How to Clean Upholstery

Cleaning upholstery

Upholstered furniture like sofas, couches, and armchairs are essential to making a home feel cozy and comfortable. However, the fabrics and padding on these pieces of furniture also make them tricky to keep clean. Every time a person or pet sits on the upholstered material, oils and dirt are transferred to the fabric.

Get those sofas and armchairs clean again rather than resigning yourself to slipcovers by using these tips that will prevent damage to sensitive upholstery.

Check the Label

A person checking the label on upholstery

Start by checking for labels on the back and underside of the upholstered furniture. Drapes and rugs are also likely to sport a label with a similar cleaning designation. For example, upholstered materials are marked as W, S, WS, or X.

  • W: Water-based cleaning products are safe to use.
  • S: Solvent-based cleaning products are required.
  • WS: Both water and solvent-based products are acceptable.
  • X: Only professional cleaning is recommended.

Avoid trying to clean X-labeled upholstery yourself and leave that to the pros. Instead, you simply need to find an upholstery cleaner that matches the water-based or solvent-based requirement for all other materials and use the right techniques to keep dirt to a minimum.

Vacuum Regularly

A person hand vacuuming a couch

The first step in cleaning and maintaining all upholstered surfaces is regular vacuuming. If you don’t have a powerful home vacuum with an upholstery brush attachment, buy at least a handheld model for the job. The upholstery brush accessory is the key to getting dirt and debris loose from fabrics of all textures and pile heights. Crevice attachments are also a good choice to reach crumbs and debris that fall into the spaces between cushions or along arms.

Deal with Spills Immediately

A spilled wine glass on a couch

Blot up anything that spills on an upholstered surface as quickly as possible. Use clean, cut-up t-shirts or white shop rags to ensure no dye or lint is transferred to the fabric in the process. Fabrics that are rated as water-safe can be cleaned immediately with a damp sponge or cloth. A small amount of bleach-free dish soap can help lift the stain without damaging the fabric. For S-rated materials, use a solvent-based spot cleaner before the stain gets a chance to dry. If you discover the spill after it has had a chance to dry, it’ll likely need professional stain treatment to disappear completely.

Remove Dirt with the Right Treatment

A person scrubbing a couch with a brush

Professional upholstery cleaning solutions are available for both W- and S-rated fabrics. However, it’s easy enough to do basic cleanup on a couch that can handle water-based cleaners with just some water and dish soap. By brushing the fabric with a damp soap dipped in soapy water, it’s possible to pick up the oils and dirt on the surface without wetting it too much. Only work on one surface of a cushion at a time and let it dry thoroughly before sitting on the couch. Don’t apply heat to the fabric to avoid discoloration or wrinkling, although circulating air in the room indirectly with a fan is recommended.

Solvent-based cleaning products work well for all S-rated upholstered surfaces because they keep the materials dry during cleaning. Despite this, they’re still not recommended for any upholstered materials with an X on the label. If choosing a cleaning product for a couch rated W or S, a solvent-based product is likely a better choice for its lower chance of damage due to the lack of moisture.

Treat Them Quickly and with the Correct Method

A person cleaning a couch with soap and a sponge

Stain treatments will need to match the general cleaning requirements of the upholstery as well. Don’t make the mistake of applying a water-based stain treatment to an X- or S-rated material. The stain is likely to become worse. In most cases, stain treatments must be applied right when a spill occurs for any chance of restoring the original color. Otherwise, professional spot treatment is the fastest and least damaging way to restore the look of a couch or armchair.

Shampoo to Restore Colors

A person wiping a couch with a green cloth

Particularly after cleaning with water-based products, fabrics can become dingy or develop a brown cast. This is due to slow drying or pH changes from the cleaning products. A fast-drying foam-based upholstery shampoo should restore the color without causing further damage. Mix the concentrated liquid with the recommended amount of water in a bucket and use an immersion blender or electric mixer to get a good foam. Use a rag or towel to absorb some foam and wring the towel out until it feels just damp. Then rub down the upholstery. Rub the fabric down again with a barely damp towel, then let the material dry with the windows open and fans in the room.

Keeping upholstery looking good can take a lot of work. Look for furnishings made with easy-to-clean materials to keep them looking new for years to come without as much professional attention. Making changes like keeping food and drinks off of the furniture can go a long way in reducing cleaning needs.

While do-it-yourself projects can be fun and fulfilling, there is always a potential for personal injury or property damage. We strongly suggest that any project beyond your abilities be left to licensed professionals such as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk, and we assume no responsibility or liability for the contents of this article.


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