I love reader questions!
Being able to interact with readers makes me feel like I am helping people. That is what this blog is all about—helping others to learn more about the dangers of mold exposure and imparting my hard-learned techniques of how to best clean mold from your life safely and effectively.
This week, I had a reader message me through my Facebook page with a very specific cleaning question. She wrote:
I need some tips on how to clean an upholstered chair I inherited from my mom. I am reading your blog, great info and very laymen/patient friendly. Can you help me save this upholstered chair?”
What a great question! I sure hope I can help.
I actually have a few older previous posts about this very subject. First, I sent her links to those, which I will include for you here too:
Two posts involve the use of a steamer. If you don’t have a steamer, though, how do you go about attempting to effectively clean a piece of upholstered furniture? In particular, for this post, a piece of old, well-loved and most likely delicate furniture?
Well, I have a possible solution for you here. It is a pretty involved process, but tends to yield very good results. I will caution you, though, that the only way to truly know if you have effectively cleaned the piece is to TAP test it for mold afterwards. (HERE is a link to my post on TAP testing objects for mold. HERE is a link to the EC3 Mold Screening Test Plates that I use for TAP testing.) I highly, highly recommend that you do this, because it is the only way to be sure that you aren’t introducing a potentially toxic piece of furniture into your home. Doing that could undo any remediation or cleaning you have done up until now and could make you or your family members very sick. If you clean the piece using all of these methods, but still cannot get a clean TAP test, it is time to let go and get rid of it. It is a difficult thing to do, but I always have to remind myself that it is just a thing, and my health and my family’s health is more important.
This reader actually included a picture of her first mold test plate from her TAP test of the chair. This test was done prior to cleaning.
Back to my answer…
Here is my response to the reader’s question:
“If you do not have a steamer, here is how I would proceed:
- HEPA Vacuum the entire chair extremely thoroughly, removing any dust or dirt that is on the surface.
- If the chair is actually dirty or dingy, with any visible mold, I would make a powerhouse cleaning solution to physically clean it with. Here is how to do that: Fill a bucket with warm water, a 1/2 cup of borax and a pea size squirt of Dawn. Swish until Borax is totally dissolved. Use a sponge or vegetable brush (they sell these at the Dollar Store) to clean the stains, dirt or visible mold from the chair.
(Note: Borax is a naturally occurring substance—a boron compound, a mineral and salt of boric acid. It is used to make ceramics and glass. It is particularly good at killing mold, because it is very alkaline, with a very low pH of 9.7 on a scale from 1 to 15, with 15 representing the highest level of alkalinity, and 1 representing the highest level of acidity. That’s pretty high, without be damaging or toxic. Borax is toxic if ingested, though, so make sure children and pets stay away while you are using it. Also, make certain to wear gloves or to thoroughly wash your hands after use to make sure none gets in your mouth. Mold, because it is a fungus, likes more acidic environments and thrives in a pH of about 3-6. So, as you can see, the addition of something like Borax to mold’s environment instantly makes it a LOT less hospitable. Mold is also water loving, so introducing Borax is sort of like pouring salt on a slug—it just sucks the moisture away. Borax is also antibacterial and deodorizing, which is why I like to add it to my EC3 Mold Solution Spray, especially for cleaning upholstered furniture. Chances are, if it has mold, it also has bacteria and needs a little odor elimination as well. Right? )
- Once done cleaning visible mold or dirt, open a bottle of EC3 Mold Solution Spray and add about 1 TBSP Borax to the bottle. Shake until Borax is dissolved. Spray the entire chair with this solution and allow it to totally dry.
- Make sure to flip the chair and clean, vacuum and spray underneath as well.
- Direct fans at the chair so that you evaporate any moisture quickly, or do this outside, so that the chair can sit in the hot sun to dry.
- Once dry, HEPA vacuum entire chair again.
- Mist the chair again with the EC3/Borax Spray. Make sure to spray a cloth with the solution and wipe wooden legs, paneling, wooden back, etc., down by hand with the solution. You want to get in every nook and cranny.
- Allow to the chair to completely dry.
- TAP test the chair with the EC3 Mold Screening Test Plates to make sure it is mold-free before bringing it into your home. Also, if there is a musty smell that isn’t going away, the mold may be too deep in the upholstery or the chair cushion to remove. It is always best to get rid of something like this then to chance bringing it inside and becoming sick.
Let me know how it goes. If this doesn’t work, let me know. I have been trying a new technique that seems to work based on some plate testing I’ve done. (I will post about this soon on the blog too, so stay tuned!) It’s also pretty involved, but may help if other things don’t.
So, that’s it. Now you guys have all of the same “exclusive” info that I sent to the reader.
And, I am happy to report that this technique worked very well for her. Here is a picture of her “AFTER” TAP test plate:
I hope this information and exchange will help some of you too.
Please write to me in the comments section, or send me a message via Facebook, if you would like to ask me a cleaning for mold question, or need any mold-related information. I love to help!