For those looking for a safe, deep cleaning method for blinds or shades, there are essentially three options. Knowing which cleaning process is appropriate for your window treatments is important to understand. You don't want to be in the market for new blinds prematurely due to poor advice or misinformation! Briefly we'll explain the cleaning methods and you can decide which may be best for your project.
Steam? While some care and cleaning charts list this as an option and some cleaners talk about this as a method, we disagree. Applying steam to a fabric may relax the material and remove wrinkles (too much heat will warp synthetics and too much moisture may shrink or stain natural fibers) or kill some germs - however it won't flush out dirt. Applying heat often "sets" stains, making them permanent. When someone "steams" a treatment - can they show you the dirt they've actually removed? We won't take up any more time with stories about fabric shades (including expensive Luminettes by Hunter Douglas) that have been distorted or puckered by excess heat or Silhouettes with glue line failure as a result of high temperatures.
If by "steam" cleaning what is meant is actually use of the hot water injection-extraction method, then be sure that is clarified. Read what is mentioned below on that method and be sure they go light on the heat for the reasons just mentioned.
Hand Washing Any blind that can safely be wet cleaned my be done by hand. Home owners and professional blind cleaners alike have been successfully cleaning certain types of fabric shades by hand for many years. A bucket of soapy water and a brush has been used to clean countless blinds - minis, vinyl or plastic composite faux wood blinds (but not laminate coated wood blinds) plantation blinds and vinyl verticals to name a few examples. Some fabric pleated and honeycomb blinds may also be wet cleaned. Hand washing involves basically cleaning the blind with a mild soap solution and rinsing them thoroughly. As this method involves minimal equipment, inexpensive supplies and can achieve satisfactory results if the blind cleaner knows what they are doing, it will always be a practical option.
One variation of this method involves using a pressure washer (low pressure). Pressure washing can, however, present problems for many types of blinds if the settings or solutions used are too harsh.
There are other more effective and efficient ways to clean blinds and shades in larger quantities. They required more of an investment in terms of specialty equipment and knowledge. While we've heard some blind cleaners say any method (other than hand washing) will damage a blind or shade, the reality is that when properly done, one can use any of the three methods successfully or when improperly executed, any method can potentially damage the window treatment.
Ultrasonic cleaning utilizes the energy produced by sound waves travelling through water to give anything immersed in the the solution a bubble scrub at the microscopic level. The sound waves create millions of exploding air bubbles that blast anything loose off all the surfaces of the material (fabric, metal, plastic etc.) and quickly suspend it in solution by virtue of the cleaning soap or detergent in the solution. It provides a very thorough, yet gentle cleaning of the whole blind or shade including the cords, head rail parts (if the header is immersed) and insides of the cells (of honeycomb blinds that can be done this way). The typical ultrasonic blind cleaning machine (depending upon its age and make) uses frequencies from 25mHZ to 80mHz, with 40mHz probably the most common.
An ultrasonic blind cleaner is a tool, when used properly (time, temperatures, chemistry etc.) on the right products, that does a wonderful job. Unfortunately, there are some blind cleaners who either don't know enough about either the machine (its capabilities and limitations) or the products to be cleaned to achieve the desired results.
Injection-Extraction This method involves using any one of a number of smaller portable cleaning machines to inject and then extract a cleaning solution (wet/water or dry cleaning/solvent based) from the surface of a fabric blind, shade or drapery. Depending upon the type of fabric being cleaned the technician may use different pre-sprays, temperatures or cleaning solutions. The cleaning solution is sprayed onto the fabric flushing off dirt and extracted by the vacuuming action of the cleaning head (similar to a carpet cleaning machine but with lower pressures, temperatures, etc.) leaving the surface damp. In a short time the fabric is dry and in many cases (due to the portable nature of the equipment) the window treatment may be cleaned in place.
Once again the cleaning outcomes achieved by this method depend upon the technician's knowledge of his or her equipment, chemistry and cleaning techniques. If a blind or drapery cleaning is an IICRC Certified Fabric and Upholstery Cleaner or is a SquibCo Certified Fabricare Specialist (or an On-Site Certified Technician - an older training program) you are dealing with someone who has invested in professional level training. When considering whom to hire to clean expensive custom window treatments, upholstery or other fabrics, it makes sense to use someone with a deeper understanding of fabrics, spotting methods and cleaning procedures. Trying to save a few dollars by using a company whose technicians may have only watched a video or been "trained" by a fellow worker for a few days could end up being far more expensive.