Whether you’re tackling fresh stains, soaking up spillages or simply giving your furniture a quick once-over, you need to know which cleaning products are right for the job.
That’s because, it’s not as simple as using any old cleaning product on furniture. In fact, some textiles could become greatly damaged and discoloured if they encounter the wrong cleaning products.
So, how can you make sure you’re using the right tools to freshen up your upholstery? By getting to grips with furniture cleaning codes, that’s how.
To see what each code means, take a look, below.
Just like how you’d find cleaning labels on your clothes, upholstery fabric codes are found on the underside of the main section. For instance, cleaning codes on sofas are usually found on the seat cushions. You’ll normally find the tags tucked down the sides of the cushion, next to the armrest, or around the back of the couch.
If you can’t reach down the sides of the sofa cushion, it’s likely because the cushion has been sewn to the frame during upholstering. In this case, you’ll need to inspect the sofa’s platform (this is the hard bit underneath where the cushions sit). You should be able to find the cleaning tag if you run your hand across the front. To get a better look, try to pull it away from the platform until you spot its letter coding (it will read either “W”, “S”, “S-W” or “X”).
Alternatively, if the cleaning tags have been removed or cut off, you should look at the manufacturer’s website to get the full cleaning specifications for your furniture.
If your upholstery has the letter “W” on it, it means you can only clean it with a water-based solution. This includes the likes of soap, washing-up liquid, carpet cleaner or specialist upholstery shampoo. Cleaning products with harsh chemicals in them, such as rubbing alcohol, should be avoided at all costs, as they will break down your fabric’s exterior and cause premature wear and tear.
However, with these types of fabrics, you should also be mindful of how much water you’re using during cleaning. Regardless of how stubborn the stain, aim to only use damp (not dripping) cloths or rags; too much water can damage interior materials, such as the delicate foam cushioning.
TOP TIP: As a general rule of thumb, you should always blot, and never rub, spills or stains; rubbing pushes marks further into the fabric, making it much more difficult to tackle later down the line.
TOP TIP: Tap water can sometimes contain chemicals which leave unsightly rings after cleaning. To make sure you’re keeping your furniture in good nick, we advise using distilled water, where possible.
“S” stands for “solvent”, which means you can only use water-free solvents on these types of textiles. This includes only water-free solvents that are specifically designed for cleaning purposes. For instance, rubbing alcohol, clear alcohols, and dry-cleaning solvents are ideal for this type of fabric.
If you are cleaning a smooth fabric, such as leather or vinyl, baby wipes are also a great way to remove muck. Typically, other fabrics that come with an “S” code are natural fibres, such as cotton, silk, wool and linen.
TOP TIP: Fabrics with a deep pile need to be brushed over once they’ve been cleaned. This helps to restore the pile back to its naturally ‘raised’ appearance.
TOP TIP: To avoid cleaning mishaps, you should firstly spot clean in an inconspicuous place. This will ensure you’re not potentially damaging the main areas of your furniture.
“S-W” is a hybrid of both “solvent” and “water” – this means you can use both dry solvents and wet cleaning products on these types of fabrics (you might also come across “W-S”, which is essentially the same thing).
For this cleaning code, you can use upholstery shampoo, gentle detergents, or mild dry-cleaning solvents. As above, you should not saturate the fabric with liquid during cleaning, as this will cause permanent damage.
TOP TIP: Remember to always apply upholstery cleaners (whether water-based or dry solvents) directly to your cloth or rag. If you apply them directly to the fabric, you could wear or discolour the fabric’s delicate exterior.
Unlike the other cleaning codes on our list (which are handily labelled for our convenience), the “X” code isn’t nearly as self-explanatory. Representing the word “vacuum”, these delicate types of fabrics can – you guessed it – only be cleaned with a vacuum, or a brush, and nothing else.
If you happen to spill or stain on this type of fabric, you will need to pay a visit to the dry cleaners to get it cleared up (unfortunately, this is non-negotiable – “X”-marked fabrics require specialist equipment and cannot be cleaned with homemade or shop-bought cleaning products).
TOP TIP: If you have zippered cushion covers which need a clean, don’t be tempted to remove them. They provide a tight fit to fabrics, which, if removed, can cause shrinkage or tearing if they are cleaned separately.
TOP TIP: Regardless of the cleaning code, it is best practice to vacuum upholstery at least once a week. in order to remove loose dirt, allergens and lingering smells.
If you’ve exhausted all of the recommended cleaning methods outlined on your upholstery’s cleaning tag, it could be a sign that your furniture is beyond repair. To give your furniture a new lease of life, or to cover up old spots and stains, take a look at our reupholstery and sofa cover options.
Sophie is a great granddaughter of the founders of the business - so fabrics and furniture are almost part of her DNA! Her interests include home interiors and upcycling, and her favourite show to watch after work is The Repair Shop. Some of the topics she covers on the Plumbs blog include sofa reupholstery and furniture protection.