Spill-Proof Your Sofas and More

Q: How do you protect upholstery from spills, dirt and little ones who put their feet all over the furniture? I’ve got a fabulous chenille sofa for which I paid more than I care to admit, and I panic that someone is going to spill red wine, or worse, red-sauce spaghetti on it during some big gathering. I suppose I could take Valium every time we have guests, but what should I do to protect my sofa and other upholstered furniture — and my sanity?
–Edith Davis, Ossining

A: If you allow guests bearing plates of red-sauce spaghetti anywhere near your expensive sofa, I’d say your sanity is already in question. But let’s address what to do after the inevitable spill.

Eddie Bin, head supervisor of the aptly named Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning Westchester (914-819-0443), who declares he has been dealing with stains for “twenty years, every day, non-stop,” says the trick to removing most organic stains is simple: cool water and swift action, as in right away. Here’s what you do: First scoop up the spaghetti (or whatever solids there may be), then dampen a clean, white towel and blot the spill—don’t rub—until the stain comes up. If it’s a major mess, rinse the towel and repeat. Don’t soak the spot or you may create a water stain.

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“Don’t use salt or shampoo or anything that might bleach or make the color run,” he adds. Despite its reputation as an all-purpose spot remover, even club soda, which has salts in it, can make things worse. And avoid over-the-counter stain-removing products. “So many customers make that mistake and create a permanent stain. It’s heartbreaking,” says Bin with feeling. If the stain is still visible (oil-based spills may be resistant), call in a pro as soon as possible.

If the spill is something thick and sticky, like candle wax or mud, let it dry and then pry or brush it off.

First aid for rugs is much the same. “Rug Lady” Antoinette Lombardi from the Rug and Home Gallery (914-741-2486) suggests applying plain seltzer, then blotting with a clean, white cloth. She, too, cautions against folksy remedies, or even Woolite. “People get in a frenzy and create a whole mess,” she says. “Less is best.”

If you want to live dangerously and ignore the advice of cleaning pros, Martha You-Know-Who recommends 3 percent hydrogen peroxide for organic stains, equal parts white vinegar and water for alkaline stains, ammonia for acidic stains (1 tablespoon in a cup of water), and rubbing alcohol for oily ones. But you’ll need to know your stain’s chemistry — and remember, you’ve been warned.

An ounce of prevention via professionally applied stain repellent is a good idea, says Bin. Even if your furnishings came thus protected, it wears off over time. Scotchgard has been discontinued (a tad too late, as its nasty chemicals are so widespread they’ve even been found in polar bears), but there are similar products that are less likely to destroy your liver. Although “protected” fabrics are much more resistant to stains, don’t expect miracles, says Bin — you still have to do the damp-towel routine.

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Upholstered furniture should be gently vacuumed every week to prevent dirt from building up in the fibers. And Bin suggests having your upholstery professionally cleaned every few years even if it looks OK. “You may have smooshed stains out, but we really clean it deep,” he says.

Finally, slipcovers, or even attractive, strategically placed throws can avert disaster when the Klutzes are bringing their unruly toddlers over.

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