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  • Writer's picture KMPC staff writer

Is your Upholstery Making You Sick?

Updated: Mar 6, 2020

by Bob Merkt

Why Upholstery Cleaning Is So Important

Overlooked, often forgotten, but sorely needed. In a recent conversation with a home owner this is how she described the upholstery in her home. I agreed and often wonder why something we use every day gets so little attention.

Upholstery and other fabrics in a home work as a filter that holds and harbors many soils, contaminates, micro-living organisms, molds, mildew, dead skin, dander, body oils, perspiration, odors and other unwanted substances that can affect the quality of the in-door environment, our health and appearance of your home in general.

Dust Mites under a Microscope

It is estimated that we human shed upward of 300,000 dead skin cells a day and what lives off these dead skin cells? That’s right, the dust mite. Dust mite, dust mite feces and the crustaceans on the feces have been noted to increase and trigger allergic reactions in humans.

These dead skin cells are the food source for other micro-living organisms and dust mites. Dust mites and other contaminates can trigger allergens that effect the health of the user. If the allergic reaction is bad enough it can cause the adults to miss work resulting in financial loss and children to miss school and other activities. It’s is well documented by Dr. Michael Berry, Ph.D.

“Protecting the Built Environment, Cleaning for Health”, CIRI (Cleaning Industry Research

Institute) and the IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration) that soiled upholstery can have a direct impact on our quality of life.

Imagine your upholstery as a giant filter

One of the best ways to describe it is to imagine that your upholstery acts as a giant filter. Gravity works, airborne particulates float in the air and eventually fall (i.e. gravity at work) until it lands on something that will not allow it to become airborne again. All the dust you see on your other furniture each week (coffee table, dressers and other horizontal surfaces) is the same amount that is landing on your upholstery. The only difference is that you don’t notice it on your fabric upholstery.

After all upholstery is designed to hide soil. Under a microscope fabric is not a smooth surface, such as a counter top or end table. Upholstery is actually a rough surface with millions of uneven fibers that stick out and grab the falling dust. Without removing this dust, it will breakdown and begin to oxidize and turn into a sticky oily soil due to the hydrocarbons in the air. Hydrocarbons are what make dry soil sticky. These sticky soils bond all other soils to the fabric which will require more than vacuum cleaning to remove it.

Other soils such as; food and beverage spills, micro-living organisms, molds, mildew, dead skin, dander, body oils, perspiration, odors, human hair are some of the unwanted substances. The end result; overall soiling contributes to poor health of the fabric, the environment and users.

In this day and age of increased awareness about indoor contaminates and how they affect our lives that upholstery cleaning should be a “no-brainer”.


The benefits of clean upholstery are well documented. Not only will it extend the life of the fabric it will also bring comfort and joy to the person using the chair, love seat or couch. There is something to be said about the way sitting on fresh clean upholstery makes us feel. As one customer put it.

Most of us use our favorite couch or chair on a daily basis.

“Looking at my dirty furniture was depressing; I didn’t even enjoy sitting on it to watch T.V. I avoided entertaining in that room; I didn’t want my guest to even sit on it. After cleaning I wasn’t depressed, I enjoyed sitting on my furniture to watch T.V. and looked forward to entertaining once again. I couldn’t believe how wonderful it smelled, felt and looked. Thank you for a great job.”

How to maintain your upholstery

Vacuum Regularly. According to the websites “Them Vacuums” ( and Care2/ Green living ( as well and the IICRC’s Upholstery Fabric Technician’s Course (the UFT). In fact, all the websites I investigated recommended you vacuum clean your upholstery every week and have them professionally cleaned every one to two years. In addition, the IICRC not only recommends you vacuum clean your upholstery very week, but to also rotate the cushions monthly, spot clean immediately and have them professionally cleaned every year.

