Identifying and Cleaning Furniture Fibers

by Lawton Brothers | Jun 07, 2021

Every day in the office, we sit in the breakroom or at our desks and don’t really consider if the chair we’re sitting on is clean. And in most cases, we simply brush off any debris we happen upon. Over time, this allows crumbs, dirt, sweat, and spills to accumulate in your office chairs and waiting room furniture, which can cause unsightly stains and odors. But of course, when it comes time to clean the dreaded office furniture, not many of us know where to begin. Do you use a spray and rag? A vacuum? Can the couch cushions be laundered? 

Fabric Care

The first step in cleaning and caring for your furniture should be to look for the fabric care tag. The label should identify the type of fabric (most often a mixed blend) and will list codes that tell the type of cleaning it can handle.You may have to unzip items or search through small creases in the furniture. Be sure to check for multiple tags, as there may be different instructions for different pieces (as with couches and other large pieces of furniture). Oftentimes, as items are used, the label may be lost or removed, so don’t panic if you can’t find a tag on your piece of furniture. If you can’t find a tag, identifying the fabric type can guide your cleaning practices.

  • W: Use a water-based cleaner or upholstery steam cleaner on this fabric; Note that this does NOT mean the fabric is washing-machine safe.
  • S: This fabric is dry-clean only. For smaller stains, spot-cleaning is acceptable with cleaning solvents.
  • S/W: Water-based and solvent-based cleaners are safe to use on this furniture. For a deep clean, have the item professionally dry-cleaned.
  • WASH: Wash the fabric in the washing machine, in cold water on delicate. Air-dry or use a low heat setting in your dryer.
  • X: This item can only be cleaned with a vacuum cleaner.


    Identifying Fabric

    If you can’t locate a fabric tag on your furniture, identifying the fabric will determine your cleaning methods. Typically, a burn test is recommended to reveal the fiber content. To conduct a test, cut a small piece of the fabric from an inconspicuous location (inside the couch cushion or underneath the chair). Be prepared with a pair of tweezers, lighter, and a bowl of water before beginning your identification. Place your sample over the flame and note if the flame changes in any way. After extinguishing the flame, take a small whiff of your fiber to identify by the odor as well.

  • Cotton: Burns quickly and consistently, with a yellow flame. Will continue to burn once removed from original flame. Smells of burning leaves/paper and leaves a soft, gray ash.
  • Silk: Burns slowly and will extinguish once removed from the flame. Smells like burning hair (curling iron or flat iron) and leaves behind crushable black beads of ash.
  • Wool: Burns slowly and will self-extinguish when the flame is removed. Smells of burning hair or feathers and leaves brittle, black ash.
  • Linen: Burns quickly and steadily with a yellow flame but will take longer to ignite than cotton. Continues to burn after removing the flame and leaves soft gray ash that smells like burning paper/rope.
  • Acetate: Burns slowly and melts, leaving hard black beads and the smell of vinegar.
  • Acrylic: Burns, melts, and pops. Will continue to burn after removing the flame and smells acidic, with hard black crust as ‘ash’.
  • Nylon: Burns slowly and melts. Will not continue burning if flame is removed. Smells of green vegetables (particularly celery), and leaves hard gray beads.
  • Polyester: Burns slowly and melts, accompanied by black smoke and sweet/fruity scents. Will extinguish after removing the flame; leaves hard black and brown beads.
  • Rayon: Burns quickly and steadily with a yellow flame. Continues burning after flame is removed, leaving the smell of burning wood and small bouts of fluffy ash.


    Lawton Brothers is Here to Help

    Using this guide, you can identify the fabrics and fibers in your facility and make sure they’re cleaned and taken care of properly. While this guide is designed to be comprehensive, there is a lot of information to cover. That’s why Lawton Brothers is always here to help. If you’re struggling to identify fabrics or just have a question about our free audits, give us a call today at 800.432.0813.

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