What is Velvet & How to Care For It

It’s no secret why velvets have been such a popular choice in interior design for centuries; their lustrous and soft look and feel make for a strikingly elegant yet remarkably cozy piece. The methods and frequency for maintaining velvets depend heavily on the types of fibers that make up the upholstery. In this article, we will discuss what velvet fabrics are, how to clean and maintain them, as well as some tips for styling a space with velvet.

What is Velvet?

Velvet is a type of woven tufted fabric that can be made up of a number of fibers and blends. Cotton, rayon, and silk are prominent among high-end velvet fabrics. Other fibers include mohair, linen, and synthetics. We see velvet on home and office upholstery, draperies, and other décor.  When cared for properly, most velvet fabrics are durable and age well — which is proven by the resale value of antique velvets.

Pile Distortion Problem

Pile distortion can be a negative phenomenon where the natural grain and consistency of the pile fibers have been unevenly altered. Some velvets are prone to pile distortion with minimal use. Just as a linen suit wrinkles, a linen velvet can crush and cause a unique shaded pattern. This will manifest itself as dark or shiny spots, depending on the angle. Pile distortion is not to be confused with velvet’s pile lean which results in beautiful shadings of dark and light areas on fabrics.

Example of Pile Distortion in Velvet
How to Clean Velvet

Velvet fabrics of different pile fibers have drastically different responses to cleaning, though they are similar in construction. The main problems to be avoided is distortion resulting in a blotchy appearance, uneven napping, or flattening of the pile surface of the velvet. The methods used to clean velvet should match its delicacy.

Rating Velvet Cleanability

Manmade non-cellulosic synthetics like nylon and polyester velvets have improved greatly over the years.  They used to be stiff and not very soft to the touch.  Today they are incredibly soft and extremely cleanable. These would be great in a family room and other high traffic areas.

Right there with nylon and polyester would be protein fibers such as mohair, alpaca, and wool. These fibers are very resilient and easy to clean with neutral-based cleaners.  These fibers are more sustainable and earth friendly as they are very biodegradable.      

Cotton Velvet Cushion - Before & After Professional Cleaning by Fiber-Seal®

Further down the list are the cellulosic fibers such as cotton and linen.  Of the two, cotton is the more forgiving of the two fibers.  It is a little easier to maintain, but both require extensive brushing after cleaning and again after the fabric has dried if water-base cleaners are used.  Cotton and linen are sustainable and earth-friendly, as they are very biodegradable.

Prone to Problems

In terms of maintenance-friendly choices for your velvet, close to the bottom of the list would be the protein fiber, silk. At the very bottom would be the manmade cellulosic fiber, rayon (also known as viscose, art silk, etc).  Both fibers are noted for their lustrous and elegant appearance. However, these two fibers are the most prone to pile distortion. Any water-based stain or cleaning agent is likely to cause permanent pile changes on velvets made of silk or rayon. Therefore, velvets made with these fibers are considered dry clean only; and we recommend that if you must go with silk or rayon for your velvet, you should avoid rooms where eating and drinking is commonly done.

Note: Rayon is very unfriendly to the environment due to the caustic chemicals that are needed to create this fiber from ground-up cellulosic materials. Because its useful life is usually very brief, it is not sustainable.

A velvet brush is certainly worth investing in before any kind of water-based cleaning method is done to velvet, with post-cleaning grooming being possibly the most important step.

To AVOID Pile Distortion on Velvet Furnishings...

Lightly blot liquid spills immediately. Never Rub!

Gently brush out dried substances (with a velvet brush or toothbrush). Vacuum thoroughly and regularly.

Before any water-based cleaners are used, pretest in an inconspicuous area of the fabric. Apply the cleaning agent, press with a dampened cloth or paper towel and wait until dry. If any changes to the velvet are noticed, professional assistance is advised.

Tips for Decorating with Velvet

There are many ways to approach adding velvet to your home. We see velvet upholstery in vibrant colors with eye-catching patterns, as well as those with more natural, earthy hues. Sometimes every wall in a room is covered with upholstered velvet, other times a sofa is decorated with two small velvet throw pillows. Let’s look at some ways to help decorate a space with velvet.

What Rooms to Add Velvet To

First and foremost, we must decide where to put the piece. Velvet adds style to a living room or to dining room chairs and works great as an accent to a bedroom or office. Velvets aren’t typically the best option for kitchens or breakfast rooms, as certain sticky foods will be tough to clean from the nap of a velvet. Selecting a room, or rooms for your velvet pieces ultimately comes down to personal preference and style, but in most cases, velvet will add a coziness that other fabric types simply can’t provide!

Balance Is Key

When styling any space with velvet, it is important to incorporate a mixture of fabrics. Fortunately, velvet is a universal material that works well with all kinds of fabrics. Balance is also important when deciding on the colors of your luxurious fabric. The texture of velvet already brings attention to it, so if your velvet of choice is also brightly colored or patterned, it would be wise to contrast with natural-colored non-velvet pieces. A popular choice is a sofa or a chair with deep jewel tones.

Less is More

It is very difficult to pull off a room filled with velvet, from the chairs and sofa to the wall and curtains. Often times, the best way to involve velvet is with a lone chair or even just a couple of pillows. In addition, velvet is typically an expensive fabric when covering an entire sofa – less is more.

Check out this collection of interior design ideas using velvet by House&Garden here! 

We're Here to Help!

Fiber-Seal’s system of fabric care experts stands ready to help! We specialize in protecting and maintaining hard-to-clean fabrics such as velvet. Complimentary spot cleaning is provided for stubborn spots and spills when your furnishings are Fiber-Seal protected!

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