"DRY CLEAN ONLY" FABRICS... The "S" Code Explained

"Dry Clean Only" fabrics require special care... For cleaning purposes, fabric manufacturers and distributors generally categorize fabrics according to colorfastness codes. These codes are typically found on fabric samples and are often included as “deck labels” on seating pieces with removable cushions.

Dry Cleaned Clothes

The codes are as follows:

W - Spot clean only with water-based shampoo or foam upholstery cleaner.

S - Spot clean only with a water-free dry cleaning solvent. DO NOT USE WATER.

WS - Spot clean with upholstery shampoo, foam from a mild detergent, or a mild dry cleaning solvent.

X - Clean only by vacuuming or light brushing with a non-metallic, stiff bristle brush. DO NOT USE ANY WATER OR SOLVENT BASED CLEANER.

Interestingly, the vast majority of codes we see are “S”… dry clean (solvent) only. Putting aside the fact that the “S” cleaning code is unnecessarily restrictive in most cases and is environmentally unfriendly, it can also be confusing.

When we think of dry cleaning, the first thing that comes to mind is the neighborhood store that cares for clothing. Suits, dresses, slacks… many different types of garments are labeled “dry clean only.”

Dry cleaning of clothing is a relatively successful compromise between SAFETY (doing no damage to the clothing) and EFFECTIVENESS (removing soils and stains). Dry cleaning of upholstery fabrics is much more complex. A comparison of the two processes will help explain why this is true.

Dry Cleaning Clothes

The dry cleaning process begins with the pretreatment of spots and stains using special cleaning agents and a spotting board -- basically a device that allows spot removers to be used on a garment and then “flushed out” by blowing steam, air or liquid through the fabric.

The garments are then loaded into a machine resembling an over-sized front-loading home washer. Clothing is tumbled with solvent as the fluid is gradually filtered and replaced to ensure its clarity.
Once the clothes have been through the “cleaning” cycle, they are spun to extract most of the solvent and then gently dried in the same machine. As in the cleaning cycle, solvent in the drying cycle is captured, cleaned and reused. Garments are then sent to a presser who uses heat, steam and pressure to remove wrinkles and give that crisp and fresh appearance.

Dry Cleaning Interior Fabrics

The “dry cleaning” process for a sofa is completely different. Because most of the fabric is fixed to a frame, there is no way to use a spotting board for pre-treatment problems. Even zippered cushion covers should never be removed for fear of shrinkage and poor fit after removal.

Although solvent cleaners can be used on both clothing and upholstery, there is no way to duplicate on upholstery the “recirculating” process or the tumbling and drying that work so well on clothing. Instead, solvents must be applied directly to the surface of the fabric and then immediately vacuumed off because only the top side of the fabric is accessible.

Because the equipment designed for solvent cleaning of upholstery is used in homes and offices, that machinery is not capable of collecting and cleaning the dirty solvent and then immediately re-using it. Used solvent must be packaged and sent away for proper reclamation or disposal. This is an expensive step and one that is not environmentally friendly.

Finally, there is no single proven method for pressing or steaming the fabrics to “finish” them, which is why napped fabrics like velvets, chenilles and wrinkle-prone linens may not always achieve that “perfect” appearance after solvent cleaning.

As explained above, the dry cleaning methods available for upholstery fabrics are far more limited than those available for apparel but all solvent-based processes are less effective than water-based cleaning (“wet cleaning”).

The Good News

Though many fabrics carry instructions that suggest “dry clean only,” experience has taught us that most fabrics with that label can be cleaned with water-based methods. Of course, understanding fabrics and knowing how to pre-test are the keys to a safe and effective choice of cleaning method.

The Aftercare Pros!

Because the textiles world is always changing, Fiber-Seal is ready to help designers and clients with our comments about the suitability of their fabric choices. If you need help please call us!

Of course, Fiber-Seal products are effective on all types of fabrics and floor coverings and our after-care service helps your clients effortlessly enjoy the beautiful interior you’ve created!

Need Help With Fabric Cleaning Or Fabric Protection?

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You can always give us a call at 214.333.9400 or email us at info@FiberSeal.com.