Upholstery Cleaning: Cellulosic Browning on Linen Sofas

Upholstery cleaning is an art. It requires training, experience and the right tools. Unfortunately, most carpet cleaners have none of these things.

Case in point: I received a panicked call asking for help from another cleaner about an upholstery cleaning that went bad. This cleaner is a great guy, and he wanted to do right by his customer. He wisely stays away from cleaning high-end upholstery as he does not have the experience or the training, and it’s not his market.

Unfortunately, this one looked easy as the label indicated it was polyester. As soon as he applied pre-spray, the white fabric turned brown. Panic set in, and he continued to clean both sofas, hoping for the best. Now both sofas had browned. Still, in a panic state, he decided to steam clean them. That made things even worse. That’s when he called me.

Cellulosic Browning

The problem he encountered is called cellulosic browning. It is common when cleaning all types of natural cellulosic fabrics, such as cotton, linen, rayon, and viscose. It is usually the result of technician errors. For example, over-wetting the upholstery or using cleaning products with high alkalinity. It is very challenging to correct. Sometimes it can be removed, but not always. It requires time and lot’s of patience.

Restorative Cleaning

In this case, upon inspection, I could see that the two sofas were not made from polyester, but rather a very natural fine linen with down feather filled cushions. Furniture and upholstery labels do not tell the whole story. These sofas are super high quality, hand-made furniture, and extremely expensive. Unfortunately, the yellowing was severe. The photo below does not reveal the severity. I explained it was likely correctable with patience. Most likely requiring two visits.

I cleaned both linen sofas entirely by hand. The first attempt removed 90% of all browning. A second follow up visit removed the remaining 10%. Sometimes I encounter persistent yellowing when doing a correction cleaning. This is usually evidence of the previous cleaner using a product with a high pH that causes chemical burning. Unfortunately this type of damage not reversible.

Thankfully, there was no chemical burning or damage on these sofas. Another bullet dodged was there was no problems with the ticking fabric used for the down seat cushions. Ticking is a cotton or linen textile that is tightly woven for durability and to prevent down feathers from poking through the fabric. When treated with fire flame retardants it can cause permanent colour damage. More about that is a future article.

Final Result

I was super happy with the final result. I never saw the sofas before the browning occurred, but the homeowner said this is the best the sofas have ever looked! They have had them cleaned twice before. That was very satisfying to hear. The carpet cleaner who contracted me to correct the browning was ecstatic! As you can imagine, he hadn’t slept for a week after the damage occurred! It was a good reminder for him to stay in his comfort zone. High pH carpet cleaning chemicals and generic upholstery cleaning tools have no place when cleaning fine upholstery.

Linen Sofa With Cellulosic Browning
Linen sofa with cellulosic browning.
Linen Sofa With Cellulosic Browning Removed
Linen sofa with cellulosic browning removed.

This situation also highlights the importance of experience and training with upholstery cleaning. We learn not to panic in situations like these. It is essential to stop and think about what is occurring and why. What are the next logical steps to take? When cleaning fine upholstery, the golden rule is to always begin with the least aggressive method. If the desired results are not obtained, then progress to a more aggressive method. Unfortunately, many carpet cleaners have little to no training and have no experience in cleaning upholstery. That’s the difference between certified professional carpet cleaning and volume-based carpet cleaning service providers.

Tapestry Fine Carpet, Rug & Upholstery Cleaning in Victoria, BC is a certified WoolSafe® Approved Fibre Specialist, we provide highly specialized professional upholstery cleaning in Victoria and nearby areas.