How to Remove Most Stains from Couch Cushions

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

Spilled drinks, pet or human urine, or other stains are common accidents on couches, especially if you have or frequently entertain guests, young children, or pets. Some upholstery or couch cushions usually have covers that can be removed and either hand or machine washed, but sometimes, the covers are not removable. Some cushions may be labeled as spot-clean only.

In general, couch cushion covers should be cleaned in cold water either by hand or on a delicate cycle in the washing machine. Dye-free laundry detergent can take on most stains, while some spills can be removed with commercial spot removers or a homemade solution. Significant, deep, or old spills might require a professional or steam cleaner. Most importantly, remember to air dry cushion covers and zip them shut before cleaning.

Here, learn the best methods to clean couch cushions, particularly removable cushion covers, and what to do when a cover is not removable.

Stain type Varies
Detergent type Stain remover and dish detergent or dye-free laundry detergent
Water temperature Cold
Cycle type Delicate (if machine washable)

Before You Begin

Speed is your best bet when cleaning up a spill. The faster you react and blot up the spill with a microfiber cloth before it embeds into the fibers, the less you have to work at removing the stain. Don't press hard or scrub since that will set the stain. A set stain takes a lot more effort to remove.

Before you begin cleaning your cushions, you need to determine: If the covers are removable, can they be washed by hand, can you wash them by machine, or are they spot clean only? If you know or can determine the make and model of the couch, search online for the furniture maker's care instructions or look for labels on the upholstery to guide you.

If the cushion label says "W," it means you can use a water-based cleaner, "S" means you can use a solvent-based cleaner, and "WS" means you can use either. If there is an "X," you should professionally clean the upholstery only.

Removable upholstery covers must pass two tests to ensure that you can wash them in a machine: they must be preshrunk (or else you might not get the covers back onto the cushions), and they must be colorfast. To test for colorfastness: Take a damp white cloth and rub it on the fabric in an inconspicuous spot. If the color comes off the material, the upholstery is likely not colorfast, and a professional should do the cleaning.

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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

Spot Cleaning Non-Removable Cushion Covers

materials for cleaning upholstery

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  1. Remove Hair and Dust With Gloves

    Put on a pair of rubber gloves, and run them over the upholstery to loosen any pet or human hair or dust to make it easier to vacuum.

    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 between the seams and under the cushions.

    vacuuming upholstery

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  3. Treat Any Stains

    Depending on your fabric's care instructions, attack stains with water or a solvent-based cleaner. Let the solution sink in, 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 determine how many applications of cleaner you need. Tougher stains like grease, blood, or ink may need a few more rounds of cleaning.

    If you have a urine stain, use an enzymatic cleaner to remove urine stains (testing it on an inconspicuous area first). You also can make your 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.

    blotting a stain on a sofa

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  4. Wash the Upholstery

    Combine a half teaspoon of dye-free dish soap and 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

  1. Confirm the Cushion Cover is Machine Washable

    If you know the cushion cover is machine washable and has a label marked "W" for water-based cleaner, then you can remove the cushion cover and place it in the washing machine separately.

  2. Treat Stains

    Use a stain remover or spot treatment solution to address your particular stain.

    If you have a urine stain, remove the cover immediately. Blot up as much liquid as possible with a microfiber cloth. Don’t press hard or scrub to set in the stain. Run the cover through a cycle with cold water and a cup of vinegar. Then, wash it with detergent using the warmest water the fabric allows, and hang it to dry.

  3. Use Dye-Free Laundry Detergent

    Even if you have a colorfast material, use a dye-free laundry detergent to ensure that the dye in colored detergents does not inadvertently transfer to your upholstery covers.

  4. Use Cold Water and Delicate Setting

    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. Also, close the zipper, so it doesn't get tangled or damaged.

  5. Air Dry the Cushion Cover

    Don't machine dry a couch cover in the dryer because it could shrink or fade. Instead, drip dry in the shade; beware of the sun since it can bleach some fabrics. To remove some moisture, you can use the tumble or fluff setting without heat and let the fabric air dry.

Additional Tips for Cleaning Couch Cushions

If a stain persists, dab the spill with club soda. Some claim that the carbonation in water helps lifts stains. Although, the active ingredient is likely the water. Diluting the stain and dabbing the spill quickly is your most effective way of reacting to a stain situation. In a pinch, baby wipes are another excellent method of dabbing or mopping up small spills, such as coffee drips.

If a smell emanates from the fabric, sprinkle baking soda onto the cushion. Let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes before vacuuming up the powder. For stain prevention, treat your clean upholstery with a stain-guard spray. It will help to shield the fabric from some staining.

If the cover is removable and the liquid is deep in the couch foam, the good news is that most foam is washable. In most cases, you can deep soak the foam in a bathtub with a mild dish detergent. Squeeze out all the soapy water, thoroughly rinse with clean water, and air dry. To ensure your couch foam is washable, check with the furniture manufacturer.

When to Call a Professional

Call a couch cleaning professional if you have tried these cleaning methods and the stain remains. Large stains, deep stains, or old stains may need special cleaning fluids and the expertise of a certified cleaning technician. To find a trustworthy couch cleaner, consider looking up a professional associated with the International Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification.

FAQ
  • How do you deep clean an upholstered couch?

    Deep cleaning of 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 unable 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 cloth, let it sit, and then vacuum it. This approach should absorb some odors in the cushion.

  • How do I dry my couch cushions?

    Putting cushion covers in the dryer is not recommended, 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 the direct sun, which can cause fading.