Yellow Alert for "Fine Fabric Cleaners"
by Jim Pemberton - Fabric Pro Specialist
There are several things that can cause furniture to have a yellow discoloration or "haze". The causes and cures of these problems are so diverse that its critical to know the fabric and its maintenance history to know what you should do (or NOT do) next.
Inspection and Testing
1. Test the fabric:
Synthetic fiber fabrics tend to yellow from oily soils. Yellow discolorations on natural fiber fabrics are more often from cellulose browning. You must know how to conduct a burn test to determine what type of fiber family is present.
You don't need to know the SPECIFIC fiber, but you do need to know if its synthetic or natural.
2. If the fibers present are synthetic, the yellow is most likely from oily soils,
or soils from smoke related damage. In both cases the use of an alkaline prespray designed for synthetic upholstery should be used.
If yellow staining still remains, the use of an oxidizing agent as a booster,will likely remove residual yellowing.
NOTE: This process is NOT recommended for yellowing of natural fiber fabrics!
"THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF CELLULOSE BROWNING"
3. If the fibers are natural, you should suspect cellulose browning.
Be certain to discuss previous cleaning and maintenance of the fabric. If another cleaner, or the owner of the fabric caused the browning, you must inform your customer that this yellow condition is evidence of DAMAGE to the fabric, and that you cannot be held responsible for this damage. Even if you can correct the appearance, the physical processes that cause browning also weakens natural fibers.
4. Establish this understanding (in writing is always best) with your customer.
You may then attempt to remove the browning using the safest methods possible to prevent further damage to the fabric.
a. Apply a mild acid tannin spotter.
Tannin spotters that do not contain reducing agents are good products to start with. The mild organic acids used in these products can remove browning without damaging or over whitening fibers.
b. Apply a reducing agent.
If "a" does not work, rinse the fabric with clear water and try a reducing agent, such as a formulated product for Haitian cotton or raw cotton. These products have an objectionable odor and will often leave a stiff feel to the fabric. Their advantage is that they rarely "overwhiten" the fabric.
c. Use an aggressive blend
If "b" does not work, or if the condition is severe, use an oxidizing agent as an additive, or a formulated product. This is the most aggressive, and also the most damaging correction method. Use only as a last resort. Avoid strong urine stain removers that contain peroxide. These products are formulated for synthetic fibers, and will both over whiten and rapidly damage cellulose natural fiber fabrics.
Large, but localized yellow stains may be caused by urine, which can be detected by UV lights and odor, and should be treated with care as most urine residues damage dyes on both natural and synthetic fiber fabrics.
As you can see, the causes and related risks of yellow discolorations vary greatly. Do not ever attempt to clean or restore fabrics with yellow discolorations without a clear understanding of the nature of the fabric and the cause of the discoloration.
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