Cleaning Vinyl Upholstery Basics

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Vinyl, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), is thermoplastic. It may be made in to a film and bags used for food wrap and micro-waving, or molded in a rigid form in containers. It is made into refrigerator gaskets, blinds, countertops, window screens, and other items. It is also used to coat fabric for upholstery and wallpaper for washability, and is used for making floor tiles and in dishwashers for lining the inside and coating the wire racks. It is not affected by most chemicals. It is strong, resists weathering and most chemicals.

It may have an odor when boxed so it needs airing before use. Also, it may have an odor if not dried thoroughly before storing. Do not use moth repellents with it as they harm it. Do not put on lacquered surfaces as it may stick. It withstands moderate heat but do not expose to too much heat.

Regular Cleaning

Vinyl upholstery fabrics are produced porous to allow perspiration venting and will absorb stains. Wash with mild detergent and water. Use a soft bristle brush for stubborn soil. Rinse and dry.

Some household cleaners and solvents remove plasticizers from vinyl, making them brittle. Abrasive cleaners scratch the smooth surface. Sometimes letting detergent solution stand on surface and "soak" a few minutes loosens soil.

Special Cleaning

Vinyl cleaners sold in furniture stores or auto stores help clean stubborn soil on vinyl upholstery. Vinyl upholstery will absorb stains and dye from fabrics that crock or bleed (like crocking blue jeans on white vinyl or bright prints that bleed). A vinyl protective finish, sold at same stores, helps protect upholstery, and resists or retards absorption of stains. Act at once to remove stains from vinyl. Use a white cloth or paper towels.

Keep solvents away from wood or metal parts. When solvents other than water are used to remove a stain, wash the area with detergent and water, rinse and dry. Nail polish and polish remover will cause permanent damage if left on the surface. Wipe off quickly. Blot, do not spread the liquid. Sponge lightly with synthetic turpentine or mineral spirits. While nail polish remover or amyl acetate will remove polish, both may affect the vinyl. Use them only if necessary at you own risk.

  • Ballpoint pen marks respond to alcohol. If not, cover area with a white cloth soaked in a 3 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide and leave from 30 minutes to overnight.
  • Felt tip markers respond to treatment with mineral spirits.
  • Remove substances such as oil paint, shoe heel marks, ink, tar, crayon, grease, shoe polish, ointment and cosmetics with synthetic turpentine or mineral spirits. Use hydrogen peroxide bleach treatment if necessary.
  • Chewing gum should be hardened with ice and chipped off. Remove residue with synthetic turpentine or mineral spirits.

When using solvents suggested above (turpentine or mineral spirits) use only in a well-ventilated room and avoid breathing fumes or getting on your skin. Be sure there is no flame, spark, pilot light, or cigarette in area, as they are flammable. Air out cloths used, to evaporate solvent before disposing.

That's all there is to cleaning vinyl upholstery. Your furniture will look good as new in no time.

Courtesy of the Michigan State Extension