What should I use to maintain and clean vinyl upholstery?

Our customers often ask us, “What should I use to clean vinyl upholstery?”

Basic Cleaning Techniques
The simplest are the most recommended and the safest to do often. If you can, just use water. Vinyls are waterproof and water should have zero impact on the life of the vinyl. Just be sure to allow the vinyl to dry completely in order to avoid mildew stains. However, if you can’t just use water try to find a product that has no solvents in it. Solvents evaporate, pulling out the oils and drying out the vinyl. Also, consider using a soft bristle brush alongside some of these to get into the vinyl texture. We generally use Simple Green. It’s a Phosphorus based cleaner so it’s impact on the longevity of the vinyl is minimal. One thing though, it contains green coloring. The coloring may, over time, impact lighter colored vinyls. There are also a few ‘green’ cleaners that use citrus. My experience with these has been that though they may clean, many leave the vinyl slightly sticky. I know there are many brands, and some are great products so shop around and find one that works for you. Lastly you can mix a solution of dish soap and water, 1:1 ratio is recommended but it seems like a lost of soap to me, then rinse clean with water. Use caution with this solution. Dish soaps almost all contain ammonia which will impact the life of the vinyl.

Advanced Cleaning Techniques
“What about stain removal?”
The most important part of getting any stain taken care of is to get to it early. Ballpoint pen ink can often be completely removed provided it’s cleaned quickly. I begin with a silicon spray lubricant, I know it sounds crazy but often if the ink hasn’t bonded yet this will take it right up. Spray until there’s a small amount of wetness and then wipe it up with a clean terry cloth. Never re-wipe with the, now, inky part of the terry cloth. Oils could also be used but I recommend against it as oils greatly impact the life of the vinyl. If that doesn’t work I apply an adhesive remover to the stain. One vinyl manufacturer recommends lighter fluid. It’s important to work quickly as these products will generally remove any protective coating on the vinyl if left on the surface of the vinyl too long. Then take the terry cloth and scrub lightly in circles on an area of the stain for about ten seconds. If the stain remains, rinse the affected area with water, then clean it with a soap and water mixture, and repeat the entire process all over again.

Additionally, many manufacturers suggest using alcohol and water mixtures, 1:1 and straight, or bleach to water mixtures, 1:4 and 1:2. Provided you’re patient and do several light passes you should be able to at least lighten the stain without changing the color or finish of the vinyl.

“What about medical grade sanitizing?”
Many professions have legal requirements when it comes to cleaning their equipment. The suggestion from manufacturers on most vinyls is that you can use anything necessary to clean the material but that you rinse with water afterwards. For many business this isn’t an option. If it is not an option for you I suggest you just be sure you’re using the correct dilution of the cleaner. Since using too much cleaner could wear out your covers very quickly.

Conditioners
“Once I have clean vinyl, should I use a conditioner like Armorall?”
We strongly recommend against it. Vinyl conditioner products work by, not only replenishing but, replacing the oils in the vinyl. The problem is that the replacement oils don’t last as long. For the few month you apply those products the vinyl will remain supple and shiny but when you stop the new oils will quickly evaporate and the vinyl will crack out. The best method in getting the longest life is to clean vinyl with soap and water.

Recommendations
These are the products we often use to clean vinyl:
Simple Green – Easy and effective. Just don’t use it habitually on light vinyls.
Silicon Spray Lubricant – Very effective at getting ink up if used quickly.
3M Adhesive Remover 08984 – Great for getting ink out of vinyl. Just don’t let it sit too long on the material.
Iosso Mold and Mildew Cleaner – Great at cleaning up very dirty outdoor seating or boat seats.

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