDING

This is a loss of color by the fabric or yarn when contacted by water due to improper drying or the use of poor-quality dyes. High-alkaline cleaners will increase the chance of bleeding. High temperatures will accelerate the reaction as well. Your primary over-wetting problems will occur on “transition areas” such as seams, buttons, piping, and the crevice area.

Most of these problems can be avoided by proper upholstery tool technique, which means you will get the correct extraction of the cleaning solution. A sloppy, rushed technician spells disaster in the cleaning of fine fabrics.

Potential bleeders and bleeding causes:

  • Jacquards – thicker material, natural fibers, deep colors

  • Prints – surface dyeing

  • Contrasting welts – improper tool technique over wets the welt (piping), which may contain absorbent stuffing.

  • Dark color decking, fugitive

  • Needlepoint

  • Tapestries

  • Residue from previous professional or homeowner cleaning can be a significant cause of bleeding.

CROCKING

Rubbing a dye from a piece of fabric because of insufficient dye penetration or fixation. Crocking occurs typically when the fabric is dry but requires a bit of agitation. A person sitting on a white chair with new blue jeans may leave a blue tint on the chair. Darker colors, especially linen fabrics, are prone to crocking.

COLOR LOSS

This differs from bleeding in that it is a pre-existing condition. This is very prevalent in polished cotton or chintz fabrics. The pattern is screen printed and not very durable. When the piece is heavily soiled, the printed design is obscured by soil. Over time agitation (wear) combined with soiling and poor maintenance causes the pattern to disappear.

The unsuspecting cleaner removes the soil and is blamed for removing the pattern. This can also result from an old urine stain that has attacked the dye but is not noticeable due to soiling. Pre-inspection and communication can prevent this problem.

You can demonstrate the loss of sheen to the customer by placing a drop of water on the back skirt where it will not penetrate and then do the same on the cushion or arm. The problem can be avoided IF you spot it and show the customer BEFORE you do the cleaning!

SHRINKAGE

Once again, synthetic material rarely shrinks. But this is NOT the case with cotton. Just look at all those cotton T-shirts in your drawer. Look carefully at the skirt on the piece you are inspecting. A slight bow where the skirt meets in the middle indicates previous shrinkage. Additional shrinkage can be prevented by tightly pinning the skirts together in the front and at the four corners before cleaning.

NOTE: You can avoid the dreaded “Heightened Awareness Syndrome,” where you get blamed after your cleaning for the previous cleaner’s sins, by pre-qualifying the customer beforehand and showing them what you will do to prevent the problem from worsening.

TEXTURAL DISTORTION

Usually, this occurs on velvet weave and is worse on natural yarn fabric. Pile fabrics such as velvet, corduroy, and chenille can potentially hide large amounts of dry soil. It is critical to vacuum these pieces thoroughly. Otherwise, soil wicking can cause it to have a muddied, splotchy appearance.

Following cleaning, the piece should be carded with a carding brush. If the fabric is synthetic, this may be done upon completion of the entire piece. If it is a natural fiber, each section must be carded immediately following extraction. Failure to do so will cause stiffness in the fabric. This produces the illusion of color changes, and you may be blamed for it.

QUILTED FABRICS

These fabrics use at least three layers of material and might resemble a bedspread quilt. A filling material made of cotton batting, down, or a polyester fiberfill is sandwiched between two decorative layers.

The layers are sewn together with a strong thread to keep the material from shifting. Due to the additional material and the unknown nature of the filling material, using minimal moisture is the answer.

FLOCKING

This is a process in which short nylon fibers (tow) are glued onto the surface of a base cloth. A machine creates an electrostatic charge allowing the fibers to be attached vertically. The fibers pick up the charge and align themselves vertically. Solvents can adversely affect the durability of these fabrics. Agitation should be minimized, particularly on the arms and headrest areas.

SILK

Silk is a natural fiber derived from silkworms and is considered to be the most luxurious of fibers. Silk-covered dining room chairs with matching drapes are frequently found in upscale homes. Clean evenly with a mild pH 5-7 solution. Silk tends to water spot even with petroleum-based spotters. Minimize agitation on satin weave fabric, which can snag easily. Use a moderate temperature solution and dry evenly to prevent water rings.

HAITIAN COTTON

Listen closely, and you might hear the anguished cries of cleaners who have suffered the tragedy of Haitian Cotton. Two decades ago, it was a problem. Haitian Cotton has minimal processing and contains brown seeds and high amounts of LIGNIN which can cause extreme browning.

Today real Haitian Cotton (not synthetic imitations) is hard to find. If you should encounter genuine Haitian Cotton, use a product designed for this fabric. VacAway Safe-N-Soft is an excellent choice. Chem-Spec Haitian Cotton Cleaner is also very good.

MICROFIBERS

You can relax now! Microfibers are usually polyester fibers that, because of their tiny denier, can mimic other fabrics such as suede and leather. They are very easy to clean even though many consumers (and cleaners) are worried about them. So, you will be a HERO on these!

In addition to the concerns listed above, there is that other concern about meeting customer expectations:

♦ Many customers are not even aware that fabrics can be cleaned.

♦ They believe that the over-priced, “magic fabric protector” the salesmen sold them will prevent the sofa from soiling.

♦ They expect the fabric to look brand new after cleaning.

♦ They don’t have much input on carpet selection but spend much time selecting fabrics. Their effort invested creates an emotional involvement. Worse yet is when a snooty but totally clueless interior decorator has helped the homeowner choose the fabric.

♦ Customers have no idea what it should cost to clean a sofa. The only comparison they have is to carpet cleaning, and their experience in pricing comes from the coupons they receive in the mail. A few may even ask if you can just “run over” their cushions while you are cleaning the carpet!

After reading all of the above, you may wonder why you would want to clean fine fabrics! Easy- competition-free, easy work- IF you do it right! For the trained, conscientious technician, fine fabric cleaning can be profitable. Just keep these four steps in mind:

Inspect and test every piece and communicate the findings to the customer. Set their expectations at a level, you can achieve or beat. When in doubt, it is best to walk away.

Take upholstery cleaning classes when available.

Follow the laid-out principles and choose the method safest for the fabric.

Remember, your responsibility is to clean the fabric to the best of your ability without affecting the color or texture.

Leave the fabric on the acidic side. (VacAway Safe-N-Soft is a great way to leave the fabric soft and a bit on the acid side.

Get it dry.

Here are a few tools and products you will need:

Portable with heat or a truck mount and upholstery tool

  1. VacAway Safe-N-Soft

  2. Spotting Kit

  3. Horsehair brush

  4. Carding Brush

  5. Natural Sponge

  6. Vacuum

  7. Misc., such as towels, buckets, etc.

A talented “fine fabric” cleaner will make more money than a carpet cleaner and will require less equipment to do so. Carpet cleaning is for young guys, but fabric cleaning is for smart guys!

That is IF you do it right!

Learn more about Encapsulation Carpet Cleaning