I want my whites bright!
February 27, 2007 6:30 PM   Subscribe

How do you clean light colored non-washingmachine-able fabrics?

Almost all of my light shades are (were) either bright white or pretty light. However, dogs, parties, smoking, etc have taken place and they are not that bright, same things with some roman shades around. What is the best way you have found to clean them?

Could I use one of those rental steam cleaners? They don't seem to have much "suck" to them, but I am sure it would help.
posted by stormygrey to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
I remember reading in Heloise's column that you can hand wash them in the bathtub with a little laundry detergent.
posted by chickletworks at 6:39 PM on February 27, 2007

The Rug Doctor machines you can rent at most grocery stores have an incredible amount of "suck" if that is the criteria by which you evaluate such things. Vacuum power ("suck") is only useful in a water based cleaning system as the 'extraction' operation in the cleaning cycle. You'd want to make sure you got the upholstrey wand, which is usually an extra cost rental option, and are using the appropriate solutions, in the correct dilution, and that your water isn't adding back any residue. Note that if your shades have both inner and outer covers, or are pleated, the utiility of a water based extraction system for cleaning the covers on the shade frames, maybe doubtful.

And frankly, if you have plenty of white, clean, absorbent, 100% cotton towels, you can use capillary action on lampshades, about as well as using mechanical vacuum attachments. You basically just use spray bottles to apply cleaning fluid, and then blot, blot, blot with fresh clean towels, until the shades are dry to the touch. You can wash and chlorine bleach the towels (and dry, of course) between shades, if you have only a limited number of blotting towels. And I've used high fiber paper towels like Viva, successfully, in blotting operations.

The real problem for cleaning light colored shades "on the frames" is devising some method for keeping the wire frames from rusting through to the fabric of the shade covers. You might want to look into getting the covers off the frames for cleaning, or you might want to price replacement shades, before investing much time in cleaning, if it appears the shade covers can't be easily removed.
posted by paulsc at 6:56 PM on February 27, 2007

Preposterously expensive option: buy a washing machine that will wash non-washingmachine-able fabrics, eg. a Miele. (I splashed out on one when my ancient machine broke for the fourth time, and I'm still faintly surprised whenever I wash handwash-only stuff, wool, mohair &c. and it comes out fine.)
posted by jack_mo at 7:03 PM on February 27, 2007

from real simple magazine:

Lamp Shades
Connie Rakower of New York City’s Just Shades recommends this bath for fabric shades (for velvet or silk, see a professional).

Step 1: Gently roll the shade from side to side in a bathtub filled with a few inches of lukewarm water and two capfuls of Woolite. Use a sponge or a rag to distribute the solution evenly over the shade.
Step 2: Run a damp cloth or a sponge over the shade inside and out to rinse off the solution, then blot gently with a colorfast towel (droplets can leave water spots).
Step 3: Set the shade on its bottom rim on a clean towel placed on a flat surface and let it dry completely. Reaffix it to the lamp — and see things in a new light.
posted by kidsleepy at 8:46 PM on February 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

You could also embrace the non-whiteness. I have memories of my mom staining our lampshades with tea. Then again, it was the early 70's and brown was in.

Home Comforts devotes 2 pages to the cleaning of lampshades a quick summary is presented here:

"Washing lampshades is a tricky business and you should only do it when you are willing to buy new shades if washing fails."

"Do not use an immersion method of cleaning on any shade with paper or glued on parts. Do not use it on any plastic-coated or laminated shades. Do not wash a shade that may shrink a great deal or that are made of non colorfast material. If a label states that you cannot wash or dry clean a shade, I would believe it."

If you wash using an Immersion method as others have described above [although she suggests total immersion in the bathtub, not rotating it through a few inches of water, "the biggest hazard is a rusting frame. So blot dry like crazy, and try to do this on a sunny breezy day. Also, start with a shade that has been vacuumed and cleared of any surface dirt."

If there are marks or stains on your otherwise dust-free, vacuumed shade you can try "gently erasing marks with a clean eraser. Be sure to hold a clean towel behind the shade. If this does not work try a solvent-based stain remover or dry-cleaning fluid, but test a drop first. Discoloration is always a big danger and discoloration of a shade always shows clearly when the light is on."

For your shades, I'd need to know more about why they aren't machine-washable. If they are fabric, they should be hand-washable even if they aren't machine washable. If they are vinyl or coated in vinyl, you can wash them by putting it on a flat surface and washing with a solution of water and detergent, then rinse and wipe it dry.

If you smoke, and want your whites to stay white-ish, invest in a good HEPA air filter.
posted by Mozzie at 9:37 AM on February 28, 2007

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