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10 Steps to Clean Your Upholstered Furniture

Remember that wonderful feeling when you’ve just purchased your brand new furniture, and it sits pristine and beautiful in your home? It’s exactly what you wanted, and it looks even better than you had hoped. That new couch, those lovely dining room chairs, that fluffy ottoman.

Unfortunately, though, people actually use this furniture you’ve so carefully selected, and it seems that in no time there are slight stains, faded color, pet hair, and other imperfections that mar the appearance of your once perfect room.

This can be especially challenging with upholstered furniture, that fixed fabric that says “clean me!” with no easy way to accomplish the goal. With slipcovers, it’s as simple as throwing it in the wash. With leather, often as easy as wiping it down. But the upholstered stuff can be tricky.

If your teenagers or grandbabies or beloved bichon frise are leaving your beautiful couch a complete mess, here are some easy tips for getting that once pristine piece looking brand new again.

Cleaning It Yourself

If the task of cleaning your upholstered furniture seems overwhelming, have no fear! It can actually be less stressful than you think if you know the right things to do. There is a time to call in a professional, but you may be able to avoid that unnecessary cost by trying one of the following steps.

Know Your Fabric

One of the biggest reasons people avoid cleaning their upholstered furniture is that the fabric type isn’t as easy to treat as everyday fabrics such as cotton or linen. That’s why the first step is always to know how to care for the specific fabric used on your furniture.

Most furniture has an easily identifiable tag, either under the cushions or on the bottom of the piece. This will include care instructions (or cleaning code) for the type of fabric used on your sofa or loveseat or chair. Once you know this, you can move forward with your cleaning.

Most pieces of furniture will come with a cleaning code. On it you will see one of the following codes:

Make Sure You Have The Right Tools

While you don’t want to go out and buy professional tools to clean your furniture, you may need to grab a few extra things to make sure you’re ready to attack those stains and refresh your furniture’s look.

Here is a list of useful tools to have on hand when cleaning or spot-cleaning your upholstered furniture:

You may already have much of this around the house, but if not, you’ll want to grab some next time you run to the store.

Don’t Let the Stain Set

Chances are that if you are reading this post, you already have some stains that have set into your furniture. However, it bears repeating that the best way to keep your furniture looking fresh and new is to always clean up a spill before it has time to set in.

This is best done by blotting the stain with a clean white towel. Resist the urge to scrub it! This could potentially damage the fabric and set the stain even further.

Test A Small Area First

Before you get to cleaning your entire sofa, it is wise to test your cleaning method on a smaller, less exposed portion of the furniture (perhaps the underside of a cushion or an area that faces the wall.

Once you know that your cleaning has worked on a smaller portion, you can feel safe moving on to the entire piece of furniture.

Remove Surface Level Dirt

The first step is always to make sure you remove any surface level dirt. This can be easily done by vacuuming.

First, though, you’ll want to use your horsehair brush to gently scrub the whole piece of furniture. This loosens up any dirt and dust so that you’re sure to get it all when you vacuum. You can also use compressed air, spraying it into the crevices to make sure you get everything.

Use the attachments on your vacuum cleaner to vacuum the entire piece, starting at the top and moving to the bottom. Most vacuum cleaners have a brush attachment, which is good for furniture, as well as a crevice attachment, which is good for those hard to reach corners.

Remove Crusted On Dirt

Stains that aren’t addressed right away can often leave a piece of crusted food or debris that must be removed from the surface before cleaning the stain beneath (think food that’s been left and dried).

The best way to remove this is by grabbing a spoon and gently scraping it up. You can then vacuum it up before moving on to treating the stain.

Spot Clean

Before you give your piece an all over clean, get those pesky spots removed. Using a trusted carpet or upholstery stain remover (and again, you’ll want to make sure this fits within the cleaning instructions for your particular fabric), spray the area and follow the instructions on the bottle.

If you’d like to try a more natural approach, you can either spray stains with some hydrogen peroxide, or combine a few drops of dish soap and some vinegar with a spray bottle of water.

Steam Cleaning

Some spots can be removed more easily using a steam cleaner. If you have one, this is an easy to use method. Simply run it over the area you are cleaning, blot the area, then let it dry. If you don't have a steam cleaner, you can rent one at most home improvement stores. When renting, make sure to get one with a hand attachment for cleaning upholstery and clothing.

All Over Cleaning

Once you’ve removed those spots and stains, you can move on to cleaning the entire piece. You can do this in a few different ways but the main thing to know is that it’s best to stick to a mixture of warm water and dish soap for cleaning in this step.

If you have a continuous sprayer, you can fill it with the warm water and dish soap and spray your furniture with it. Be sure to cover it with a fine mist, rather than soak it. You can then lightly scrub it with your brush.

If you don’t have a sprayer, you can combine about ½ teaspoon of dish soap with warm water in a bucket, making sure you create plenty of suds. Then dip your scrub brush into your bucket and scrub the entire couch, again, not soaking, just covering the entire sofa with a light coat of soap and water.

After you’ve covered the entire piece of furniture and scrubbed gently, wipe it down with a damp cloth. Then you can simply leave it to dry before using it again.

Professional Cleaning

As nice as it is to save on cleaning by doing it yourself, there is sometimes nothing you can do to avoid calling in a professional. If you’ve followed all of the above steps and still don’t feel satisfied with the result, this is the time to call.

You’ll also want to contact a professional if your furniture’s cleaning code is X. Remember, this means that you cannot use water-based cleaning solutions, and it’s best to let someone more knowledgable than yourself deal with this.

The good news is that once you’ve hired the professional, you can use all of the above steps to avoid getting to that place again.


Cleaning your upholstered furniture may feel like an overwhelming task, but using these simple steps, you can feel confident that you can have your favorite sofa or arm chair looking good as new in no time.