We may be compensated if you purchase through links on our website. Our Reviews Team is committed to delivering honest, objective, and independent reviews on home products and services.More

How to Clean Upholstery

Read this guide on how to clean upholstery in your home in the most effective way.

Author Image Written by Brenda Woods Updated 02/24/2024

Upholstery padding and fabric make furniture much more comfortable places to sit, but they can also make them more difficult to clean than finished wood or metal. However, spilling your drink on your sofa isn’t the end of the world. You can call in a professional cleaning service, or you can learn how to clean upholstery yourself.

While it’s impossible to run down every type of furniture or upholstery fabric and the specifics of cleaning each one, you’ll do well if you keep the following tips in mind for keeping your upholstered furniture clean. For major cleaning undertakings, we recommend getting professional help from The Cleaning Authority.

Vacuum Regularly

You can renew your furniture surprisingly well with nothing more than a vacuum cleaner with an upholstery attachment. In addition to regular weekly vacuuming, this should always be the first step of a deep clean to prevent working surface dirt any deeper into the fabric. Start at the top and work your way down to avoid having to go over the same area more than once. Don’t forget the back and sides—dust clings there, too. Whenever possible, travel with the nap of the fabric.

If you’re wondering how to clean sofa upholstery at home, make sure to remove and vacuum beneath the cushions. If the cushions aren’t removable, switch to a crevice tool. For ground-in grime along seams and other nooks and crannies, you may find that the vacuum is too blunt a tool. In that case, get a can of compressed air like you’d use to clean a computer keyboard to blow debris out of these areas.

Spot Treat Immediately

It may be tempting to ignore that soda spill until you have a chance to really deep clean your couch, but the faster you treat a stain, the less chance it will leave a permanent mark. As soon as the spill happens, blot it with a clean cloth or paper towel. Never rub or scrub, as this could spread the stain around or push it deeper into the fabric.

Baby wipes are excellent tools for spot treatment, particularly on leather, cotton, and polyester upholstery. Always test first on an area of fabric that you can’t easily see, of course, but once you’re satisfied that they won’t damage the fabric, you can keep a pack of baby wipes on hand for spills. They work great on carpets, too.

Match Your Cleaner to Your Fabric

If you want to learn how to clean upholstery, arm yourself with a little professional knowledge. Most upholstery fabric should have a tag that will give you a clue as to which cleaning products to use.

A W means you should use water-based cleaners on this fabric. Baby wipes are one option, and another is a few drops of liquid dish detergent dissolved in a bucket of lukewarm water. You can make the solution a little more concentrated for spot-cleaning but no stronger than a 1:4 ration of soap to water.

An S means you should only use solvent-based cleaners, otherwise known as dry-cleaning chemicals. You can take this fabric to a professional, of course, but you can also purchase these solvents in home dry-cleaning kits. Always pay attention to safety guidelines for these substances, including proper ventilation and protection for your skin.

A W-S means that you can use either water-based or solvent-based cleaners.

An X means that you should not use any type of cleaning agent. You can vacuum the surface or take it to a professional cleaner, but attempts to use cleaning products will shrink or stain the fabric.

Clean Gently

“Deep clean” isn’t synonymous with “hard scrubbing.” In fact, you want to be as gentle as possible with your upholstery. Elbow grease is unlikely to remove stubborn, set-in stains and may only serve to damage the fabric. Whatever type of solvent or cleaner you’re using, apply it sparingly and give it a moment to sink in, and then blot it away.

Similarly, you want to minimize the amount of water you use, even on water-safe fabrics. Letting too much moisture get into any kind of home furnishing that isn’t built for it is a bad idea.

If you want to clean an entire sofa, dissolve a tablespoon of dishwashing detergent in a gallon of water, dip a clean microfiber cloth in the mixture, and wring it out until it’s only damp. Then clean the surface of the fabric gently, working in small sections and wiping in one direction.

Follow this up with a cloth dampened in clean water, and then let the sofa air dry completely before using it again. You can use a fan to speed up the drying process, but never use heated air from a hairdryer or space heater. If you’re using a special upholstery shampoo or dry cleaning solvent, be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging for best results.

Of course, there are some stains that will be difficult, if not impossible, to remove on your own. If you’ve tried two or three times to no avail, it may be time to call in a professional cleaning company to help you out. The Cleaning Authority is a professional service that includes upholstery and furniture vacuuming, which will give you a jump start on any deep clean of your couches or other upholstered furniture. Read our full review of The Cleaning Authority for more information on the company’s services.

To share feedback or ask a question about this article, send a note to our Reviews Team at reviews@thisoldhousereviews.com.