Q. I have several chairs and sofas that need the arms cleaned and also a few cushions that need cleaning. Should I rent one of the cleaners at the supermarket or hire a professional?


A. To answer your question, it’s useful to go through the four basic ways to increase the effectiveness of any water-based cleaning process: scrub more, raise the water temperature, use soap or other chemicals that bind better with grime, and increase the water flow.

Scrubbing more isn’t really an option with upholstery because of the risk of wearing down or matting the fibers. Hotter cleaning water might work, but it depends on the fibers; some upholstery fabric shrinks when exposed to water that’s too hot.


The chemicals used with DIY rental machines and by pros are similar, says Brian Walters, a sales manager for Rotovac (888-768-6822, www.carpet-cleaning-equipment.net), which markets carpet- and upholstery-cleaning machines and supplies to professionals.

The final point, water flow, is what really separates pro and DIY equipment, Walters says. Both types of machines operate on the same principle of injecting a cleaning solution or water into the fabric and then suctioning it out. However, the suctioning power of pro equipment tends to be more powerful, so the operator is free to use plenty of water without worrying about whether the upholstery will wind up too damp. Mildew can set in if the fabric stays damp for more than two days.

Of course, there are a few other variables, too, including operator skill, how well the equipment is maintained and cost. Some homeowners get good, or at least acceptable, results with rental equipment. Others wind up with a disaster: upholstery so soggy that mildew sets in after a couple of days. One problem is that you can’t really practice to develop your skills and gauge how much cleaning solution to apply, unless perhaps you have old furniture that you’re ready to toss.

One work-around, if you do decide to tackle doing it yourself, is to get hands-on help from a friend or neighbor who’s had good success. Consumer Reports magazine found that cleaning effectiveness varied from machine to machine. So if you do rent, it recommends inspecting all of the available machines and choosing the one that looks cleanest and has the newest-looking brushes. Although the magazine was evaluating only carpet cleaning, that’s good advice even if you’re focused on upholstery cleaning.

As to cost, DIY is clearly better: maybe $30 to rent a machine vs. a couple of hundred dollars for a pro job. If cost isn’t such an issue, professional cleaning is safer and probably better. Focusing only on carpets, Consumer Reports found that pros do best. Be sure to get a company that’s been in business for a while and doesn’t just operate out of the back of a single truck.

I have an antique French bronze table lamp. The base has been dented in several areas, probably because it fell. As a result, it wobbles and needs to be fixed. Whom can I trust with the repair?


Artisan Lamp Co., an antique lighting company in Cleveland Park (202-244-8900, www.artisanlamp.com), offers a lamp restoration service. If you bring in your lamp, someone will take a look, see whether it’s something the shop can fix and give you an estimate. Basic lamp repairs, such as rewiring, are easy, but whether dents can be fixed depends on how deep they are and where they occur.

If you need more of a metalworker’s skills, try Lawrence Miller & Co. in Alexandria (703-548-0659, www.lawrencedmiller.com). This company focuses on restoring antique silver, but it also works on items made of other metals.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in January.

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