How to clean upholstery vinyl

How to Clean Restaurant Bar Stools and Chairs Made of Upholstery Vinyl

Cleaning supplies for cleaning commercial upholstery vinyl

No one wants to eat at a restaurant with shabby or uncomfortable chairs. But it is not enough to simply buy nice furniture in the first place. In order to keep your restaurant looking nice, your chairs and bar stools require routine maintenance and care.

However, you cannot clean your restaurant seating using just any cleaner. Upholstery vinyl is a common material used in restaurant chairs and bar stools. While it is durable, it is sensitive to harsh chemicals.

This means that improper cleaning methods can damage or ruin your upholstery vinyl furniture. This article will explain everything you need to know about cleaning upholstery vinyl. Keep reading to learn the best ways to care for your nicest restaurant furniture.

What is Upholstery Vinyl?

What is upholstery vinyl and why is it commonly used in restaurants? In short, vinyl is a type of plastic made out of ethylene and salt. 

Its full name is polyvinyl chloride, and it is sometimes called PVC. But most people know the material simply as vinyl.

Vinyl is used for restaurant furniture and the inside of cars. You will also find that it is a staple of midcentury modern furniture. It has the appearance of leather but is not as high maintenance or expensive.

There are many different grades of vinyl, but they are all valued for their durability. Restaurants often have to seat hundreds of people every day. In addition to this high traffic, people frequently spill food and liquids at restaurants.

Therefore, restaurant seating needs to be durable and easy to clean, without sacrificing comfort or aesthetics. And that is why upholstery vinyl is such a popular seating material in restaurants.

But it is all for naught if you cannot keep your seats clean. Upholstery vinyl requires both spot treatment as well as monthly maintenance and upkeep. By doing these things, you help ensure a long life for your furniture.

Cleaning upholstery vinyl is fairly simple as long as you adhere to the following tips and tricks. Below, we have listed popular methods and products used for cleaning your upholstery vinyl.

Soap and Water

When in doubt, the tried and true cleaning method for spills on your upholstery vinyl is soap and water. 

First, brush off any dirt or crumbs with a dry brush or microfiber towel. Then use a rag to clean the stool or booth seat using mildly soapy water. Afterward, use a non-soapy rag to rinse the seat.

Finally, use a dry rag to dry the surface you just cleaned. If the vinyl stays wet for too long, it can become damaged. Therefore, you should use water sparingly and dry your vinyl thoroughly.

Soap and water are recommended by leading vinyl manufacturers like Naugahyde. Naugahyde is a material that was developed in 1914 as an alternative to leather. It was created at the U.S. Rubber Company plant in Naugatuck, Connecticut.

"Naugahyde" is an allusion to where the material was made as well as what it looks like, an actual animal hide. Now a major vinyl manufacturer, Naugahyde prides itself on its durable fabrics. They say that soap and water should remove all routine dirt and stains.

They recommend using a 10% soap, 90% water solution to softly rub the stain. If more drastic action is needed, they say that you can use a soft bristle brush.

For example, experts recommend a toothbrush as being a great tool for cleaning the seams and flaps in your vinyl. These hard to reach places will benefit from the reach and the softness of the toothbrush.

So that is what you should do in the case of mild spills or accidents. But vinyl stools and chairs are often subject to harsher stains. Keep reading for some products that will help ensure that your restaurant seating has a long life.

Bleach Products

Apart from soap and water, there are a lot of other things that can be used to clean your vinyl. However, many products can affect types of vinyl differently.

A big concern is discoloration. You do not want to try cleaning your vinyl with a product that will ultimately ruin it. By using harsh chemicals, you risk taking the finish off of the vinyl, ruining the color forever.

This is why you should always consult the vinyl manufacturer for cleaning instructions. For example, leading vinyl manufacturer Nassimi recommends several bleach-based cleaners for their vinyl.

Nassimi tests different cleaners on their vinyl so that they can tell you what to expect effect-wise. Nevertheless, you should always test out a small section of a cleaner on your vinyl first. That way, if the cleaner doesn't work for you, you haven't damaged your entire chair.

Some of the bleach products that Nassimi recommends include Clorox Disinfecting Wipes and Purell Food Service Sanitizer. However, Nassimi says that these cleaners work better on some of their products than others. For their full list of bleach cleaners and their effects, click here.

If you do not have a bleach product handy, you can always use bleach itself. Just make certain that the solution is extremely diluted. Many leading vinyl manufacturers recommend a ratio of one part bleach to nine parts water.

And even then, you should never use this solution anywhere except for the stained section. This method can clean and disinfect your vinyl. Just make sure to use it carefully and to dry the vinyl surface completely.

Isopropyl Alcohol

OMNOVA Solutions is another leading manufacturer of vinyl.

