Your “Easy to Clean” Dark Fabrics Are Actually Grosser Than You Think

updated Sep 10, 2020
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There’s a common misconception in interior design that light colors, especially white, are the most impractical choice for furniture and textiles. To prevent signs of wear and tear, many people gravitate toward darker upholstery and textiles, hoping they’ll last longer and be easier to clean and take care of

But that’s not necessarily the case. Interior designer Sarah Barnard says the dark-colored pieces in your home are probably a lot dirtier than you think: Saturated tones can hide wear so successfully that it’s easy to miss signs that it’s time for a thorough cleaning.

“While deep, saturated colors can be beautiful throughout the home, they may also be masking soiled surfaces on blankets, pillows, rugs, [and] bath and kitchen towels,” Barnard says. “It’s easy to pass by a deep-blue hand towel without immediately noticing the unpleasant realities of repeated use.”

You might be averse to light-colored textiles because of their tendency to put stains and dirt on full display. But Barnard considers visibility a simple motivator to wash something. “Though it may seem counterintuitive, particularly in high use homes with pets and children, light-colored fabrics encourage frequent cleaning that contributes to a healthier home,” Barnard says. “With light and bright hand towels, any unwanted marks show up quickly, and the impulse to launder happens more naturally.”

Credit: Sandra Rojo

3 Ways to Keep Things Clean When You’re Decorating With Dark-Colored Fabrics and Upholstery

If you have dark upholstery, rugs, or textiles in your home—and you want them to last—then you’ll need to take a few extra steps to ensure they’re clean. Here’s what to know about taking care of dark-hued items in your home. 

1. Choose fabric wisely.

First, be a smart shopper. Drawn to darker textiles in your home design scheme? Choose fabrics that don’t need to be washed as frequently. Barnard recommends naturally antimicrobial fabrics like organic wool. You won’t be able to toss wool pieces in the washing machine, but the material can withstand a little more time between cleanings because of its natural lanolin content.

2. Launder what you can, on a regular (consistent!) routine.

If you absolutely must incorporate dark colors into your home design, Barnard suggests opting for items you can throw in the laundry, like sheets, pillow cases, towels, throw blankets, and small bathroom or kitchen rugs. 

Since you won’t always *see* it’s time to clean these items, implement a routine. Laundry expert Patric Richardson, owner of the Minneapolis-based boutique Mona Williams, says he recommends washing towels at least once a week and sheets once a week or every two weeks. For throw blankets, think about how often you use it. If you put it on your body, wash weekly. If yours is purely decorative, you can get away with longer. 

Small rugs, he says, should be washed about once a month, and sooner if you spill something or they smell. “One of the big reasons to keep your dark-colored rugs on a cleaning schedule is because dirt and dust can fall down in them, and they’ll actually wear out faster,” he says.

Just keep in mind that laundry isn’t a good match for all dark textiles. Decorative pillow covers can also be easily washed, but keep in mind they’re seldom pre-shrunk and will likely shrink significantly in the laundry. Barnard recommends washing new pillow cases before buying an insert, or sizing up if you’re replacing the case for an existing pillow. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

3. Be strategic with items you can’t launder.

Obviously, it’s not realistic to assume that the only dark-colored items you’ll own will be machine-washable—for example, area rugs and upholstered furniture. To prevent major cleanliness issues, and further wear and tear, create a regular routine to clean those items (like your sofa) in place.

Richardson recommends vacuuming furniture on at least a weekly basis. And if you have a dark couch or chair, Barnard says you can protect it using a beautiful, washable blanket as a DIY slipcover.

As for rugs, you’ll want to vacuum regularly, but also inspect for stains. Since dark and patterned rugs can more easily hide spots than other dark pieces, try flipping the rug over and checking the backside for any tell-tale spots, and clean accordingly.

No matter what, aim to strike a balance between enjoying your space and taking care of it.

“Our homes are such a significant part of our lives, and taking care of our spaces is a wonderful way to support our health and well-being,” says Barnard.