How to clean fabric using the CHART method with cleaning agents How to Clean Fabric, cleaning upholstery, optical brighteners, carpet cleaning, what is a neutral ph, best fabric care service, fabric cleaning services

How to Clean Fabric

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on the fundamentals of cleaning upholstery and floor coverings! In this blog post, we will delve into the core principles of how to clean fabric effectively and highlight the key components encapsulated by the acronym “C.H.A.R.T.” Whether you are a homeowner, designer, or professional cleaner, it is beneficial to understand the importance of cleaning the right way. By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with the right questions to ask professional cleaning services about their knowledge and techniques used to tackle dirt, stains, and grime on your beloved textiles. So let’s dive in and unlock the secrets to maintaining pristine fabrics and floor coverings!

Though Fiber-Seal’s technicians are continuously adding to their complex knowledge of all things fabric care, the science of how to clean fabric can be boiled down to the core principles of:

·         Cleaning solutions

·         Heat

·         Agitation

·         Rinsing

·         Time

Cleaning Solutions

Cleaning solutions are a vital part of cleaning upholstery and/or floor coverings. Just as important as choosing the right cleaner, however, is avoiding choosing the wrong one. There is nearly an infinite combination of different soils and spills paired with different fabric types, and there is no one size fits all solution. Test multiple cleaning solutions on an inconspicuous area of the furniture to ensure that there is no color change, and that you won’t leave behind a sticky residue, as it will attract premature soiling and dirty up your furnishings quicker.

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Optical brighteners are a controversial topic in fabric and floor covering care. They are found in cleaners such as OxiClean detergent and are not recommended in most cases and can void warranties on stain resist, and wool carpets. Optical brighteners leave behind a residue that can affect the color of fabrics and floor coverings, and often turn fibers yellow over time!

PH levels

The last thing to consider with cleaning solutions is the pH of the chemical.

A pH level of seven is neutral; a level higher than seven is alkaline, while pH levels for acid are less than 7. The further a product is away from seven in either direction, the more potential for damage to fibers and fabrics, which is why we recommend to start with a neutral cleaning solution. However, certain stains do warrant more powerful cleaners, which is why it is important to understand how fibers react to different pH levels. Rayon, cotton, linen, and sisal are easily damaged by strong acids, so stay away from DIY cleaners containing vinegar. Silk, wool, and mohair are easily damaged by strong alkalis. While Oxiclean or bleach might work to spot clean a white cotton cushion, it will likely cause irreversible damage to all protein fibers or fabrics.  A wool Oriental rug could be destroyed using strong alkaline cleaners.


The best way to remove grease stains from carpet and upholstery often includes the addition of heat. Using high temperature water extraction is advised in restaurants, hotels, and walkways near a kitchen or a garage where heavy grease is likely to accumulate. If grease is not an issue on the spot of concern, it is not necessary to use heat, as it brings risks of shrinking floor coverings and fabrics. Natural fibers including cotton, linen, silk, and wool are most prone to shrinking from heat.


Agitation is possibly the most underappreciated aspect of an effective cleaning process. This is what actually dislodges the soil from the fibers or fabric. Whether using a hand brush, floor brush, Cimex machine or any other carpet cleaning agitator, you will notice a substantial difference in the result with and without this crucial step. Do be careful on delicate fabrics and floor coverings not to over-agitate as it can damage the fibers.

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Following the breaking down of soils from agitation, rinsing is needed to remove the soapy residue, dirt and soil from the fabric or floor covering. When using a cleaner with a non-neutral pH or anything that may leave a residue, a thorough rinsing process is a must. We see cleaners mix detergent with their rinse water.  We would instead recommend a clear hot water extraction to ensure that all cleaning solutions are being removed. It would be like washing your hair without squeezing out the excess shampoo, leaving your hair “clean” but filled with detergent that will eventually dry and become sticky. This is essentially what happens to fabrics and floor coverings if you do not rinse them completely.


One must give the cleaning agents plenty of time to fully break down the existing soils (known as the dwell time). Also important is the drying time needed for a given fabric or floor covering. You will not know exactly how effective the cleaning job was done until the piece is completely dry. Some fabrics, such as linen, will require speed drying to prevent issues like browning or ringing.

Other Considerations

As previously mentioned, testing your cleaning solutions before cleaning is extremely important to prevent unneeded mistakes. Find an inconspicuous area on the fabric or floor covering and apply any and all detergents that you may use. Give time to dry and check back to see if any issues have occurred, particularly browning, bleaching, or bleeding. Know that different fiber types and fabric or rug constructions will have drastically different reactions to different cleaners and methods. When in doubt, leave it up to a proven professional cleaning service to restore your furnishings. 

Though we try to use all five letters of the “C.H.A.R.T.” process, this will not always be the case. Many fabrics or floorcoverings contain a cleanability code sticker that will advise whether or not wet cleaners can be used on a fabric. While these labels are often overly conservative, they are still worth considering before cleaning. If a label suggests “dry clean only” and a trained technician can verify, rinsing would involve a dry-cleaning solvent such as odorless mineral spirits. When cleaning sofa skirts or other soft surfaces that are prone to shrinking, a drycleaning method should be used.

Increase the longevity of your furnishings

Frequent preventative measures will go a long way in extending the time needed in between professional cleanings. Vacuuming and damp dusting your soft surfaces on a regular basis will surely add sustainability and longevity to your items.

Fabric protection products and services will extend the useful life of any fabric or floor covering, making it a good investment for your precious furnishings. Companies like Fiber-Seal offer complementary spot cleaning services on protected items, so you can leave it to them to follow the C.H.A.R.T. systems!

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