We have a lot of customers who clean their upholstery every year; however, I would say (on average) most of them have it cleaned every other year. How often you have your upholstery cleaned can depend on a variety of factors; the level of cleanliness you are trying to maintain, your environment, number of pets (if any), the volume of tracked in soil, eating habits and how often the upholstery is used.

When it comes time for a cleaning read the deck label of recommendations. Most upholstery manufacturers recommend professional cleaning. The label will also advise what method of cleaning is recommended using a lettered code. For example the letter “W” means the fabric can be wet cleaned, the letter “S” mean dry cleaning, “WS” means it can be cleaned wet or dry and the letter “X” means the piece cannot be wet or dry cleaned, only vacuum cleaned (which is a form of dry cleaning, after all you are cleaning when you vacuum “clean”) Not listed on most deck labels is the low moisture cleaning option. It’s not wet cleaning and it’s not dry cleaning – it’s somewhere in between. Although there are several different methods of upholstery cleaning, hot water extraction (wet) cleaning is the most recommended method. In fact, with today’s state of the art professional cleaning methods hot water extraction cleaning using “High-Dry” technology most fabrics can be safely cleaned.

How to tell if your Upholstery needs to be cleaned

The “white cloth test”. Here is a simply test to see if your upholstery needs cleaning. Take a clean white cloth and place it on the fabric and put the end of your vacuum cleaner hose on the white cloth and turn on the vacuum cleaner. Be sure to hold the cloth in place, don’t suck it up into the vacuum cleaner. After vacuum cleaning a small spot look at the cloth if it is loaded with soil it’s a good indication your upholstery needs cleaning. Essentially the cloth works as a filter to capture soil before the vacuum cleaner can.

The “pat test” this test requires you to hit (pat) the upholstery (anywhere is fine) if you notice a puff of dust floating into the air after doing this, it’s a good indication your upholstery needs a good thorough vacuum cleaning and perhaps a professional cleaning. After vacuum cleaning, pat the upholstery again, if there is still a lot of dust being emitted into the air its certainly an indication something more needs to be done.

The “wet cleaning test”. If the deck label recommends a wet cleaning process you can take a clean white cloth and a neutral cleaner (a drop of dish soap to ½ cup of water) and wet clean a small area. Look at the cloth for soil transfer, and the test cleaned area after it has dried to determine if a professional cleaning is warranted. Be careful not to over scrub the fabric as not to distort the material.

The “time test”. If it’s been more than 3 years old – it’s time to have your upholstery cleaned

Hiring a professional cleaner

When hiring a professional cleaner here a few things to look for:

* Look for a company with certifications or industry accreditation to ensure you will have a trained qualified person cleaning your upholstery. The best certification is an IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification) Certification. It is the highest and most recognized industry accreditation available. The IICRC is the industry’s largest independent certifying body in the world and has been since 1972. It has over 50,000 certified technicians with over 6000 certified firms.

The IICRC certifies cleaners in many categories. Everything for carpet cleaning to fire and flood restoration. Make sure the Certified Firm you contact holds an UFT certification. The UFT stands for Upholstery Fabric Technician. UFT certified technicians pledge to adhere to the BSR/IICRC S300 Standard for Professional Upholstery Cleaning ( Visit and click on “locate a pro” to find an IICRC Certified Upholstery Cleaner in your area

* Check the numbers of years they have been in business; it can give you clues to the quality of their work.

* Check with local furniture retail stores for recommendations

* Check with family, friends and coworkers for recommendations.

* Go online; check out the cleaning company websites.

* Check their references and testimonials, look at referral websites like Angie’s List, Home Advisor and others

* Interview the company; call them and listen to their presentation to make sure you are comfortable with them.

* Check for a guarantee.

I hope this information helps. You are always welcome to call for free advice, estimates, test cleanings, spot removal tips and/or to schedule a cleaning. You won’t regret it.

Staff writer: This article written by Bob Merkt owner of Kettle Moraine Professional Cleaners an IICRC Master Textile, Upholstery, Fabric Cleaning Technician

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