Using Fabric Cleanability Codes to Clean Fabric

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Stains and spills happen, but knowing the cleanability code for your fabric helps you take good care of your upholstered furniture. And indeed, the easiest way to determine the correct method for cleaning your upholstery fabric is to refer to the manufacturer's label bearing W, S, W-S or just an X.

This is important because cleaning with the wrong products can damage the beautiful sofa that you paid good money for, and potentially even make the cleaned area look worse than before. The wrong cleaning products can cause more damage than your everyday dirt and stains. Most furniture fabrics now carry cleanability codes, which were adopted in 1969 to help determine the best and safest way to clean a particular fabric.

It even makes sense to be aware of it even before you buy a sofa because it helps you be aware of how easy or difficult it might be to maintain the fabric. And if you are concerned about having to clean with toxic chemicals, bring it up when you are selecting fabric for your sofa. Your salesperson can help you pick a fabric that doesn't call for solvents or chemicals.

Here is what each letter stands for:

Code “W”

Code “W” is used on fabrics that should be cleaned with water-based cleaning agents only. The best method is to spot clean using foam from only water-based cleaners or non-solvent cleaning products. And when you clean, it is best to apply foam with a soft brush (so as not to damage the fabric) in a circular motion, and vacuum when dry.

Code “S”

On fabrics bearing an “S” code, you should try to use a mild water-free cleaning solvent or dry cleaning product. If this is the case, make sure that your room is well ventilated and there are no open flames, such as from fireplaces, candles, or cigarette lighters. If you have concerns about the safety of these cleaning chemicals, try to purchase fabric that doesn't use this method of cleaning.

Code “W-S”

Code “W-S” fabrics can be cleaned with either water or solvent-based products. Use a mild solvent, an upholstery shampoo, or the foam from a mild detergent.

Code “X”

A fabric bearing code X should only be cleaned by vacuuming or gently brushing. Never use any cleaning agents at all. Any cleaning product whether water or solvent-based may cause staining, shrinkage, or distortion of the fabric surface pile.

General Cleaning Guidelines

There are a few other steps you can take to keep your fabric looking its best.

  • Regularly clean your fabric by vacuuming or light brushing.
  • Always check the code before deciding which cleaning products to use.
  • It is best to test cleaning products in an inconspicuous area first to guard against color bleeding or fabric shrinkage.
  • When a liquid is spilled, try to blot as much of it as possible. Sometimes that is all you need to do.
  • Follow all additional directions and advice on the manufacturer's label or your cleaning product.
  • Be aware that sometimes spot cleaning can create new spots, and that is when you call a professional because your upholstery needs overall cleaning. Some jobs may prove to be too difficult to tackle on your own. If your sofa is in good shape, professional cleaning might be just what it needs to stay looking good.

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