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How to Clean a Stained, Dusty, or Soiled Fabric Lampshade

I’ll confess, I get most of my lampshades from thrift stores or secondhand shops. With patience, it’s easy to find just about any shape or style of lampshade that I need. What’s harder to find at secondhand sources are clean lampshades.

Often, lampshades I pick up from these sources are brand new but have a smudge or two, or a stain or discoloration. Since a lampshade is only about $.25 a pop at the goodwill outlet, I’ve been experimenting with different ways to clean lampshades.

Although some online tutorials for cleaning lampshades suggest using detergent, water, or sponges, I found these water-based methods to leave watermarks on my lampshades – rendering them completely unusable and worse than when I started. Cleaning lampshades with Microfiber cloths did ok at removing general dust, but didn’t even begin to remove smudges and stains.

two ways to clean soiled or stained lampshades

Putting my Tests into Practice

Recently, as I was moving into a new office space, I got a dirty smudge on one of my favorite lampshades. Since I’ve been testing methods of cleaning lampshades, I thought I would document my process this time as I cleaned this lampshade up and was able to restore it to like-new condition despite its dubious background as a secondhand purchase. The lampshade I’m talking about is the round one shown in the pictures. But those photos didn’t turn out particularly well, so for the sake of better photography – I repeated this process on a half of a lampshade (yes just one half, it was chopped in half for a project!) so you can see in detail my method, how it works, and the end result.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to remove a smudge of dense particle-based dirt – with a method that works equally well for removing thick dust. Them, I’ll cover how to remove stains – like grass stains or even oily spots from a shade  (note: like removing any stain from fabric, results will vary based on the stain, how long it’s been there, etc.)

If you’d like to skip the written tutorial and jump to a quick summary video, check out the video below–

Hate reading articles? Here’s the Video Version: 

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Supplies you’ll need:

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  • A short-bristled natural-fiber brush in soft to medium stiffness. This body brush from Amazon is what I’m using in this video and it works great at brushing fabrics (Did you know brushing with a brush like this was once the primary method for cleaning coats and blankets! It still works great to extend the time between dry cleaning wool coats and blankets). A brush that is too stiff will damage your lampshade, but a brush that is too soft won’t be able to flick the dirt and dust up and away from the texture of the lampshade. Make sure your brush is CLEAN and won’t leave more dirt behind than it sweeps away!
  • A stain removal pen – I’ve tested Tide To Go pens and had no issues with the formula living water-marks on lampshades after drying. Results with other brands may vary. 

1. Removing Dust and Debris-Based Marks from Lamp Shades:

This dirty smudge is removed in moments with the right brush- after various other cleaning tools failed.
This dirty smudge is removed in moments with the right brush- after various other cleaning tools failed.

If, on close inspection, you can see tiny particles embedded in the fabric, it’s a sign that you have a debris-based stain. To remove the stain, grasp the flat brush in your hand, with the back flat against your palm, and brush over the surface of the dirty section, flicking upwards as you make short sweeps across the area. This flicking motion will prevent the stain from settling deeper into the fiber and should actually lift it up and away from the fabric. With each swipe you can brush a little bit more away just like you see in the video.

When not to use this method on your lampshade:

It’s important to note that you should not use this method if the stain is damp or oil-based. The brushing method works best for removing discolored spots from bumping up against something dirty or discoloration from general dust settling in the home. If there’s a lot of dust, take your lampshade outside to brush it. 

2. Removing Stains and Marks from Lampshades:

Although previous attempts at stain removal techniques using liquid has rendered my lampshades permanently stained,  it seems that Tide to Go stain removal pens avoid this type of fabric staining from the moisture. To remove the tiny grass stain – it’s tiny so see the video to get a better closeup – on this lampshade, it just takes a little bit of stain removal, agitation, and time. I did two rounds of “inking” the stain with the stain removal liquid and letting it dry.  After the second round dried my stain was gone and there was no fabric discoloration from the liquid stain remover!

Some extra tips of caring for and cleaning lampshades: 

Whitening Yellowed Lampshades

White fabric tends to yellow with age. In the presence of cigarette smoke, this process can happen very quickly. While lampshades yellowed by smoke are typically a lost cause, shades turning yellow from age have a few possible remedies: 

  • Sit the shade in bright sunlight for an hour or two to help brighten and neutralize yellowing from age. The effectiveness of sunlight also can vary but generally has a very mild effect with minimal possibility of fabric damage.
  • If you’re brave enough to use a liquid- based cleaner – knowing that this may ruin your lampshade with water stains it dries unevenly, use a product called Mrs. Stewart’s laundry bluing to treat yellowed fabric. This product was developed for yellowed stains on white T-shirts left behind by sweat and deodorants. Although it works well to restore yellowed white fabric to a bright white, results on a lampshade may vary.
  • Do not use bleach or bleach-based spray, as this is generally ineffective to reverse the yellowing of fabric and in some cases can cause white fabric to yellow.
  • Other ways to whiten a yellowed lampshade are sunlight.  If you have a lampshade you are trying a last-ditch attempt to salvage, try the laundry blowing but if it’s a cherished lampshade go the safer route and just use sunlight.

Removing Waterstains from Lampshades

Although I have experimented, I have not found a way to remove water stains from lampshades. But if your lampshade is otherwise ruined, one thing you can try to remove the water stains is to soak the entire lampshade with water. Getting it evenly wet may help the lampshade dry evenly, without water stains the second time.

This resetting should be done by hand, as unfortunately, lampshades cannot be washed in a dishwasher or clothes washer. Their unique shape and fragile paper-like fabric makes them especially vulnerable to machine cleaning and requires that hand cleaning be done very gently to prevent tearing or breaking.

Final Thoughts

This brush and stain-removal method is a great way to keep lampshades dust-free on a regular basis. Feather duster’s, microfiber cloths, and sweepers are great for dusting most surfaces but because of the texture of lampshades, they tend to trap dust and become a collection point for gathering dust mites. A quick brush every few weeks with the brush I’ve used in this tutorial should keep your lampshades consistently dust-free even in a high dust area! Got more tips to share on lampshade cleaning? I’d love to see your addition in the comments below.

two ways to clean soiled or stained lampshades

how to clean a lampshade

Evaluate stain type

Is your lamp dusty, discolored, or stained in specific spots?

Set yellowed lampshades in the sun

UV light will reverse some yellowing caused by age

Brush the Fabric

Using a special brush like the one shown, gently sweep the surface of the lampshade. This will dislodge and remove dust that typical dusters can’t reach.

Treat Stains

Small marks or stains can be treated with a laundry pre-treatment pen. Be sure you follow our instructions to avoid water marks staining your lampshade as it dries.

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