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Upholstery Cleaning: Understanding Cleaning Code Tags
Manufacturers of furniture fabrics have voluntarily begun to label some fabrics with recommended cleaning instructions to assist in consumer care and help reduce related cleaning and maintenance complaints. 

Cleaning codes are established by the Joint Industry Fabric Standards Committee of the American Home Furnishings Alliance. Here, we provide the letter code followed by committee's official definition:  

“W” water-based cleaner: “To prevent overall soil, frequent vacuuming or light brushing to remove dust and grime is recommended. Spot clean, using the foam only of 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 small areas before proceeding. Use a professional furniture cleaning service when an overall soil condition has been reached.”

“S” solvent cleaner: “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. Clean only in a well-ventilated room and avoid any product containing carbon tetrachloride or toxic materials. Pretest small areas before proceeding. Use a professional cleaning service when an overall soiled condition has been reached.”

“W-S” water/solvent cleaner: “To prevent overall soil, frequent vacuuming or light brushing to remove dust and grime is recommended. Spot clean, with a mild solvent, 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 that contains carbon tetrachloride or other toxic materials. With either method, pretest a small area before proceeding. Use a professional upholstery cleaning service when an overall soiled condition has been reached.”

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

Cleaners often overlook these tags because of the common use of the “S” code on fabrics that clean safely with water-based solutions. The cleaner may (correctly) assume that his or her responsibility is to test the fabric and choose the method most suitable to safely and effectively clean the fabric. Cleaners should also be aware that if they follow the cleaning instructions to the letter, but still damage the fabric, the manufacturer will not pay for the claim.

Nevertheless, the cleaner must discuss the reasons that using a method contrary to the maintenance recommendations is to the consumer’s benefit. Consumers appreciate an intelligent and frank discussion of the fabric’s soil level and what processes in the cleaner’s trained opinion would best clean the fabric. Merely telling the consumer that you “know better” than the furniture manufacturer will only create doubt in you and your ability. Subsequent “minor problems” may then be attributed to your initial decision to use a method contrary to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Even if the fabric is coded “W”, test carefully! Cleaners who have gotten into the habit of assuming the “S” code is always wrong for some reason feel that the “W” code is always right! In the end, all that stands between you and a potentially expensive damage claim is your testing, inspection and communication skills.
This article was excerpted from Restoration Science Academy’s Complete Guide to Cleaning and Restoration, a compilation of all ASD classroom course materials, including water damage restoration, fire and smoke restoration, odor control, microbial remediation, trauma scene cleanup, upholstery and fabric cleaning, and carpet cleaning. Authors: Gary Funari, Gary Loiben, and William Weigand. Technical Review: Mitchell Byrom, Mark Cornelius, Mike Kerner, and David Oakes.