What’s the best way to clean my dirty cellular shades?

Q:Our cellular shades are in perfect condition structurally, but they're very grimy toward the ceiling. I think they're from Smith & Noble. We're about to renovate, and we'd like to keep the shades, but not in the state they're in now. How do I clean them?

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A:Cellular shades, also known as honeycomb shades, are made of fabric shaped so air pockets form between the two layers as the shades expand to cover the window, then compress into tidy, compact pleats when closed, so people can see through the glass. The air pockets add insulation, making this style one of the most popular types of window coverings. But the construction complicates cleaning, because you can’t do anything that would cause the pleats to release or warp.

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The Smith & Noble website offers no information about caring for cellular shades, and a call to the company’s customer service number confirmed that the company has no official recommendations. The customer service representative suggested taking them to a dry cleaner that specializes in home furnishings.

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Numerous other manufacturers do offer cleaning advice, but some of the recommendations might not be enough to get your shades clean. For routine cleaning, some manufactures recommend dusting with a dry microfiber cloth or a feather duster, or vacuuming at a low setting with a brush attachment. To dislodge insects or debris that collect in the air pockets, they recommend compressed air, either from a hair dryer set to blow without heat or, even better, from a can. (An eight-ounce can of CRC’s Compressed Gas Dust and Lint Remover costs $6.98 at Home Depot.)


When dusting or using forced air aren’t enough to remove grime, spot-cleaning sometimes works. Use a clean cloth — preferably white, so there’s no risk of transferring dye or colored lint. Dampen it with a little mild, non-creamy dish detergent diluted in lukewarm water. (Hot water might loosen glue used to make the shades.) Dab on and blot off, because rubbing might stretch the fabric or cause it to pill.

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What’s the best way to clean my dirty cellular shades?

Spot-cleaning might be successful if you have only a few spatters or other spots to remove, but when the shades are heavily soiled over a large area, as yours are, it’s unlikely to be sufficient. In that case, the last recommended option is to call a dry cleaner. Smith & Noble has no recommendations for this, but Bali, a brand carried at Home Depot, suggests going to a certified cleaner listed at blindcleaners.biz. This may be a good resource for Washington Post readers in other parts of the country, but it’s not helpful for those like you who live in the Washington area, because the list does not include companies in the metro area.

However, one dry cleaner set up for cleaning all types of fabric window coverings, including cellular shades, is Parkway Custom Drycleaning in North Bethesda, Md. (301-652-3377; parkwaydrycleaning.com). The company is certified for cleaning Hunter Douglas blinds but also works on other brands, said Paul Burns, the general manager. The company offers a full suite of options, such as cleaning blinds that you take down and reinstall, as well as doing all of the work with the blinds either taken to the shop for cleaning or cleaned while they’re still installed in your house. Whatever the level of service, the company cleans by injecting a cleaning solution into the fabric and immediately extracting it — a process similar to carpet cleaning, but with different equipment. The company uses a water-based cleaning solution or a dry-cleaning solution, depending on the company’s assessment of what will work best with a specific fabric. The water solution generally works well with most cellular shades, but shades with a room-darkening layer need the dry-cleaning solution, Burns said.


For cellular shades, cleaning costs $7.50 a square foot if the work is done at the company’s plant or $9 if it’s done in the home, with a minimum fee of $90 per shade for cleaning at the shop or $108 if in the home. For in-home cleaning, there is also a trip fee, which ranges from $75 in Washington to $95 outside the Beltway. If you take down and reinstall the shades yourself, the company will pick them up and return them at no charge unless they are wider than six feet. If you want someone else to deal with those steps, the least-expensive option is to pay the company to send someone to your home to take down and reinstall the blinds. That costs $75 an hour, with a minimum fee of $75. Or you could opt for in-house cleaning, which is the most expensive.

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Some window-covering cleaners use an ultrasonic process,in which the shades are dipped into a tank for cleaning. Burns said that process isn’t recommended by Hunter Douglas for its shades, and his company doesn’t offer it.

There is a caution, though, with shades that are black at the top, as yours are. Burns said that kind of grime sometimes occurs when heating and air-conditioning registers in the ceiling pull in air laden with soot. Soot is oily and can be very difficult to remove completely. So you might want to have a single shade cleaned and see how well the cleaning works before you invest in cleaning the others.

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