How to Clean Couch Cushions (From Most Stains)

Instructions for removable and non-removable cushions

How to Clean Couch Cushions

The Spruce / Adriana Sanchez

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 2 - 4 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

From the careless drop of a coffee mug to the dirty paws of a dog, soils and spills on upholstered furniture are a part of everyday life. To keep your favorite pieces in tip-top shape, you should know how to clean couch cushions and other upholstery.

Removable vs. Non-Removable Cushion Cleaning 

Some fabrics are machine-washable, so you can remove the cushion covers and wash them in a washing machine. Other fabrics can be spot-cleaned using solutions recommended by the maker of the furniture.

Before you wash the upholstery, check the label: A "W" means you can use a water-based cleaner, an "S" means you can use a solvent-based cleaner, and a "WS" means you can use either. If there is an "X," the upholstery should be professionally cleaned only.

How Often to Clean Couch Cushions, Other Upholstery

Cleaning couch cushions and other upholstery, including washing the fabric, is a job that can vary in frequency. In an ideal world, you would vacuum upholstered furniture once a week and do a complete cleaning once a month.

If you prefer to have your upholstery cleaned professionally, consider hiring a certified cleaning technician every one to two years. Organizations such as the International Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification are great places to find a certified technician near you. Otherwise, you can follow the steps below to clean the upholstery yourself.

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Click Play to Learn How to Wash Upholstery Fabric

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Rubber gloves
  • Vacuum with upholstery attachments
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Bucket
  • Upholstery brush

Materials

  • Upholstery stain remover
  • 1/2 teaspoon dye-free, gentle dish soap
  • Warm water

Instructions

materials for cleaning upholstery

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  1. Remove Pet Hair

    Put on a pair of rubber gloves, and run them over the upholstery to loosen any pet hair to make it easier for it to be vacuumed up.

    remove pet hair

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  2. Vacuum the Upholstery

    Using the upholstery attachment on your vacuum, move it from left to right in short, overlapping lines. Change over to the crevice nozzle, and vacuum in between the seams and under the cushions.

    vacuuming upholstery

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  3. Treat Any Stains

    Attack stains with either water- or solvent-based cleaner, depending on your fabric's care instructions. Let the solution sink in, and then blot the stain with a microfiber cloth. Take care not to scrub the stain, which can push the stain farther into the upholstery or damage the fabric.

    The type of stain you're dealing with will inform how many applications of cleaner you need. Tougher stains like grease, blood, or ink might necessitate a few more rounds of cleaning than something like spilled soda or juice.

    blotting a stain on a sofa

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  4. Wash the Upholstery

    Combine a half teaspoon of dye-free dish soap and a bit of warm water in a small bucket, frothing the mixture up to create suds. Dip an upholstery brush into the suds, and gently run it across the upholstery, taking care not to soak the fabric. Finish the job by wiping the fabric with a clean, damp cloth. Before sitting on the upholstered furniture, let it dry completely.

    washing upholstery

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Washing Upholstery in a Machine

Removable upholstery covers must pass two tests to ensure that they can be washed in a machine: First, the fabric must be preshrunk; second, it must be a colorfast fabric.

  • If your upholstery is not preshrunk, washing in a machine will shrink the fabric and make it difficult (or impossible) to get the covers back onto the cushions. The manufacturer's tag should indicate whether the fabric is preshrunk.
  • To find out whether your upholstery is colorfast, take a damp white cloth and rub it on the fabric in an inconspicuous spot. If the color comes off onto the cloth, the upholstery is likely not colorfast, and a professional will need to handle its cleaning.

If you've determined your upholstery fabric is machine-washable, there are some general tips to follow.

  • Avoid using warm or hot water, as cold water is easier on fabrics.
  • Opt for the delicate cycle on your first wash to subject your fabric to the least amount of agitation. You can see how it holds up in the wash cycle to know how sturdy it is for future washes.
  • Don't put a slipcover in the dryer because it could shrink or fade, even if it washes just fine. You can use the tumble or fluff setting without heat to get some moisture out, and then let the fabric air dry.

How to Clean Urine Stains on Couch Cushions

Especially if you have pets, you might experience a urine stain on your couch cushions or other upholstery at some point. The key is to act fast to prevent the stain (and its smell) from settling into the fibers. 

Remove the cover if possible. Then, blot up as much of the liquid as you can with a microfiber cloth. Don’t press hard or scrub though. 

If the fabric is machine-washable, run it through a cycle with cold water and a cup of vinegar. Then, wash it again with detergent using the warmest water that the fabric allows, and hang it to dry.

If the fabric can’t be put in the washing machine, use an enzymatic cleaner made to remove urine stains (testing it on an inconspicuous area first). You also can make your own cleaner using 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup water, and 2 teaspoons dish soap. Dip a clean white cloth into the cleaner, and blot the stain. Then, use a different cloth or sponge to rinse with plain water, and let the spot air dry.

Tips for Keeping Upholstery Clean Longer

Everyday life is rife with opportunities for getting upholstered furniture dirty, whether it's an accidental spill of red wine or just body oils seeping into the fabric. However, you can take precautions to keep the upholstery from becoming stained.

For starters, it's a good idea to treat your clean upholstery with a stain guard spray. It will help to shield the fabric from some staining.

If you do experience a stain, don't let it set in. Act quickly by mopping up spills as soon as they happen, blotting the area with a microfiber cloth. If you need a little extra cleaning power, dab the spill with club soda. In a pinch, baby wipes can help to mop up small spills, such as coffee drips.

If a smell emanates from the fabric, sprinkle baking soda onto the furniture. Let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes before vacuuming up the powder.

FAQ
  • How do you deep clean an upholstered couch?

    Deep cleaning a couch or other upholstery begins with thoroughly vacuuming it. Take off any removable cushions, and use vacuum attachments to get into all the crevices. Then, follow the fabric instructions for whether it can be machine-washed, spot-cleaned, or professionally cleaned.

  • How do you wash cushions that cannot be washed?

    If you're not able to throw your cushion covers in the washing machine, you might still be able to spot-clean the fabric with an upholstery cleaner. You also typically can sprinkle some baking soda on the fabric, let it sit, and then vacuum it up. This should absorb some odors in the cushion.

  • How do I dry my couch cushions?

    It's usually not ideal to put cushion covers in the dryer, as they might shrink or become misshapen and not fit the cushion well anymore. The dryer also adds wear and tear to the fabric. Instead, let the fabric air dry in a well-ventilated area. You can hang it outside to air out, but keep it out of direct sun, which can cause fading.