How to Clean Upholstered Chairs

White upholstered chair being cleaned with vacuum hose with throw blanket on top

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 30 mins - 8 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Upholstered chairs come in every color, style, and size. But whether you have a plush recliner or a formal dining room chair, it will eventually need to be cleaned. Sometimes a simple vacuuming will remove the dust and brighten the fabric or you may need to tackle years of pet stains, food spills, and grime.

Before you begin, it is important to know what kind of upholstery is covering your chair. Since 1969, furniture manufacturers have added a tag to help you determine the best and safest way to clean upholstery. Look for the tag underneath the chair or cushion and follow the cleaning guidelines for the code.

  • Code W: Fabric can be cleaned with water-based cleaning solvents.
  • Code S: Use only a dry cleaning or water-free solvent to remove stains and soils from the upholstery. The use of these chemicals requires a well-ventilated room and no open flames like fireplaces or candles.
  • Code W-S: The upholstery can be cleaned with either water-based or solvent-based products.
  • Code X: This fabric should only be cleaned by vacuuming or by a professional. Any type of home cleaning product can cause staining and shrinking.

If there is no tag, you must test different cleaning solutions in an inconspicuous area to see how the fabric reacts when treated.

How Often to Clean an Upholstered Chair

Spills and stains should be cleaned away immediately. Lift any solids away from the fabric with the edge of a credit card or a blunt knife. Never rub, as that only pushes the stain deeper into the upholstery. Blot liquids until no more moisture transfers to a paper towel.

While you should vacuum your upholstered chairs and couch weekly, stain removal and overall upholstery cleaning should be done on an as-needed basis or at least seasonally.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Vacuum with hose and upholstery brush attachment
  • Sponge
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Medium bowls
  • Electric mixer or whisk
  • Plastic buckets
  • Soft-bristled brush


  • Mild dishwashing liquid
  • Commercial upholstery cleaner
  • Dry cleaning solvent
  • Baking soda


Materials and tools to clean an upholstered chair

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  1. Vacuum the Chair

    Always begin your thorough cleaning session by vacuuming the chair. You don't want to push loose dirt around while you are doing a deep clean. Use a vacuum with a hose and upholstery brush attachment to help loosen dust and crumbs and one with a HEPA filter to capture as much dust and allergens like pet dander as possible.

    Start at the top of the chair and vacuum every inch of the upholstery. Don't forget the lower sides and back of a fully-upholstered chair even if it is placed up against a wall.

    Use the crevice tool to get deep between the cushions and the frame of the chair. If the chair has removable cushions, remove them and vacuum both sides. Finally, tilt the chair over, if possible, and vacuum the bottom and around the legs.


    To help freshen a smelly chair, sprinkle the upholstery with dry baking soda. Work it into the fabric with a soft-bristled brush and leave it for at least one hour (overnight is fine). Vacuum away the baking soda and the dust and odor.

    Upholstered chair arm cleaned with vacuum hose with brush attachment

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  2. Treat Stains and Heavily Soiled Areas

    It is helpful if you know what caused the stain but not essential. You can use a commercial upholstery cleaner to treat the stains by following the label instructions or create a homemade solution that works well on most types of stains. It is a good idea to pay extra attention to arms and headrests that are usually heavily soiled from body oils and grime.

    Upholstery cleaner sprayed on chair arm and scrubbed with soft-bristled brush

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  3. Create a Stain-Removing Solution and Tackle Stains

    If the upholstery can be cleaned with a water-based cleaner, mix one-fourth cup of dishwashing liquid and one cup of warm water in a medium bowl. Use an electric mixer or a whisk to create some suds. Dip a sponge into the suds (not the water) and gently scrub the stained areas. As the soil is transferred, rinse the sponge in a separate bowl of warm water. Wring well so the sponge is just damp, not dripping. You can also use a soft-bristled nylon scrubbing brush for heavily soiled areas.

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

    If the chair upholstery requires the use of a dry cleaning solvent, carefully follow the directions on the product label.

    Dishwashing liquid and water solution scrubbed into chair arm with sponge

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  4. Prepare an Overall Cleaning Solution

    For general cleaning of chair upholstery with a W or W-S code, prepare a less-concentrated solution of dishwashing liquid and water. Use only one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid per one gallon of warm water.

    For S-coded upholstery, use a commercial dry cleaning solvent or consult a professional upholstery cleaner.

    Materials to create an overall cleaning solution for upholstered chairs

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  5. Clean, Rinse, and Dry the Upholstery

    Dip a sponge or microfiber cloth in the solution and wring until just damp. Start at the top of the chair and wipe down every fabric surface. Work in small sections at a time. Do not over-saturate the upholstery or any metal or wood components of the chair.

    Follow up with a fresh slightly damp sponge or cloth dipped in clean water. Finish by blotting the upholstery with dry cloths to absorb as much moisture as possible. Speed drying by using a circulating fan but avoid direct heat like a hairdryer.

    Damp microfiber cloth wiping cleaning solution from upholstered chair arm

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

Tips to Keep Your Upholstered Chair Clean Longer

  • Treat stains and spills promptly.
  • Vacuum regularly to remove dust that weakens fibers.
  • Cover arms and headrests with washable covers that can be removed and cleaned easily.
  • Pretreat a new upholstered chair with a stain protection product.