Like many other people, since the pandemic started over a year ago, my husband and I have eaten a lot of meals with plates propped on our laps while watching Netflix.
A blob of something I dropped on our new Pottery Barn leather chair went undetected for a few days. Then, when it could not be easily wiped off, my industrious husband took the abrasive side of a sponge to it, leaving scratches that looked as if a bear had dragged its claws across the surface. More on that later.
Our time stuck inside during this pandemic has left its mark not only on our mental health, finances and waistlines, but also on our home furnishings.
Whether it’s carpets dotted with spilled coffee or cat vomit, or wooden desks scraped by laptops, Legos and game consoles, many home items are in need of care and repair. (Aren’t we all?)
We rounded up five major areas of damage and consulted experts (and TikTok) for the best ways to address them.
If you have been using disinfecting wipes to sanitize your wooden tables, stop now: They can soften the finish. “Simple soap and water is a great way to wash your hands and also clean your furniture,” says Gat Caperton, chief executive of Gat Creek, a West Virginia furniture manufacturing company. Use a soft, damp cloth with a touch of soap to clean your tabletop, then wipe with a dry cloth.
If a hot mug has left a mark on your table, Caperton suggests trying Mohawk’s No Blush Plus Retarder. “When a surface area on a tabletop is heated and then cools, water can condensate and get trapped under the finish,” he says, adding that this product allows moisture to escape. (Read the directions to learn what types of finishes it’s good for.) Also invest in some coasters and trivets.
Caperton suggests leaving small scratches alone; they’ll blend into the patina over time. For a heavy, deep scratch, a permanent marker matching the color of your wood will do the trick. Just color the scratch and quickly wipe off any excess with a cloth. The next day, he says, rub a little vegetable oil (not olive oil) into the crack to help protect it from spills and moisture.
Rugs and carpet
Experts say you should remove stains on a carpet or rug immediately, if possible. But if you don’t catch it right away, you still have options. First, consult your rug’s label or manufacturer’s instructions for best cleaning practices.
If it’s a new stain, says David Weidkamp, sales manager at rug manufacturer Tufenkian, “blot up the excess liquid as quickly as possible, then use a cleaning solution and blot again.” You don’t need some fancy, specific carpet-cleaning product, he says; dish soap is a good, basic solution. He suggests a few drops of mild dishwashing soap (Seventh Generation or Dawn will work) mixed in a cup of water.
Once cleaning and rinsing is complete, blot the area with a dry towel. Use a portable fan or hair dryer set on cool — never hot. A wet/dry vac is also useful for immediate removal of spills and stains, and to suck up cleaning liquids before they dry. (Weidkamp prefers a small unit, such as Shop-Vac’s 2.5-gallon model.)
With old stains, use the same method multiple times. If it’s dried, first scrape or remove what you can, then clean, blot and rinse. If you don’t see success after three to four cycles, call a professional.
As sofas and cushy chairs took a beating last year, watching people clean them became a new form of entertainment. Bissell’s Little Green portable deep-cleaner, for example, went viral on TikTok.
A younger audience was captivated, and sales of the Little Green nearly doubled in the past year, according to Lauren Fuller, Bissell’s brand manager of portable deep cleaners. The unit sells for $110.
“They would watch the TikTok and say, ‘Holy cow, my carpet or upholstery did not look that dirty, and now look at the dirty water tank,’ ” Fuller says.
Brinda Ayer, content director at Food52, has a small apartment in Brooklyn with her partner and a dog. Little Green has been a lifesaver for their gray midcentury-style sofa. “We ate some meals here, plus, in the evening, had ice cream and snacks,” she says. “We needed more cleaning than ever.”
If you’re sticking with spot-cleaning, Patric Richardson, author of “Laundry Love,” says to apply a laundry stain treatment, such as Shout or Amodex. Remove the treatment with a warm, wet towel. Richardson’s trick for not ending up with a ring after it dries is to feather the edges. “Pull a dry towel from the center of the wet spot into the dry,” he says. Go around the entire stain “as if you were following the numbers on a clock.”
For my own black leather scratch, I ordered Drtulz’s Leather Recoloring Balm, available in basic colors. The kit arrives with what looks like a jar of black shoe polish, a spongy applicator and a buffer. Apply the tinted balm, wipe off the excess, then buff. It worked like a charm (to my husband’s relief).
Some leather manufacturers offer consumer products to help with maintenance and repair. Cheryl Sigmon, vice president of merchandising and product development for furniture manufacturer Bradington-Young, says her company stocks bottles of touch-up colors for its own line, as well as leather cleaning and protection kits.
In general, Sigmon says, if you’re going to apply a color to your leather, test it on a hidden spot first. Then use a cotton swab or cotton ball to saturate the damaged area with the color. For serious scratches or damage such as ink stains, she recommends a professional repair service.
She also has a pandemic caution. Leather can be damaged by alcohol-based products. So don’t use sanitizing wipes to clean it, and beware of putting your hands on the arms of your leather furniture just after you’ve used sanitizer. It could break down the top coat.
“People are entertaining more outdoors, and they don’t want to dismantle everything every day,” says Sarah Dooley, director of upholstery at Sunbrella, a maker of indoor/outdoor fabrics.
For cleaning Sunbrella’s outdoor pillows or cushions, take out the insert and hand-wash the fabric in a mixture of dish or mild soap, such as Dawn or Woolite, and water, using a soft-bristle brush or sponge to work on stains. After checking the washing instructions for your fabric or cushion, you can consider throwing the covers into a washing machine. (Close the zippers first.) Wash in cold water on the delicate cycle, then air-dry, Dooley says.
If the cushions or pillows are not removable, prepare a solution of 1/4 cup of mild dish soap to a gallon of water, and clean them seam to seam using a soft-bristle brush. (She likes the Grainger Tough Guy horsehair brush.) Then rinse thoroughly; you can use a hose.
For mildew stains, Dooley says, Sunbrella recommends mixing a cup of bleach and 1/4 cup of mild dish soap in a gallon of water.