“Is that what I think it is?” I ask my husband, focusing on a yellow, rainbow-shaped stain on the side of the white armchair.
“Luke!!” We yell in unison to our 60-pound rescue dog, who promptly flattens his ears and tail, avoids eye contact, and sneaks out of the room.
“Are you testing our devotion?” I call after him. He certainly tests my patience. We know that he, not our smaller dog, did it at the high waterline. Luke is also passive aggressive in that way. I had been on a business trip and this was his way of letting me know what he thought.
“Did he have to aim for the chair?” I cry. “Why not the wooden floor or the wall? Argh!”
“Time to call John?” My husband asks.
“Time to call John,” I say.
John Gartner is a professional upholstery cleaner and owner of Major Floor Care, a cleaning company based in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Unfortunately, he is also a regular here. His records show that he has been to my house five times in as many years. “That’s pretty typical of homes with kids or pets,” he says, making me feel just a little bit better.
I call him when the surface soil around the house reaches my tipping point or when we have a pet emergency. Today it is both.
Before Luke (aka Marmaluke, Luclear War, Luk-o-motion) expressed himself on the chair, our house was already in ruins. Pippin, our miniature labradoodle, has a habit of wiping his muzzle, followed by his entire body, along the length of the white cross-section, eventually giving a kind of bathtub ring effect.
Luclear War generally behaves when we are home, but as soon as we leave he jumps on the furniture. The crushed sofa backs, the grimy armrests (on which he rests his grubby chin), and the rearranged cushions betray him.
And that’s why I know the phone number of my furniture cleaner by heart.
“Usually houses get dirty gradually, so owners don’t notice,” says Gartner, who has been cleaning furniture and carpet for 26 years. “They call when they hit a pain point, like they have company.”
“I did indeed hit a sore point,” I said.
While the gold bow on the white chair horrified me, Gartner was not baffled. He’s seen and cleaned worse stains from every substance imaginable and some you can’t: chocolate, coffee, grease, ink, lipstick, blood, puke, red wine, nail polish, urine, diaper spills, and surface dirt everywhere.
But pets and children keep upholstery and carpet cleaners in business, he said. “The biggest weeks for me are the ones after Christmas and Easter,” he said. “That’s when pets get into the candy and get sick.” Sweet.
He then praised me for calling him while the stain was still fresh, as if living with a urine-stained chair in the living room was an option.
I used FaceTime to show him the couches, chairs, and rugs I needed to clean. He sent an estimate. (Chairs cost $60 to $80.) Two days later, he and his partner got to work vacuuming and pre-staining the furniture and rugs. Then they ran over the furniture with a DriMaster tool, which looks like a squeegee attached to a hose. The business end pressure injects water and cleaning solution into the fabric through one channel and at the same time sucks the moisture back out through another vacuum, so that furniture is cleaned and not soaked.
“You want to avoid over-saturating the trim so you don’t leave watermarks,” he said. When a spill or pet accident seeps through the surface fabric and saturates a couch or chair cushion, Gartner takes it to its shop for a thorough cleaning and deodorization.
“I have at least 12 stain-removing chemicals on the truck,” he said, “so I’m ready to treat whatever we find.”
“I need them all,” I said.
While cleaning furniture regularly is part of living with dogs and children, here are some tips for treating soiled furniture yourself and when to call a professional.
• Act fast. Don’t let stains sit. The sooner a stain is treated, the more likely it is to come out. After 30 days, it may be too late, Gartner said.
• Do not rub it in. Always dab, never rub. Whether it’s upholstery, rugs, or carpet, rubbing will grind up the substance and wear down the fibers, potentially making the stain permanent.
• Stay calm. Always use cold water. Hot water quickly sets stains. Club soda is often a good start.
• Create a solution. You can treat many pet stains with a mild solution of half white vinegar, half water and a few drops of dish soap. (Vinegar loosens urine from fibers, Gartner said.) Pour a small amount of solution onto the stain. Let it sit for a few minutes and then blot it with a white towel. Use a fan to dry. Depending on the fabric (test in a hidden area first), a small amount of household hydrogen peroxide can also remove some stains, such as red wine and coffee. On greasy stains, like the one my labradoodle leaves when he wipes his face, citrus-based cleaners work well because they break down oil.
• Gentle on the soap. A few drops are enough. Too much cleaning solution may remove the stain, but it leaves a soapy residue that attracts dirt and causes the area to get dirty again.
• Call a professional. If you have more than a few light spots to touch up, or a heavily soiled object, call a professional, Gartner said. “If vomit is involved, gently scrape up what you can, then don’t touch it. Have a professional come. Ask a real estate agent, decorator, or experienced friend for a referral.
• Be realistic. While professionals can remove most stains and clean dirty furniture, they can’t repair worn, sun-faded, or bleached fabrics. That said, having your good furniture cleaned regularly will prolong its life.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want”, “Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go” and “Downsizing the Blended Home – When two households become one.” Reach her at marnigameson.com.