The upholstery on our furniture and vehicle seats can take a beating from food and drink spills, pets, and general soil. Regular cleaning will help prevent excessive wear and help keep stains under control, but commercial upholstery cleaners can be expensive. With just a few items from the pantry, you can make upholstery cleaners for almost every type of fabric.
Equipment / Tools
- Spray bottles
- Large mixing bowls or buckets
- Electric hand mixer or whisk
- Microfiber cloths
- Vacuum with upholstery attachments
- Label maker or masking tape and permanent marker
- Soft-bristled scrub brush
- Distilled white vinegar
- Castile liquid soap
- Olive oil
- Baking soda
- Dishwashing liquid
- Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
Before You Begin
When it is time to clean upholstery, it is essential to know the fiber content of the fabric and the manufacturer's recommendations for cleaning. Some fabrics will be ruined if cleaned with water-based cleaners. Luckily, all furniture sold in the United States since 1969 is required to have a care tag attached. You can usually find it under a cushion or on the bottom of the upholstered piece.
For the best cleaning results, take the time to locate the tag and follow its guidelines:
- Code W: The fabric can be cleaned with water-based cleaning solvents like those you can make yourself.
- Code S: The fabric should only be cleaned with a dry cleaning or water-free solvent to remove stains and soils.
- Code W-S: The upholstery fabric can be cleaned with either water-based or solvent-based products.
- Code X: When you see the "X" avoid any type of cleaning agent. These fabrics should only be cleaned by vacuuming or by a professional. Any type of cleaning product can cause staining and shrinking.
If there is no tag, you will need to do some testing in an inconspicuous area to see how the fabric reacts when treated with a water-based cleaner. For all upholstery, it is important to never over-saturate the fabric with moisture. Too much cleaner or water can cause mold growth that is nearly impossible to remove from the cushions.
To freshen any type of fabric upholstery, sprinkle the surface with baking soda. Use enough baking soda to cover the fabric about one-quarter inch deep. Allow the soda to sit on the surface for at least eight hours and then vacuum it away. The fabric will both smell better and look brighter after the baking soda absorbs oils and odors.
Homemade Cleaner for Fabric and Faux Leather Upholstery
This cleaning solution is good for cotton, linen, and blended fiber upholstery including outdoor fabrics. It also works well to clean vinyl or faux leather upholstery.
Mix the Cleaning Solution
In a spray bottle, combine one-half cup distilled white vinegar, one teaspoon Castile liquid soap, and one cup of warm water.
Label the Solution
Unless you plan to use all of the solution immediately, be sure to label the bottle.
Vacuum the Upholstery
When it's time to clean, vacuum the upholstery well to remove as much soil as possible.
Apply the Cleaner
Lightly spritz on the cleaner starting at the top of the furniture. Work in a small area and use a microfiber cloth to wipe down the fabric, lightly scrubbing any heavily stained areas.
Rinse and Dry
Dampen a clean microfiber cloth with clean water and do a final wipe-down to "rinse" the fabric. Allow the upholstery to air-dry.
Homemade Cleaners for Microfiber and Synthetic Upholstery
Some synthetic fibers can be safely cleaned with a water-based cleaner but others cannot. For synthetic fiber upholstery with a W or W-S tag, you can use suds made with dishwashing liquid. For fabric with an S tag, use the isopropyl alcohol cleaning method. Always vacuum the upholstery well before you use either cleaning solution.
Create a Cleaning Solution for W or W-S Fabric
Pour four cups of warm water into a bucket or large bowl. Add one-fourth cup dishwashing liquid. Use an electric hand mixer or whisk to create lots of soapy suds.
Scrub With Suds
Dip a soft-bristled scrubbing brush in just the soap suds (not the water). Start at the top of a cushion or the couch back or arms, evenly spread the suds and scrub well. Starting at the top will prevent dirty suds from dripping onto already cleaned areas. Rinse the brush frequently in clean water and make sure it is as dry as possible as you repeat the steps with additional soap suds.
Rinse and Dry
Once a section of the upholstery has been cleaned, lightly dampen a microfiber cleaning cloth with plain water and wipe down the area. Allow the fabric to air-dry completely. Use a vacuum or upholstery brush to fluff fibers on microfiber upholstery finishes.
Prepare Cleaning Solution for S Tag Fabrics
Pour two cups of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol in a spray bottle. For safety, always label the bottle.
Do not use rubbing alcohol or any dry-cleaning solvent around open-flames and open windows or turn on fans to provide good ventilation.
Clean the Upholstery
Lightly spritz the fabric starting at the top of a cushion or section. While the fabric is damp with the rubbing alcohol, use a soft-bristled brush to remove soil. Rinse the brush frequently in plain water and shake it to remove as much moisture as possible before continuing to clean.
Air-Dry the Upholstery
Allow the upholstery to air-dry and then use a vacuum or upholstery brush to lift any matted fibers.
Homemade Cleaner for Leather Upholstery
To keep leather upholstery soft and supple, it needs to be cleaned and conditioned properly. This homemade solution works well but should never be used on natural suede leather upholstery which should always be cleaned by a professional.
If leather upholstery is exceptionally dirty (muddy paw prints), use saddle soap or Castile soap and a small amount of water to wipe away the heavy soil before using the olive oil and vinegar mixture.
Create a Cleaning Solution
In a spray bottle, add one-half cup olive oil and one-fourth cup distilled white vinegar. Label the bottle as "Leather Cleaner and Conditioner".
Shake, Spray, and Wipe
Before each use, shake the spray bottle well to combine the ingredients. Working in a small area, lightly spray the leather with the solution. Wipe down the leather with a microfiber cloth to remove soil.
Buff to a Shine
With a dry microfiber cloth, buff the cleaned area to remove any streaks and restore the shine. The olive oil will keep the leather soft and supple.