Cleaning car upholstery

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Various types of upholstery present certain cleaning difficulties, but if the following instructions are followed, the results should be satisfactory. The old way of cleaning is partly outdated, but also several very usable tips.


Dust and dirt particles that fall on the surface of mohair sift down between the pile fibers, and are not ground into the material. They are easily removed with a whisk-broom, carpet beater, or vacuum cleaner. In so doing, dirt along the sides and rear of the seats falls to the bottom and can easily be wiped off. If beaten, the cushion should be held upside-down so that all the dust will fall away from it. Blows should be lightly administered. If a whisk-broom or vacuum cleaner is used, it is not absolutely necessary to remove the seats, but it is preferable.


Grease spots can be readily cleaned from mohair because they are broken up by the tips of the pile. In removing spots apply a small quantity of good cleaning fluid to a clean cloth, start well outside the area of the grease spot and work towards it.

Repeat this several times, using a clean part of the cloth each time. This will remove the spot without leaving a circle of grease and dirt along the edge. Allow to dry thoroughly, then brush with whisk-broom. (See detailed instructions under "Specific types of stains.")

Washing with soap and water

Mohair can be washed safely with soap and water. Use luke-warm water and a neutral soap. The suds should be good and frothy, not watery. They should be applied in moderate quantities with a damp cloth, sponge, or soft brush. Rub with the pile, not against it. Soap suds should be removed with a clean, damp cloth or sponge.

Then wipe the surface several times with a dry cloth. While the material is still damp, brush it lightly with a whisk-broom or brush of medium stiffness. Brush with the pile. Permit air to circulate freely over the wet upholstery. When dry, again brush with the pile.

Steaming the pile

Sometimes, after long, hard use, the surface of mohair may become slightly flattened. In such cases it is easy to bring the pile back to its original position. Dry steam is ideal for this purpose. Simply steam the flattened spot liberally. If no dry steam is available, a damp cloth should be spread over the surface and a hot flat iron touched to it lightly.

The steam that is thereby driven down into the fibers will restore them to the erect position. Another method is to take a cloth or a heavy towel, wrung out of very hot water and spread over the flattened spot.

Leave the cloth in place for ten minutes or so. If the pile has been pressed down heavily, it may be necessary to repeat the process a few times. While still damp, the upholstery should be brushed lightly with a whisk-broom or brush of medium stiffness.

When thoroughly dry, the material should again be brushed. After this treatment the upholstery will look fresh and new.

General instructions

  1. Use clean cloths at all times and be sure a clean portion of the cloth is used throughout any operation.
  2. A neutral (non-alkaline) hand soap similar to Lux, Ivory or Palmolive soap, is recommended in cases calling for soap or soap suds.
  3. The use of hot water is to be avoided in removing stains, except where absolutely necessary. If it must be used, extreme care should be exercised and it should be wiped off immediately, before it has a chance to run.
  4. Do not use any gasoline as a cleaning solvent which is colored or contains tetra ethyl lead.
  5. Carbon tetrachloride cleaning solvents and chloroform are non-inflammable. Most other types of cleaning solvents are inflammable and care must be exercised in handling them. Chloroform should be used carefully and in small quantities so that vapors are not inhaled.
  6. Water spots may remain on the fabric if water has been used in the removal of the stain. These can be removed as outlined under "Water spots."
  7. All brushing of velvets should be in the direction of the pile, or lengthwise of the goods.
  8. In removing grease spots start well outside the spot and rub toward it. This will lessen the possibility of causing cleaning rings.

Eliminating rings after a spot cleaning operation

There are numerous types of upholstering fabrics, and on some of these cleaning is more of a problem than on others. A flat cloth requires a different method of cleaning than mohair fabric, as mohair has a nap that allows the dust and soot to sink below the surface and not show on the surface so prominently. Flat fabric surfaces expose all soiled spots and therefore require cleaning more often.

Spot cleaning will leave rings of discoloration on flat fabrics more often than on nap fabrics and for that reason flat trim should be cleaned by taking the whole panel as a unit rather than a spot only.

After spot-cleaning on a cushion the spot when dry will invariably appear lighter than the surrounding cloth, which gives it the appearance of being faded. This usually denotes that the rest of the cushion was not perfectly clean before the spot-cleaning operation was started, and frequent attempts to remove or "blend in" this apparently faded section gives the trim a soiled or mottled appearance.

The following is a method of cleaning flat fabrics without leaving the usual discolored rings. This method has been used satisfactorily and has proved superior to any other heretofore used, producing a neater and cleaner job.

Before spot cleaning, always thoroughly dust off the cushion, or better still, vacuum clean the surface, removing all accumulated dust and dirt.

Use carbon tetrachloride or any other equally good cleaning solvent, and with a clean white wiping cloth rub lightly over the soiled spot to remove all traces of the stain without rubbing it into the trim, changing to a clean part of the wiping cloth as often as it is soiled until no stain shows on the white wiper and the soiled spot has disappeared.

