Water damage to furniture

Posted by Matt Buchanan

We’ve spent years educating people about all types of water damage, and it was just brought to our attention by a regular reader that we don’t have any in-depth information about what happens to furniture when it gets wet. Can it be saved? How does the process work? Those are excellent questions and so we wanted to spend a few minutes talking about furniture water damage so that you have the information you need should you find yourself dealing with that unfortunate scenario.


What category of water damaged your furniture?


As with any home water damage, you first have to identify the risk factors present in the water. By that we mean what level of pathogens are found in the water and what is the risk level that a disease could be contracted from coming into contact with that water? For a quick refresher on the categories of water damage:




Category 1 (clean water) – this is water typically from supply lines in your home’s plumbing system. In other words, water you could have drank before it leaked out. It doesn’t pose a threat to your health.

Category 2 (grey water) – grey water has some form of contaminants in it, whether it’s from chemicals or other biological agents. Think of things like a fish aquarium overflowing or breaking, or a water heater leaking or even a washing machine overflowing. It isn’t going to kill you, but you sure don’t want the water to get in your eyes or to ingest it.

Category 3 (black water) – this is the nasty stuff. Raw sewage, flood water from a nearby river. This is the water that can make you really sick and that you should do everything in your power to avoid coming into contact with. In fact, you should even breathe the air around the water!

As you can probably guess, the water category plays a big role in determining what path must be taken to clean your water damaged furniture. But let’s start out by mentioning what should be obvious but is often ignored:

You can not effectively clean water damaged furniture that has been soaked by category 3 water damage. In very, very rare instances it may make sense to try (think a really expensive Persian rug), but usually the costs of doing so far outweigh the cost of replacing the furniture. And that goes for any type of porous surface furniture. Whether it’s a love seat, sofa, or even wood table, it’s got to be thrown out!

When it comes to category 2 and 3 losses, there are methods that can be utilized to cost-effectively clean and dry most pieces of furniture. We’ll talk about those next…


How to clean & dry water damaged furniture


First off, as is usually the case when you’re researching any process related to water damage, there is some really, really bad advice out there. Set wood furniture outside and let it dry? Goodness gracious, hopefully no one followed that advice! Anyways, generally speaking the 2 most common types of furniture that get water damaged are upholstered pieces and wood pieces.


Upholstered furniture


water-damage-upholstered-furnitureUpholstered chairs or couches can be tricky to clean and dry. Usually, the pieces can be pressure treated using very high temperature water that kills any bacteria or other pathogens present. Once free from disease causing agents, the piece must be properly dried. It will typically be placed in a room where air movers and a dehumidifier can be set up. The air movers are placed strategically to pass hot (dry) air over and through the furniture. The moisture then evaporates into the air where an industrial-strength dehumidifier captures the moisture, where it can be released outside the home. In some special circumstances (like in the event the water has soaked the furniture for a long period of time), the upholstery may need to be removed entirely so that the cleaning, treating and drying process can get to those hard to reach places that were damaged.


Wood furniture


water-damage-wood-furnitureHave you ever left a cold glass of water on a wood coffee table and minutes later noticed the water rings? That’s how quickly water can infiltrate wood and cause damage. So imagine that occurring on a much, much larger scale. Wood furniture can be very tricky, to say the least. If the piece has set in the water for a few days or more, it may be ruined permanently and need to be thrown out. Another issue many times with water damaged wood furniture is that the glue/bindings holding many of the pieces together may become ruined. In that case, the pieces may be removed, cleaned & dried before putting them back on the piece. But overall, the piece will need to have its finish stripped, cleaned and bleached, dried out, then have the finish re-applied. It’s certainly a time and labor-intensive process. As is the case with any project like this, if you’re going through your insurance company, a cost analysis will need to be done to determine if it’s more cost-effective to simply replace the furniture piece instead of restoring the original piece!


About Matt Buchanan

I grew up in Irving, TX and left for Nashville, TN for college. After college I lived in Washington, DC and then in Cairo, Egypt. After coming back to the states, I spent a couple of years back in Dallas before moving with my wife to Denver!
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