How to Clean a Fabric Sofa Without Water

Fabric sofa cleaned with microfiber cloth and cleaning materials

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 1 - 10 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $20

The sofa takes center stage in our living rooms as a spot to entertain or relax. It also accumulates debris and stains from food and drink spills, pets, and dirty feet. Eventually, the sofa will need to be cleaned. But how do you clean a sofa covered with upholstery fabric that cannot tolerate water-based cleaners (Code S)? You can either call a professional or follow these steps on how to clean a fabric sofa without water.

How Often to Clean a Fabric Sofa Without Water

Spills and stains should be treated promptly and the sofa should be vacuumed at least monthly to remove dust and loose soil. A thorough cleaning twice a year should keep the fabric looking its best.

Before You Begin

How do you know if the sofa fabric cannot be cleaned with water? Before you damage the fabric or shrink the upholstery by scrubbing the sofa with soap and water, you must confirm the proper way to clean the fabric.

The best way to determine how to clean the upholstery fabric is to look for the care tag. Since 1969, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has required furniture manufacturers to add a tag to help owners determine the best and safest way to clean upholstery. Take the time to search for the tag underneath the couch or cushions.

The tag has a code that will determine whether you can use water-based or solvent-based cleaners. 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 solvent or water.

Upholstery Care Tag Codes

  • Code W: The fabric can be cleaned with water-based cleaning products.
  • Code S: The fabric can 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: The fabric can only be cleaned by vacuuming or by a professional. Any type of home cleaning product can cause staining and shrinking.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Vacuum with upholstery tools
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Dropcloth or tarp
  • Circulating fan

Materials

  • Dry cleaning solvent
  • Baking soda

Instructions

Materials and tools to clean a fabric sofa

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  1. Vacuum the Sofa

    Regular vacuuming removes dust and dirt that will eventually settle into the upholstery leaving it dull and dirty. The most effective vacuum is one with a hose and upholstery attachments like a crevice tool, powerhead, and upholstery brush. However, even a handheld vacuum will help remove surface dust.

    Start at the top of the sofa and slowly move the vacuum over the upholstery. If you don't have an upholstery attachment, use a soft brush to gently loosen the soil before vacuuming it away. Remember to clean thoroughly under any detachable cushions, the back of the sofa, and the fabric sides attached to the frame.

    Tip

    To help remove odors and brighten the fabric, sprinkle the upholstery with DRY baking soda. Use a soft-bristled brush to gently work it into the fabric. Allow the baking soda to work for at least one hour or up to overnight. Then, vacuum away the baking soda and the soil it has collected.

    Fabric sofa armrest being cleaned with vacuum upholstery attachment

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Improve Air Circulation and Eliminate Hazards

    • Before using any dry cleaning solvent, all sources of fire should be extinguished (candles, wax warmers, fireplaces) or move the sofa to another location before cleaning.
    • Do not smoke or use e-cigarettes while using dry cleaning solvents.
    • Fumes from dry cleaning solvents are strong, so improve the ventilation in the room by opening windows or doors or adding a circulating fan.
    • Protect painted and finished wood surfaces (floors and trim) with a drop cloth. The solvent can permanently damage the finish.
    Front door open to circulate air for cleaning fabric sofa

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Do a Test Spot With the Dry Cleaning Solvent

    Before cleaning any stains or heavily soiled areas, do a test with the dry cleaning solvent you have selected in an inconspicuous spot. Dampen a white microfiber cloth with a bit of the solvent and rub it onto a hidden area under a cushion. Allow the area to dry. Note any color changes or dye transfer to the cloth. If there are none, the product is safe to use to clean larger areas.

    What Is Dry Cleaning Solvent?

    Dry cleaning solvent refers to non-water, hydrocarbon-based compounds used to clean delicate or non-colorfast fabrics that can be damaged when using water-based cleaning methods. The solvent is toxic and flammable and must be used and disposed of with caution.

    The solvent can be purchased online, at fabric care, or home improvement stores. Brand names include Chemspec Dry Fabric Cleaner, ForceField Dry Cleaning Fluid, and KleenRite Dry Spotter VS.

    Dry cleaning solvent cloth passing over front of fabric sofa

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. Spot Clean Stains and Heavily Soiled Areas

    To clean stains and heavily soiled areas like armrests, dampen a clean cloth with the dry cleaning solvent. Start at the outside edges of the soiled area to prevent the stain from spreading. Blot the solvent onto the soiled area with the cloth, moving it to a clean area of the cloth as the soil is transferred.

    If the soiled area is large, the entire section of the sofa (cushion, armrest) should be cleaned to prevent streaking or discoloration.

    Dry cleaning solvents are highly effective on oily stains, but it may not remove all traces of water-based stains like Kool-Aid or wine that contains dyes or tannins.

    Damp microfiber cloth rubbing fabric sofa arm rest

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  5. Dry the Upholstery

    Speed drying time by placing a fan near the freshly cleaned upholstery. DO NOT use a hairdryer or a heater to speed up drying. Do not have any open flames near the piece until all of the fumes have dissipated.

    Fan blowing air to dry fabric sofa

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Tips to Keep Code S Upholstery Clean

  • Vacuum the upholstery regularly.
  • Treat new or freshly cleaned upholstery with a fabric-protecting spray.
  • Protect armrests with washable covers.
  • Contact the furniture manufacturer if you have any care questions.
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Threading Your Way Through Labeling Requirements Under the Textiles and Wool Act. U.S. Federal Trade Commission

  2. DrycleaningCenters for Disease Control and Prevention.