ACCORDING to Women's Wear Daily, Estee Lauder cleans her own venetian blinds. She puts on a pair of white cotton gloves and runs her fingers between each pair of slats. What Estee Lauder probably doesn't know is that the whole tedious process can be done by someone else.
Paul Leeks, manager of Shabazz Venetian Blind Service Co., 3956 Minnesota Ave. NE in Washington (396-3300), can send a repairman out to your house who will pick up your blinds in the morning, wash and repair them and return them that night. There is an $8.50 minimum charge for picking up and returning the blinds; the cleaning, taping and cording fee is $10 for a standard 34-by-54-inch blind. "Where you save money in cleaning and repair is in large venetian blinds. Since they are sold by the square foot it really isn't worth your while to have small blinds repaired. Anything less than 10 square feet is a waste of money," explains Leeks. For instance, if you were to have five standard aluminum blinds repaired and cleaned, it would cost $58.50, including pick up and delivery. To purchase new blinds (with 2-inch slats, in white or eggshell) would cost $91.
Shabazz ha a special system rigged up for cleaning. The blinds are hung on a line attached to a pulley. Each slat is scrubbed by hand using little brushes. Certainly a much more efficient method than dunking the blinds in a bathtub of detergent. Leeks suggests you stay away from bathtub cleaning because if the cloth tapes get wet they will rot faster, which is why Shabazz will sell you a repair kit ($3.95) containing enough polyester (or cotton) tape, cord, tassles and equalizer for a blind up to 64 inches in length. However, "Replacing tape is a tedious job and is to be recommended only if you are handy at such operations and anxious to save money," warns Alma Chesnut Moore in her book, "How to Clean Everything."
The Bethesda Shade and Awning Shop Inc., 4922 Del Ray Ave., Bethesda (656-6161), takes apart the blind and cleans each slat by hand, so their prices are a little higher. They won't do just cleaning jobs because, "you find that if the blinds need to be cleaned that badly, when you take them apart the tape will be so rotted that the only thing to do is to replace it," according to Mary Bethke. The prices are based on square feet -- re-cording is 50 cents per square foot; taping is 85 cents per square foot; taping and cording is $1 per square foot and cleaning, taping and cording is $1.25 per square foot -- the minimum size for all work is 12 square feet.
Mike Glass of the District Shade Shop Inc., 1252 8th st. NW in Washington (783-7860), has been in the business of selling, renovating and cleaning venetian blinds for 43 years. He will send a representative out to your house for a free estimate on replacing blinds or cleaning. For a minimum charge of $25 he can have your blinds picked up and returned in three days cleaned and repaired. Each blind is hand washed and dried. "We spent $6,000 on a machine, but it just wasn't doing a satisfactory job so we went back to doing it by hand. The company that made the machine went bankrupt anyway," Glass said. District Shade also used to sell repair kits but he found the quality of material so poor that he didn't want to encourage his customers to buy them -- "the kits used spun rayon instead of woven cotton." The charge for taping and cording blinds brought into the shop is about $8 per blind (under 65 inches) and $3.50 per blind for cleaning.
District Shade Shop also sells and restores one- and two-inch wooden venetian blinds, but a worker said, "It's very, very expensive." If you can afford $108 for a wooden blind 32-inches-by-54-inches, then $16 for cleaning and repair shouldn't be a shock. Painted blinds can be reenameled, but "once they're painted there is no getting back to the natural wood," a worker explained. To maintain both wooden and aluminum blinds, the shop suggests a quick vacuum each week, but when the grit and the grime sets in they should be cleaned professionally. But then, that's their business.
Jack Thomas of the Admiral Venetian Blind & Shade Co., 2304 Rhode Island Ave. NE (529-5555), has a special pressure machine that heats water to 180 degrees and spurts detergent and water on the blinds. The blind is then dried with fans to inhibit rust. "Washing doesn't take away stains or rust. The only thing to do about that is replace the slat or buy a new blind," he said. Thomas doesn't offer a pick-up service on repair work for the private home owner -- they do for commercial accounts. Thomas charges about $10 for cleaning, retaping and re-cording a 36-by-64-inch window.
Lloyd's Blind Shop, 3535 Wheeler Rd. SE (561-0009), advertises restoration of steel, aluminum and wood blinds. The top casing and bottom piece of the blind can be repainted, but says owner Lloyd Pitts repainting the slats is not practical. "Rusted slats, as well as tape, should be replaced," he says. Over-hauling the blind like this, saves the customer about 25% from the cost of a new blind, according to Pitts. "For instance we charge $44 to rehaul a 96-by-60-inch picture window, while a new one would cost you $60."
To clean blinds at home, Alma Chestnut Moore suggests in her book that you "drop the blind to its full length, tilt to full light position and dust with a divided venetian blind brush which does several blades at a time. Or turn the blades flat and dust them with the round dusting brush of your vacuum cleaner. Turn the other way and dust the reverse side. To wash painted or plastic blinds use a sponge or soft cloth, wrung out in suds made of a mild detergent or a good paint-cleaning solution (Oakite, washing soda), washing one slat at a time . . . both sides.
"Rinse and dry carefully. Some venetian blind cleaners wax as they clean. If the blinds are of natural wood finish clean them with liquid wax . . . Tapes can be scrubbed with a brush made of plastic using soap, or detergent."
She also suggests that if you are buying repair tape, be sure to measure the distance between the cross-tapes if you want the blinds to be the same length, and take a sample of the tape with you.
Most of the venetian blind shops in the Washington area sell tape by the yard. Washington brush distributor Yagdi & Co. Inc., 701 Edgewood Ave. NE (832-7720) carry the conventional venetian blind brush wholesale. The conventional brush, explains co-owner Al Yagdi consists of three prongs wrapped in 100 percent horse hair. The brushes are available at some area hardware stores starting at $4. If you can't find the brush and like Estee Lauder's style, Hecht's sells white cotton gloves (the kind Victorian ladies wore when reading the newspaper to keep from getting ink on their hands) for $5. Or ask your mother what to do.
One mother I talked to (mothers always have information on getting around unpleasant tasks) reacted strongly when asked for a secret formula for cleaning venetian blinds. "Clean them? They're so ugly the only thing to do is throw them out!"