Then clean the entire panel, using enough cleaner to saturate the whole panel, and while the surface is still wet use the suction nozzle of a vaccum cleaner to suck up through the fabric the surplus cleaning fluid which has dissolved the grime, leaving nothing to dry on the surface to discolor or ring it.

This applies to seat cushions and seat back cushions only. Do not use this method on mohair, or on door trim pads, arm rests, or headlinings as they may be ruined. Allow time for cushion to dry before using.

The kind of cleaning fluid to use on the above mentioned cushion trim is a matter of preference. Any good standard cleaner, provided it is non-explosive, is satisfactory. A mixture of carbon tetrachloride and naphtha is very good. This mixture is non-explosive and has thorough cleansing properties. In the cleaning process, clean hands as well as clean wiping cloths are essential. If possible the cushion should be removed from the car where free access may be had to all parts of the trim.

Cleaning rubber floor mats having carpet inserts

When cleaning this type of floor covering, use only castile soap and water, or an ammonia-soap cleaner which is whisked to a foam, and the foam used as the cleaner.

Hydrocarbon cleaners, such as naphtha, carbon tetrachloride, or other similar solvents, should never be used since they may dissolve the cement and separate the fabric from the rubber mat.

Specific types of stains

Battery Acids.—Pour enough ordinary household ammonia water directly on the spot so that it will be well covered. Permit the ammonia water to remain on the spot about a minute so that it will have ample time to neutralize the acid. Then rinse the spot by rubbing it with a clean cloth thoroughly wet with cold water.

This treatment will suffice for old and new stains ; however, no type of treatment will repair damaged fibers which result from the action of the acids on the fibers, particularly after the spot has dried. It is therefore imperative that the spot be treated as quickly as possible. If so much as a day elapses between the time the acid was spilled on the cloth and the time of its treatment with ammonia, the acid in all probability will have produced a hole in the material.

Blood.—Rub the stain with a clean cloth wet with cold water until no more of the stain will come out. Care must be taken so that clean portions of cloth are being used for rubbing the stain.

The foregoing treatment should remove all of the stain. If not, then pour a little household ammonia water on the stain and after a lapse of about one minute continue to rub the stain with a clean, wet cloth. Nothing further can be done to remove the stain if this treatment has not been effective.

Hot water or soap and water must not be used on blood stains as their use will set the stain, thereby making its removal practically impossible.

Candy.—Candy stains other than chocolate can be removed by rubbing with a wet cloth with very hot water. If not then completely removed, sponging the stain (after drying) with a cloth wet with carbon tetrachloride will usually clean up the stain.

Candy stains resulting from cream and fruit-filled chocolates can be removed better by rubbing with a cloth soaked in luke-warm soap suds, together with scraping while wet with a dull knife. This treatment is subsequently followed with a rinsing by rubbing the spot with a cloth wet with cold water.

Stains resulting from chocolate or milk chocolate can be removed better by rubbing the stain with a cloth wet with luke-warm water. After the spot is dry it should be sponged with a cloth wet with carbon tetrachloride or chloroform.

Chewing gum.—Moisten the gum with carbon tetrachloride and work the gum off the fabric with a dull knife while still moist.

Enamel, paint, and lacquers.—These materials are made by compounding two or more of the following types of materials : drying oils, driers, gums, resins, organic and inorganic pigments, nitrocellulose, organic solvents, and possibly a few other materials. It is, therefore, obvious that the quality, brand, and color of the paint, enamel, or lacquer are important factors governing the ease with which these materials may be removed from fabrics, as some pigments, gums, and oils are much more easily removed than others.

The age of the stain is one of the most important factors to be considered. The older the stain, the harder it will be to remove ; therefore, it is important that the stain be removed as quickly as possible.

An excellent method for removing stains of this type is as follows : If the stain is not dry, remove as much as possible by rubbing with a clean cloth wet with turpentine or the hereinafter-mentioned solvent mixture. This may be the only treatment necessary.

If the stain has dried and will not yield to the foregoing treatment, saturate with the following solvent mixture :

  1. 1 part denatured alcohol
  2. 1 part acetone
  3. 1 part benzene
  4. 1 part butyl or amyl acetate

Then work out as, much of the paint as possible with a dull knife.

After repeating the foregoing treatment several times, saturate the stain with the paint remover solvent and immediately rub the spot vigorously with a clean cloth saturated with strong luke-warm soap suds. Then subsequently rinse by sponging with a clean cloth wet with cold water.

Fruits.—Fruit stains of practically all kinds can be removed by treatment with very hot water. Wet the stain well by pouring a little hot water (boiling if possible) directly on the spot.

Scrape all excess pulp, if any, off the fabric with a dull knife. Then rub vigorously with cloth wet with very hot water. If this treatment does not suffice, sponging after drying with a clean cloth wet with carbon tetrachloride is the only further treatment recommended.

Soap and water is not recommended as it will more than likely set the stain and thereby cause a permanent discoloration of greater magnitude than the original stain. Drying the cloth by means of heat (such as by the use of an iron) is not recommended for the same reason.

