When we last re-upholstered our dining room chairs, we purposely chose dark fabrics. After all, the kids do quite a number on the fabrics when eating. Even so, months worth of spilled, dried on, partially ground in and otherwise unsightly food stains have left their marks on the seats that not even the dark colors can mask. My usual approach is to get out the steam cleaner and shampoo the fabrics. Is this the right approach to take? The advertisement I got in the mail from one of the professional outfits says that his cleaning method for fabrics trumps mine. Who is right?
Steam cleaning sucks. In fact, the entire steam cleaning method works simply by first soaking a stained bit of fabric with hot, sudsy water and then sucking up the now-dirty water. For that extra bit of force, steam cleaning machines usually apply pressure to the water to really let it penetrate the weave. The amount of water used in the process depends on the age of the steam cleaning machine and also the model. Generally speaking, older machines use more water than newer models.
Professionals use carbonation. Even though there is still some steam cleaning involved, it is possible to radically reduce the drying time of the fabrics. Franchise powerhouse Chem Dry explains that the use of specially formulated carbonated water lets the pros use significantly less H2O to achieve the same cleaning effect. In the end, a professional treatment reduces the amount of moisture in the fabric by a third (as compared to my efforts at steam cleaning the upholstered chairs).
Is the convenience worth the extra drying time? Steam-cleaning the chair seats gets them reasonably clean but it also makes them soaking wet. No matter how often I attempt to suck out the remaining moisture, there is enough left over in the fabric and padding to put the chairs out of commission for a day or even longer. On the upside, I do not have to wait for a pro or pay someone to come out and clean the chairs (a small job). The kids will be just as happy eating on the floor while watching TV for a couple of days. For the consumer who wants the best of both worlds, it is conceivable that buying the most modern steam-cleaning machine available could cut down on the drying time while also eradicating the need for a professional to come in. Of course, these machines are not cheap.
More wear and less tear? On the other hand, the use of carbonated water in conjunction with the proprietary formulation that the professional steam-cleaning companies feature does have the marked advantage of prolonging the useful life of the fabric. Regular steam-cleaning puts an awful lot of pressure on the fabric — not a big deal with the dining room chairs, but a whole different story when it comes to the antique love-seat — which eventually leads to tearing of the weaker threads that make up the fabric’s weave. A homeowner with less rugged fabrics should consider carefully if the convenience of steam-cleaning on a whim really outweighs the potential for fabric damage.
Beyond the daily-use materials. Truth be told, with as much food as hits the dining room chairs on a daily basis, the expense of having professionals come out frequently simply does not make sense. As long as my kids still celebrate single-digit birthdays, the occasional re-upholstering of the chairs (and the frequent steam-cleaning) will have to do. On the flip-side, only the professionals get a shot at cleaning the more difficult fabrics. For example, velvet or wool would be destroyed by a steam cleaning machine but do well with the tender loving care of a much less forceful commercial treatment.
American Chem Dry: “Steam-cleaning vs. Chem-Dry”
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