How to Wash Upholstery Fabric

upholstered sofa

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 2 - 4 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $30

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, washing upholstery needs to become a regular part of life, too.

Some fabrics are machine washable, so you can remove the cushion covers and wash them in your household 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 Upholstery

Cleaning 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 Cleaning and Restoration Association and 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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

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

Materials

  • Upholstery stain remover
  • 1/2 teaspoon clear, 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, so it can then be vacuumed up more easily.

    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 further 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 may 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 clear 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 up 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 pre-shrunk; second, it must be a colorfast fabric.

If your upholstery is not pre-shrunk, washing in a machine will shrink the fabric and make it difficult (or impossible) to get the cushion covers back onto the cushions, rendering your furniture all but useless unless you purchase new covers. The manufacturer's tag should indicate if the fabric is preshrunk or not.

To find out if your upholstery is colorfast, take a damp white cloth and rub it on the upholstered surface. If the color comes off onto the cloth, the upholstery is likely not colorfast and a professional will need to handle the cleaning of your furniture.

When washing your upholstery in a machine, avoid using warm or hot water, since 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.

Drying upholstery fabric is just as important as washing and requires careful instruction as well. Don't put a slipcover into the dryer because it could shrink or fade, even if it washes just fine. Your best bet is to set your dryer to the tumble or fluff setting and take out the piece before it's completely dry. Additionally, you should let any cushions 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 the oils from the body seeping into the couch as you relax. 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 that will protect the fabric from stains.

If you do experience a stain, don't let it set in. Act quickly by mopping up any 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 mop up small spills like coffee drips. If a smell emanates from the fabric, sprinkle baking soda onto the furniture and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes before vacuuming up the powder.