How to Clean Couch Upholstery

Blue midcentury sofa in living room

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Your couch is one of the most used and abused pieces of furniture in your home. It serves as a sometimes bed, dining table, pet haven, and playground. All of that activity leaves plenty of stains and unseen grime like dust mites, bacteria, and fungi.

Take a hard look at your couch. It's probably time to give it a good cleaning.

Tip

When you've mastered the skills needed to clean your couch, use the same ones to clean your cloth car seats.

Know the Code Before You Clean

Beginning in 1969, furniture manufacturers began adding a tag to help you determine the best and safest way to clean upholstery. Take the time to search for the tag underneath the couch or cushions and follow the cleaning guidelines.

Code W

These fabrics can be cleaned with water-based cleaning solvents.

Code S

Use only a dry cleaning or water-free solvent to remove stains and soils. The use of these chemicals require a well-ventilated room and no open flames like fireplaces or candles.

Code W-S

These upholstery fabrics 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 home cleaning product can cause staining and shrinking.

If you have found a cleaning code tag, you're one step ahead. If there is no tag, you will need to do some testing in an inconspicuous area to see how the fabric reacts when treated. One tip that will serve you well is to NEVER over-saturate the fabric with moisture. Too much water can cause mold and mildew to grow in the cushions that is nearly impossible to remove.

How Often to Clean a Couch

A deep couch cleaning will require three steps. While you should vacuum your couch weekly, stain removal and general upholstery cleaning should be done quarterly or on an as-needed basis.

What You Need

Supplies

  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Warm water
  • Dry cleaning solvent
  • Baking soda

Tools

Instructions

How to Vacuum Your Couch

One of the best things you can do to improve the cleanliness of your couch, no matter what style or type of upholstery, is to vacuum it well weekly. While a lightweight portable hand-held vacuum works fine to gather up potato chip crumbs, you really need to use a vacuum with more suction to get at the really yucky stuff.

Cleaning Upholstery
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  1. Choose the Right Tools

    Choose a vacuum with a HEPA filter to capture as much dust and allergens like pet dander as possible. To really tackle bacteria, viruses, bedbugs, and dust mites, use a vacuum with UV light like the Raycop RN. The UV light kills the offenders, sucks them away, and traps them in a dual filtration system.

  2. Vacuum the Sides

    It is important to go over every inch of the upholstery. Don't forget the lower sides and back of the couch even if it is placed up against a wall and never touched by humans. Dust clings everywhere!

  3. Vacuum the Cushions

    Use the crevice tool to get deep between the cushions and the frame of the couch. You may just find a small fortune. If your couch has removable cushions, remove them and vacuum both sides.

  4. Vacuum the Bottom

And, if you're feeling really ambitious, with assistance, tilt the couch over and vacuum the bottom of the piece. (It's also a good time to really clean the flooring underneath.)

How to Remove Stains

Before you can clean the overall upholstery, you should tackle any specific stains.

  1. Blot Moisture and Remove Solid Debris

    If stains are liquid and fresh, blot away as much moisture as possible with paper towels. For solids like mayonnaise or sticky cheese, use the edge of a dull knife or the edge of a credit card to lift away as much of the stain as possible. Never rub the area because that only pushes the stain deeper into the fabric fibers. For dried solids, use a soft-bristled brush to loosen the dried matter.

  2. Prepare the Cleaning Solution

    If the upholstery can be cleaned with a water-based cleaner, mix one-fourth cup dishwashing liquid and one cup of warm water in a small bowl. Use an electric mixer or a whisk to create some suds.

  3. Rub Stain

    Dip a sponge into the suds and rub away the stain. Keep moving to a clean area of the sponge as the stain is transferred.

  4. Rinse and Dry

Finish by dipping the sponge or a microfiber cloth in clear water to blot away any cleaning solution. This "rinse" is very important because any detergent left in the fibers can actually attract more soil. Allow the area to air dry completely away from direct sunlight or heat.

If the upholstery requires a dry cleaning solvent, follow the directions on the product label.

How to Clean Couch Upholstery

If your couch needs an overall cleaning, after vacuuming, you can follow basically the same steps as for stain removal.

  1. Prepare the Cleaning Solution

    For general cleaning, mix a less concentrated cleaning solution of dishwashing liquid and warm water. Mix only one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid per one gallon of warm water.

  2. Wipe the Fabric

    Use a sponge or microfiber cloth dipped in the solution and wrung to just damp to wipe down every surface. Work in small sections at a time and avoid getting water on metal components like buttons, snaps, and frame legs. This can cause rust stains that are difficult to remove.

  3. Rinse

Follow up with a fresh sponge or cloth dipped in plain water. Finish by blotting with dry cloths to absorb moisture. You can use a circulating fan to help speed drying but avoid direct heat like a hair dryer.