I moved and was dismayed to discover that the smell that plagued me in my previous home had followed me to the new one. The culprit? My sofa.
Upholstery odors are insidious and incredibly difficult to eliminate. “Upholstery isn’t a consumer-friendly, cleanable item,” says Alec Houle, a 51-year veteran in the upholstery cleaning industry, who services the greater Boston area at Alec’s Carpet & Upholstery Cleaning in Abington, Massachusetts.
Despite this, there are steps you can take to assess the problem and decide whether professional intervention is required.
Diagnosing pet odors. If you have pets, an ammonia-based smell indicates the presence of urine, as do telltale yellowish stains. If you have a dog, start looking for staining round the furniture’s skirt. Cat urine is particularly tough to treat, both because it is smellier and because cats prefer to pee in the cracks of their furniture, where their injuries are not immediately detectable.
Should you smell the pee but can not locate the stain, try shining a dark light onto the piece in a darkened area. (Black lights are available from tool rental companies.)
Other odors from living sources. Another culprit might be dog drool, which contains bacteria that can cause odors or that might react with soil on the furniture to give off odors. (Millie and Gabrielle, shown here, are innocent of any wrongdoing, as are the other pets in those photos)
And do not rule out your two-legged friends and yourself: The origin may be human perspiration, which is most commonly found on the arms of the sofa and where the neck comes in contact with the fabric.
Stain treatment. As soon as you detect a stain, do not delay. “The faster you reach it, the better,” states Mike Hiatt, general director of D.A. Burns & Sons in Seattle. An over-the-counter enzyme-based cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle can neutralize urine stains, and it doesn’t need to be rinsed out, unlike the typical treatments for odor-causing stains.
If the stain is restricted to the top layer of the furniture, you can try daubing it gently with a white cotton cloth dipped in warm to hot water and wrung out. You might also use a solution of 10% white vinegar and 90 percent water, or blend a teaspoon of mild liquid detergent with two cups of water.
Cleaning caveats. Be aware that even plain water can render a ring, based on the fabric. Consult the cleaning directions that came with your furniture before proceeding with any home treatment — even water.
Only water-based cleaning solutions are powerful on pet pee, because urine is water based. If the urine has soaked into the cushion, you might need to clean the upholstery and then replace the interior cushion.
Tip: If you are shopping for furniture and own pets, think about buying pieces with washable slipcovers.
Smells from different resources. Mustiness is common with secondhand furniture and pieces kept in a cellar or storage facility. The humidity in those spaces can cause bacteria or mould to embed itself deep in the frame or stuffing.
“If it is a musty odor, typically you are not going to eliminate this,” says Houle. Cigarette odors are equally pernicious. Before calling a professional, make the furniture onto a porch onto a dry day to find out whether this helps.
Houle takes a dim view of the fabric deodorizers that are very popular in recent decades, claiming they just mask odors and do not reach the root of the problem. More effective are antimicrobials, such as those from Microban, but even people are most useful after a cleaning.
Calling the pros. There are two major kinds of professional upholstery cleaning: wet cleaning and dry cleaning. Houle estimates that 98 percent of upholstery cleaners use the wet process, as it’s normally more effective and less toxic, although it can cause fabric shrinkage, swelling or bleeding or even properly executed. “If all the proper steps are required, the outcomes can be superior,” he states.
Dry cleaning uses a solvent, so colors and fabrics are guarded. But the surroundings aren’t: respirators and venting are required, and steps need to be taken to minimize the chance of explosions.
For both kinds of therapy, the upholstery cleaner will come to a home. The average cost ranges from approximately $75 to $100 to get a sofa, $60 to $75 for a love seat and $40 to $50 to get a seat.
No warranties. Hiatt says professional cleaning will usually improve the circumstance. But there are no guarantees that it will solve that, so you’re always taking a risk that you could shell out the cash and the smell might still be there. Or your partner might not smell it but you will.
“The tricky thing about odor,” notes Hiatt, “is that it is in the nose of the beholder.”
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