Clean Without Damaging
For years, detailers have been cleaning and shampooing fabric upholstery,
yet few know how to treat the different fabrics without causing
damage to the material and dye.
Before cleaning and shampooing fabric upholstery a prudent detailer
should first examine heavily soiled and stained areas in the presence
of the customer to determine whether or not the stain or dirt can
be removed. This pre-qualifying procedure is important because you
may not be able to completely remove the stain or clean the fabric
and because of the risk that certain cleaning agents may actually
damage fabrics and dyes.
WHERE DO STAINS COME FROM?
Some of the most damaging stains come from the human
body and/or from pets. The following are examples of how humans
or pets can severely stain or damage fabrics and dyes:
Body Oils - The human body produces hair oils,
skin oils and perspiration. These can permanently stain both leather
and fabric upholstery. There are chemicals that can remove these
oils from fabrics, but on leather the oily substances could penetrate
the leather and become permanent stains. Even the coatings applied
to protect leather will be broken down and removed by body oil
and excessive abrasion. The only effective repair might be re-dyeing
Perspiration - Perspiration has greater potential
to damage fabric upholstery than just oil. It is interesting to
note that the salt in perspiration will weaken all fabrics. Protein
and other substances in perspiration can also cause a yellow discoloration
that is difficult to remove
by normal upholstery cleaning methods in light fabric colors.
Urine - Urine produces some of the most frustrating
stains a detailer will encounter. Stains fall in either of two
Color-added - These are yellow to yellow-brown
in color and most noticeable on light-colored fabrics. Dark
brown urine stains are areas that have attracted
additional soils. Once the area is cleaned, the remaining stain
is a yellow pigment present in urine that may be impossible
to remove with standard spot-removing and cleaning procedures.
Color-loss - When the yellow stain is lighter
than the original color of the fabric, color will have been
lost. This is especially evident when a dark fabric has faded
to light yellow. This stain is correctable if the fabric is
nylon, which can be redyed. However, many fabrics contain a
blend of fibers that may not readily accept dye, or the dye
will rub off on clothing. A color-added urine stain also may
be present, which should be removed before redyeing is attempted.
Vomit - It contains stomach acid and other proteins
that can damage fabric and dyes, and can be difficult to remove.
If red-colored pet food, soft drinks or medicine is present in
the vomit, it will further complicate corrective measures.
First and foremost you must learn to pre-qualify, that is, let
the customer know what may happen before they leave and you begin
working on the vehicle. For example, you may not be able to completely
remove the stain; it is possible that color or even structural damage
to the fibers will become evident after removal of the offending
material; damage may worsen during the cleaning process. Make customers
aware that they are responsible for pre-existing conditions, and
that it is possible that further damage could occur during cleaning.
Body Oils - Use spotting agents that contain solvents
to help break up oily residues. Allow about 10 to 15 minutes for
the chemical to dwell. You can also use a high-alkaline cleaner
(pH 10+) to assist, but these types of cleaners are risky on all
but the most durable and colorfast materials. Always test before
using high-alkaline chemicals on fabrics. Body oils on leather
can require special treatments and may require several applications.
Perspiration - Most perspiration stains are removed
with the same procedures and cleaning agents used to eliminate
body-oil stains. Enzymes or oxidizing agents may be required to
remove any remaining yellow stains. As with alkaline chemicals,
these chemicals could damage the dyes or even contribute to browning.
Test before use!
Urine - If the color of the fabric is not damaged,
an acidic or enzyme-based spot remover should be first applied.
Any remaining color-added stain requires the application of a
reducing or oxidizing agent. Be very careful when using either
of these products as they also could damage the dyes in the fabric.
Important: There can be color loss in the fabric that is not evident
until you remove the yellow stain. That is why you must pre-qualify.
Vomit - You must first neutralize the acid content
in the vomit with an alkaline stain remover. After rinsing the
vomit and stain remover from the fabric, a protein stain might
remain. Apply an enzyme spot remover to remove protein residue
and rinse again. If any residual discoloration remains after using
these procedures, you can try using oxidizing agents or reducing
agents. Always pre-test!
The key to avoiding problems in dealing with these difficult stains
is to remember who has the problem. The problem is the customer's
until you make it yours. Spend the necessary time to carefully explain
the limitations of what you can do and the risks involved in any
attempt to clean and restore what are, essentially, abused materials.
Joe Sipowicz is technical services
manager at Portland, OR-based Detail Plus. He has been involved
in the detailing industry for nearly 20 years both as an owner/operator
of detailing centers and as a manufacturer. Joe has written on the
subject of auto detailing for over 10 years. He can be contacted