- Online Exclusives
- Contact Us
Just as in spotting and cleaning, it''s easy for a carpet cleaner to assume that techniques and products designed for removing odors — especially pet odors — from carpet are identical on upholstery.
While the fundamentals of deodorization do remain the same, there are critical differences that must be considered before attempting to treat any upholstered furniture for odor.
Most carpet has yarns that have been tufted through a primary backing and adhered to a secondary backing.
Less commonly, there are types of carpet and rugs that are woven, and in some cases, bonded directly to backing.
Upholstery, however, is usually a flat woven material that is quite thin and far less durable.
Most carpet is made from synthetic fibers, especially nylon, olefin, polyester and triexta.
Upholstery may be made of any of those fibers; it may also be made from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, wool, silk or regenerated cellulose such as rayon and acetate.
These more absorbent natural fibers have special sensitivities that may preclude more commonly used deodorization techniques.
The human element
While people do walk on carpet in their bare feet, and some children have closer body contact to carpet than adults, there is usually a distance between carpet and the home or building''s occupants and the carpet.
With upholstery, however, there is far more skin contact to the fabric and the material is in closer proximity to breathing zones and eye contact.
This issue creates new concerns about fragrances and potentially irritating residues from some deodorizing products that might be left on the fabric surface or within the cushion foam.
Just as with carpet, locating the source of the odor is critical.
The two most common places for urine odor are cushions and the outside arms/outside backs and the skirting of furniture.
Let''s analyze best procedures for handling odor problems for these areas.
As in carpet, the cushion beneath the fabric often acts like a sponge and draws in more liquid than the fabric cushion cover itself.
When severely contaminated, cushion foam should be replaced.
If the contamination is light, an injection syringe may be used much like what would be done with carpet.
First caution: Due to the fact that most furniture fabric has a flat rather than pile weave, do not make your injection where the hole might show. Instead, unzip the cushion and inject directly into the foam or find an inconspicuous place to inject the deodorizing solution.
Second caution: If you need to inject deodorizing solution into the foam, consider what will come next. At some point, gravity and wicking will allow the solution to "puddle" at the lowest point of the cushion and that material may then leave watermarks on the fabric after it dries.
Some cleaners put the contaminated cushion into a plastic bag after injection and use the vacuum from their extractor to remove the air from the cushion and distribute the deodorizer more evenly throughout the foam.
This method, while impressive to observe, still does not thoroughly distribute the deodorizer; puddles and watermarks still may occur during the drying process.
Outside arms, back, skirting
Besides the absorbent cushion, common areas for urine contamination are the outside arms/outside back and skirting.
Male pets will spray such vertical surfaces and staining is not always easily seen in these areas.
Look for "watermarks" and yellow to brown stains, and then lightly dampen suspicious areas with a warm, damp cloth and bring the cloth to your nose to confirm the presence of urine. This method is more dignified than pressing your nose deep into the fabric.
As with any urine odor treatment, you may need to apply a high volume of deodorizer to the contaminated area to completely eliminate the odor.
First caution: Skirts made from natural fibers may shrink if saturated with deodorizing solutions.
Such shrinkage may be correctable. However, you should not guarantee that you will be able to correct it and you should be paid for the additional service call to correct the problem.
Second caution: Unlike cushions, which can be inspected carefully due to accessibility with zippers, you have no idea which materials might be under fabric that has been stretched over a frame.
There may be ink marks, non-colorfast stuffing material or, in some cases, the furniture might have been re-upholstered over the previous fabric, which may not be colorfast.
You must not flood such areas with deodorizing solution without warning your customer — and having a clear agreement in writing — that any resulting discoloration or staining is not your respon-sibility.
Third caution: As referred to previously, "the human element" must not be overlooked. Deodorizing treatments that contain strong fragrances may be an irritant to your customers when such fragrances remain in upholstery that is sat and sometimes slept on.
Choose products that have light fragrances, or when possible, no fragrance at all.
Fourth caution: Test deodorizing solutions for colorfastness, just as you would any cleaning product.
In the case of some of the "fragrance-free" deodorizers, be aware that these products may contain oxidizing agents that, while effective on odor, may also cause color loss.
Even if you do test such products, also recognize that urine itself damages dyes. Areas that are stained by urine may experience color loss after any treatment, regardless of its testing status in other areas.
Steps to take
The treatment of urine odor in upholstery requires much of the same process as it does when treating carpet:
- Inspection and detection
- Clean and deodorize the source.
However, the unique characteristics of the fabric and the structure create challenges that you mustn''t overlook.
If you do overlook some of these concerns, your customer''s odor problem could become your replacement problem!
An industry trainer and consultant, Jim Pemberton is president of Pemberton''s Cleaning & Restoration Supplies and West Penn Cleaning Company, McKeesport, PA. Jim is the Cleanfax magazine 2007 Person of the Year. He has more than 30 years of experience in the cleaning and restoration industry. You are invited to visit his website at www.ecleanadvisor.com, or e-mail him at Jimpem2@comcast.net.