Material Facts in the Case for Fabric Protection


Draperies and upholstery suffer all kinds of indignities and abuse.

They’re roasted by the sun. They’re attacked by airborne pollutants. They’re spilled on by clumsy kids and party guests. And some of the things that dogs and cats do to couches and chairs can’t be mentioned in polite company.

So how to protect fine fabrics from the elements, whether ultravioletrays or cat sprays?

Defensive maneuvers can be taken even before bringing home fancy silk swags or that new couch with the $50-a-yard tapestry slipcover.

Consider sunlight, which does to fabric what it does to skin: ages it prematurely. The sun is insidious, bleaching colors on drapes, couches, rugs and almost anything else its rays touch.


“You can notice color loss within a year,” said Jan Jessup, spokeswoman for Calico Corners, which has fabric stores throughout the region, including in Pasadena, Orange, Northridge and Laguna Hills.

Blue colors are the first to fade because they’re made from the least stable of dyes. The amount of sun damage also depends on the type of material.

“Silks just rot in the sun,” said Judy Mulder, owner of Judy’s Custom Workroom, an upholstery service in Aliso Viejo.

Even before she makes draperies or upholsters a chair, she has rolls of the material treated with a new product called Sunstop, which acts as a sunscreen.

Existing furniture should be kept out of direct sunlight by covering windows with shutters, blinds, silhouette shades or other treatments. Even the tiny amount of UV rays that penetrates tinted windows can fade fabrics, Mulder said.

Draperies should be lined to protect the fabric. Jessup recommends sandwiching a layer of flannel-like fabric between the lining and the decorative material facing the room.


“It will help fabrics last years and years and will make your window treatments look like a million bucks,” she said. “They’ll appear more sumptuous, richer, heavier, and hang more beautifully.”

Sun isn’t the only agent that stealthily attacks home fabrics. Some enemies of upholstery and drapery go undetected until it’s too late. They’re the tiny particles of dust and pollutants in the air that settle onto the fabric. Over time, they glom onto the fibers, leaving the material permanently dingy and aged.

“Oxidation in the air wears on fabrics and discolors them,” Mulder said.

To prevent death by deterioration, all upholstery and draperies should be vacuumed at least once a month, she said. Frequent vacuuming can prevent the need to clean upholstery and draperies, which causes fabrics to lose their shape.

Of course it’s the larger, more visible objects--kids, dogs, party guests--that often inflict lasting damage on furnishings.

“It’s children with bowls of popcorn and adults with glasses of wine,” Jessup said.

In case of spills, fabrics should be pre-treated with Teflon, Scotchgard or some other type of protectant to prevent a stain from setting.

“If you spill on [treated fabric], the liquid just lies on the surface so it can be cleaned off,” said Mulder, who treats upholstery with Teflon.


Owners can spray their furniture with protectants, but ideally these treatments should be done by professionals using commercial-grade products before the furnishings leave the showroom. Protectants are most effective when applied at the fabric mill because they are baked into the material, according to Jessup.

“Even if you apply a spray, you can’t put a couch in an oven,” she said.

Still, the worst of stains can make it through the best of barriers.

Should an accident happen and a stain result, have the furnishing cleaned by professionals. They are used to dealing with all kinds of spills. “Club soda is not the cure-all for spills that some may hope,” Jessup said.

Blot the stain as soon as the accident occurs, then call a furniture-cleaning service or get draperies to a cleaners. Mulder makes house calls to clean couches and other large furnishings for about $15 to $20 a foot.

“Don’t try to rub the spot out. It will damage the fabric,” she said.

Even professionals can’t remove everything: Pet stains can be permanent. Mulder uses a citric acid solution to help eliminate the yellow, and most pet stores stock stain removers such as Nature’s Miracle, which are designed for animal accidents.

As “inexpensive insurance” against such hazards, Jessup recommends buying an extra couple yards of fabric whenever buying or reupholstering furnishings.

“In case the cat uses the cushion as scratching post or someone spills red wine, it can be recovered,” Jessup said.


Jessup does not suggest picking prints based on the color’s longevity or susceptibility to sunlight.

“Decorate for what suits you and feels right for the room. Live with the colors you love,” she said. “Don’t decorate for the worst-case scenario.”

Coming Clean: How to Treat Spills and Stains

Stain removal suggestions from Scotchgard:

* Clean up spills and stains right away. The longer stains stay on the fabric, the harder they are to remove.

* Cleaning solutions or liquids should always be tested in hidden areas to determine that no discoloration will result from their use.

* Apply cleaning agents to a white absorbent cloth or paper towel and blot the stained area. Do not apply cleaning agents directly to the stain.

* Always use a white absorbent cloth, preferably cotton, to blot or lightly massage the stained area. Never rub or scrub, which can damage the fabric.


* Work from the outside to the center of a stain to prevent the stain from spreading or forming a ring.

* Allow the fabric on furniture to dry before using the item. Lightly brush or vacuum the area to restore the fabric’s original appearance.