I recently read a number of articles explaining to consumers that knowing cleaning codes can help them to clean most upholstery spills and stains themselves. Having a couple of decades of experience under my belt, I would have to disagree with that claim. However, having a professional clean your upholstery every time you have a spill can get expensive. As an experienced professional, and having owned such a company for the last 10 years, I would give some differing advice, so bear with me a little longer.

Below are the cleaning codes that are often placed on upholstered furniture that are extremely helpful in understanding what kind of fiber you are dealing with- but you also need to know what cleansers are appropriate for those fiber types and for what kind of stain you are treating. First let’s review the cleaning codes, and then we can discuss the rest. There are only four. Now keep in mind that these codes are industry standard for COLORFAST fibers. Same goes for the OTC cleansers available. They are designed for colorfast fabric – ALWAYS pre-test for colorfastness in an inconspicuous area first and always call a professional for overall cleaning of dirt. These are for spots only.

“S”—Fabrics that are Code S must be spot cleaned with a water free dry cleaning solvent. These are usually natural fibers on which water will leave a ring, shrink them, warp or damage the fibers. Because these products are pretty gnarly for your lungs, they must be used with gloves in a well-ventilated room and keep away from open flames. Avoid using cleaning products containing carbon tetrachloride, as it is highly toxic. Be sure to vacuum well after they dry. You should not have cushion covers dry-cleaned, as they can fade.

“W”—Code W stands for ‘Water based cleaner’ and these are generally your synthetic fabrics, and the easiest to clean. This code does not mean machine washable – it means that you can spot clean your fabric with a water-based or foaming upholstery cleaner. You should not have cushion covers machine washed, as they can fade and shrink. You can use a brush to agitate the cleaner or even an upholstery attachment on a carpet cleaner. Be careful to avoid over-wetting the stain though, because you could end up worse than you started.

“W/S”—A W/S code means that a choice of dry cleaning solvents or water-based cleaners may be used, though not in combination. Please don’t just throw it all at the stain to see what works, this one means be very careful and definitely test first. These fabrics can be spot cleaned with upholstery shampoo, foam from a mild detergent, or a mild dry cleaning solvent.

“X”—If you have fabrics with Code X, they can only be cleaned by vacuuming or light brushing. A Code X means the fabric is not cleanable with water or solvent cleaners. We don’t see these, but have been told that you might for seeded cotton or certain linens.

If you don’t see one of these cleaning codes on your upholstered piece, but you know the fiber type, don’t assume that all fibers of the same origin are the same in terms of colorfastness. If you don’t see one of these cleaning codes on your piece of furniture, don’t try to clean it yourself, because it likely means that your fabric is not colorfast and something bad could happen.

So, my expert advice – yes – some fabrics are very forgiving and some stains you can absolutely clean yourself at home. But PLEASE do call your professional cleaner for advice before you proceed with anything! If your favorite cleaner is like us here at MNC, they will be very happy to give DIY advice to prevent a costly mistake and thrilled to help you maintain your pieces in between your professional cleanings (or instead of, if it comes to that.)

Some advice that is always sound:

  1. Vacuum at least weekly and thoroughly using your vacuum’s attachments
  2. Absorb spills immediately by carefully and slowly blotting, not rubbing your fabric (rubbing causes pilling and damage.)
  3. Use a clean cloth that is free of dyes.
  4. Do not over wet any upholstery when you are trying to remove a spot. Over-wetting causes water stains and can damage fabric backing or cushion filling.
  5. Alway clean from the outside toward the center to avoid the stain migrating outwards.

So, in summary, check your codes, always test in an inconspicuous area, and when in doubt (or even when completely confident,) call your favorite professional for advice.

Happy cleaning!