Can you recommend a nontoxic fabric treatment to protect my ivory couch from stains?


Can you recommend a nontoxic fabric treatment to protect my ivory couch from stains?

Asked by Dawn Keith, Centennial, CO

I just bought a used (but in great condition) couch at a furniture consignment shop. It is ivory-colored, so I would like to protect it from stains. I was considering using Scotchgard. Is there another product that would be safer to use?

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Mary Cordaro's picture

I would love to tell you that there is a safe fabric treatment for your great "re-used" sofa! Although some are formulated with fewer toxic chemicals, unfortunately there isn't a chemical treatment I can recommend.

  • Even the so-called "eco-friendly" treatments are not truly safe.
  • This makes sense if you think about it.It's very difficult to protect soft materials that are permanently installed, without using potentially toxic or strong synthetic chemicals.

Slipcover it

As an alternative, consider slipcovering your sofa.

Purchase a washable natural fabric with no permanent treatments (they are all toxic), or better yet, a washable organic fabric.

  • If the fabric is washable, it can also be "wet-cleaned" by a local green dry cleaners, and your slipcover will come out looking professionally cleaned and pressed.
  • (You can wash it at home if you don't mind the rumpled/wrinkled look.)

But first, find out the shrinkage rate of the fabric, purchase enough to allow for shrinkage, then have the fabric wet-cleaned two or three times to shrink it down completely before your local upholsterer makes the slipcover.Wet cleaning is offered by many dry-cleaning companies, and is a nontoxic alternative to dry cleaning.

However, as with any wet washing, it can slightly shrink fabrics, unlike the other (least-toxic) alternative to dry cleaning called CO2 cleaning. CO2 cleaning can be more expensive, and is harder to find in many areas of the country, but it is much more earth-friendly than the other solvent-based green dry-cleaning alternatives.

  • And if you decide on a dry-clean-only fabric, or if you already own a slipcover and want to prevent shrinkage, CO2 cleaning would be much less toxic than traditional dry cleaning.
  • If you are severely chemically sensitive, be sure to test-run both wet cleaning and CO2 cleaning, giving the fabric time to air out afterward.
  • Even the least-toxic cleaning methods are not 100-percent odor free.

Cleaning your couch

If you prefer not to use a slipcover, here are some suggestions for cleaning your couch.As an alternative to permanent treatments such as Scotchgard, you may decide that it's easy enough to clean the couch as described below.

Hire a steam-cleaning service. Or better yet, rent or purchase a steam cleaner-but first, check the fabric contents (some fabrics can be damaged).

  • Be very careful not to get too much water into the upholstery, and air out the piece well to avoid moisture sitting too long and creating low levels of mold inside the upholstery.
  • Note: A service company's equipment or a rented unit may still contain residue of toxic cleaning solvents.

Choose cleaning products carefully. If you rent a steam cleaner, pair it with the least-toxic cleaning products you can find.

  • Many people, including some professionals, report success using AFM carpet-cleaning products safely on some upholstery.
  • Some cleaning professionals also recommend plant-based products such as Biokleen All Purpose Cleaner & Degreaser, and Biokleen Bac-Out Stain & Odor Eliminator. Call Biokleen for instructions and always do a test patch first.
  • If you are chemically sensitive, do a test run on a sample piece of fabric, allowing for airing-out time.

Dry steam vapor. The Ladybug XL is a machine that cleans both carpet and upholstery without any solvents or cleaners, using what they call "dry steam vapor."

  • It does not cause moisture problems, because the steam is so hot it dries very fast.
  • One must be trained to use the machine, and they are expensive, but you might be able to find a local service that uses this equipment by contacting the manufacturer.

Chem-Dry, a national franchise chain, uses carbonated water and special equipment for less-toxic cleaning.

  • Again, check the fabric first, as some fabrics can be damaged or worn by the equipment.
  • And keep in mind that the spot stain remover they use is not completely chemical free.