Cleaning Vinyl Upholstery Basics

A red vinyl chair against an orange wall.

Vinyl, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), is thermoplastic. It may be made into a film and bags used for food wrap and microwaving, 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. It is also 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 it 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 the surface and "soak" a few minutes loosens the 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 the same stores, helps protect upholstery and resists or retards the 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 your own risk.

Specific Stains

Ballpoint pen marks respond to alcohol. If yours does not, cover the area with a white cloth soaked in a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide and leave it 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.

Other Tips

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 of them.