OMNOVA's vinyl is designed to be stain-resistant and durable. This makes maintenance easy. According to OMNOVA officials, most stains should be easily wiped away with a damp cloth.

But for more in-depth cleaning, OMNOVA recommends cleaning with a light amount of isopropyl alcohol. Through testing, their team has determined that isopropyl alcohol won't discolor or harm their products. To be safe, you should always test a small section first.

This method is very helpful for particularly compromising stains like ballpoint pen ink. As was mentioned before, only use this solution on stains or affected areas, not on the whole chair.

Make sure to leave the vinyl surface completely dry when you are done cleaning it. You should never let cleaning materials pool on your upholstery vinyl for long periods of time.

Magic Erasers

For particularly persistent stains or scuff marks, some experts recommend using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. A Magic Eraser is a type of sponge that is often able to remove imperfections without additional sprays or chemicals. 

If you choose to try out a Magic Eraser, you should always test out a small, low visibility section of your vinyl first. As always, this is the best way to see if the product will have adverse effects on your vinyl seating.

If the test goes well, you should still refrain from rubbing too hard with the magic eraser. It may take out the stain, but it can take the color with it.

The biggest caution to be aware of when using Magic Erasers is that they were not designed specifically for vinyl materials. For optimal results when cleaning your vinyl, it is always best to choose the products directly recommended by the vinyl manufacturer and the furniture maker.

The same goes for leather cleaners. Many leather cleaners and sprays will work on vinyl because leather is a sensitive material. Cleaners refrain from using harsh chemicals when dealing with leather.

However, just because it can work doesn't mean it is an optimal choice. Look for products specifically intended for vinyl.

Solvents vs. Water-Based Cleaners

Sometimes, your bar stools or restaurant furniture will come with a care tag. On this tag, you will find some letters. These letters actually represent cleaning codes.

This is your furniture manufacturer's way of telling you how to take care of your new equipment.

A 'W' stands for water. This means that you can only clean this piece of furniture using water-based solutions. These are cleaners where water is the primary ingredient.

If you see an 'S,' this stands for solvent. A solvent is a cleaner that uses a chemical as its primary ingredient. A lot of cleaners are solvents, but you must beware of using harsh chemicals on your vinyl. 

In many cases, chemicals can damage or discolor the material. If your stool says a solvent is okay, you should still look for more information about which chemicals are okay to use.

Some tags will say 'S/W.' This means that you can take your pick between water-based solutions or solvents. Both are capable of cleaning your vinyl.

Spradling, a leading vinyl manufacturer, recommends a variety of methods to remove stains, depending on what kind of stain it is. For red lipstick, Spradling recommends two particular solvent cleaners. These are Fantastik and Formula 409 spray cleaners.

These cleaners work well for Spradling products. But it is always important to check with your furniture manufacturer before use.

Test a small section of the furniture and make sure there are no lasting effects. Other than cleaning to perfection, of course.

The above cleaning methods are great for emergencies. But they should always be paired with routine preventative maintenance. Keep reading for information on vinyl conditioners.


Your bar stools or vinyl chairs will look their best if you provide them with a conditioning treatment once per month. Upholstery vinyl is porous enough that without regular cleaning, dirt can cling to the fabric. This results in a worn down and dirty look.

So on top of rubbing off stains and spills, your vinyl furniture will look best if it gets a conditioning treatment. Vinyl conditioners are made from mild chemicals so that they don't harm the fabric with their harshness.

When choosing a conditioner for your furniture, be sure to read the label carefully. You need to make sure that the conditioner is intended for upholstery vinyl specifically.

Even though vinyl looks like leather, it is not. And not all products that are intended for leather will properly condition your furniture.

Simply spray vinyl cleaner onto the surface of your furniture, and rub it in like you would with polish. Allow it to dry, and then repeat the process two or three times. Wipe away any excess spray.

After the final rub, allow the vinyl spray to dry completely before you begin using the furniture again. Otherwise, it can stain clothing.

Repeat this process every month. Without regular conditioning, vinyl becomes brittle. The conditioner makes the fabric soft and supple like it is when it is new. Brittle vinyl is more likely to tear and be ruined.

Small tears can be repaired, but large tears probably mean it is time to look for a replacement

If you have not been in the habit of conditioning your vinyl, it is never too late to start. It is a good way to maintain vinyl, but it is also helpful for restoring furniture that has been neglected for too long.

Cleaning Upholstery Vinyl

As a restaurant owner, you know it is not enough to simply purchase high-quality seating for your restaurant. Your seating and furniture need to be maintained in order to look their best.

There are a lot of different ways of cleaning upholstery vinyl. But the most important thing to do is to keep up with routine cleanings. Taking good care of your upholstery vinyl is what will give it a long life and keep it looking nice.

When taken care of properly, good vinyl furniture can last you for generations. To shop some of our featured products, click here.

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