Grease and oil stains.—If an excessive amount of grease has been spilled on the material, as much as possible should be removed by scraping with a dull knife or spatula before any further treatment is attempted.

Grease and oil stains may be removed by sponging and rubbing with a clean cloth wet with any one of several solvents, such as carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, benzene, ether, or motor gasoline (free from tetra-ethyl lead). In general, carbon tetrachloride is the best grease remover. To lessen the possibility of grease rings, start well outside the spot and rub toward it with a circular motion. Care should be taken to use a clean portion of cloth to rub the stain. Several cloths may be necessary.

To alleviate the possibility of ring formation and to confine the grease or oil to as small an area as possible, the following procedure may also be advantageous : Pour a small amount of the solvent directly on the spot and immediately press a white blotter very firmly on the spot. Repeat this procedure, using clean sections of blotting paper until the blotting paper no longer absorbs any grease.

If after repeated treatments with the solvent a dirty stain remains due to particles of dirt contained in the grease, the following treatment will probably be of advantage : rub the spot with luke-warm soap suds ; rinse off the soap by sponging with a clean cloth wet with cold water.

Ice cream.—The same procedure is recommended for the removal of the cream stains as that used in removing fruit stains.

If the stain is persistent, rubbing the spot with a cloth wet with warm soap suds may be used to some advantage after the initial treatment with hot water. This soap treatment will of course be followed by a rinsing by rubbing with a clean cloth wet with cold water.

After drying, a sponging with carbon tetrachloride will clear up the last traces of the stain by removing fatty or oily matter.

Ink (Writing ink).—As the composition of various writing inks varies, it is therefore impossible to find agents which are equally effective in removing all ink spots. In general, no ink spot can be completely removed from velvets and flat fabrics without injuring the goods.

The following methods are recommended and are listed according to their relative efficiency.

  1. Commercial Ink Remover
    Gartside's Iron Rust Soap, manufactured by Gartside's Iron Rust Soap Co., Philadelphia, Pa., and on sale throughout the United States.
    Rub the soap into the stain with the fingers. Let stand about a minute and wipe off with dry cloth. Repeat the process till the wiping cloth no longer shows a stain. Then rinse by rubbing the spot with a cloth wet with cold water.
  2. Saturate solution of oxalic acid.
  3. 2 per cent solution of sodium acid fluoride (sodium bifluoride).
    Apply either of the above solutions to the spot with eye-dropper and then blot with blotting paper. Repeat the process until a clean portion of blotting paper shows no stain. Then rinse by rubbing with clean cloth wet with cold water.

Iron rust.—Rub the spot with a clean cloth saturated with warm soap suds ; rinse by rubbing with a cloth wet with cold water. After the fabric has dried, treat the remaining stain as if it were an ink spot. Any of the methods outlined for the removal of ink spots will clean up the stain perfectly.

Lipstick.—The compositions of various brands of lipsticks vary ; therefore some lipstick stains may be removed more easily than others. Pour a little chloroform or carbon tetrachloride on the stain and immediately press a blotter firmly on the spot. Repeat this procedure using new sections of blotting paper until the blotter no longer shows stain.

Liquor and wine.—Treat liquor and wine stains in exactly the same manner as fruit stains.

Mildew.—Fresh mildew stains can be removed by rubbing vigorously with a cloth soaked in warm soap suds, followed with rinsing by rubbing with a cloth wet with cold water.

Old mildew growths can also be removed with the above soap and water treatment, but the discoloration caused by the growth probably cannot be removed. The only treatment recommended for removing discoloration caused by old mildew growths is an oxalic acid treatment as follows : Pour enough 10 per cent oxalic acid solution on the cloth to completely cover the stain.

Allow to stand a minute and then remove the acid by alternate blotting with dry blotting paper and pouring cold or hot water on the stain.

Shoe polish and dressing.—Black and tan : rub the stain with a cloth wet with carbon tetrachloride until removed. Care must be taken so that a clean portion of the cloth is used for each rubbing operation.

White shoe dressing : allow the polish to become dry. Then brush the spot vigorously with a brush. This will probably be all the treatment that is necessary. If not, then moisten the spot with cold water and after it has again dried repeat the brushing operation.

This method applies particularly to types of white shoe dressing which contain only starch or dextrine or some water-soluble vehicle. In cases where water-insoluble vehicles are used in white shoe dressings, the methods of treatment will vary. Where the vehicle is wax, as in the case of black and tan polishes or dressings, the method described using carbon tetrachloride will usually suffice. In cases, however, where pyroxylin is used, it will be necessary to use acetone, ethyl, or butyl acetate or the mixture described for the removal of enamels, paints, and lacquers.

Tar.—Moisten the spot slightly with chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, benzene, or gasoline (not ethyl), and then remove as much of the tar as possible with a dull knife. Follow this operation by rubbing the spot with a cloth wet with any one of the aforementioned solvents until it is removed.

Water spots.—Water spots can be removed as follows : Sponge the entire panel with a clean cloth wet with cold water. Sponge the spot with a rag wet with chloroform or carbon tetrachloride.