6 DIY Tips and Tricks for Safely Cleaning Your Upholstery

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated August 26, 2021
Upholstered furniture in living room
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Take care of common upholstery smells, stains, and wear without breaking the bank or calling in the pros just yet

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After a hectic workday, snuggling up on the couch with the kids, dog, and a bowl of chips can really beat the blues. But as the most popular seating of the house, upholstered furniture can accumulate stains, pet fur, and food crumbs faster than you can binge-watch your favorite new show. Take the DIY approach and follow these steps to get your couch, armchair, and ottoman looking as good as new.

1. Get to Know Your Upholstery

Unlike bedding, you can't just toss your furniture fabric in the wash. You should, however, take just as much care to learn about its preferred cleaning method. 

Upholstered furniture typically includes a tag either under its cushions or on the bottom of the sofa itself. If you don't spot it, look up its manufacturing details online for washing instructions.

The tag or online instructions will offer one of four categories:

  • W: You can wash your upholstery with water

  • S: Stick to water-free, dry-cleaning products, and steam cleaners

  • WS/SW: Both water-based and solvent dry-cleaning products are fine to use (though you may want to spot test your first method in an inconspicuous area to be safe). 

  • X: Skip the DIY method and contact a professional upholstery cleaner

"More often than not, we recommend a customer utilize a professional carpet cleaning service on not only carpets but upholstered furniture as well,” says Asya Biddle, Angi Expert Review Board member and manager of The Dust Busters janitorial company in Williamsport, PA. “If not cleaned properly, a stain can spread or be created where there was none. Also, professionals will know all the tips and tricks when it comes to varying stain types and are able to remove more debris and dirt." 

2. Start With the Vacuum

Think of your upholstered furniture similar to cleaning the floor: You need to remove all the loose, dry bits before moving on to soap and water.

If your vacuum comes with nozzle attachments for furniture or hard-to-reach spots, pop this on the end of the arm. Be sure to vacuum under the cushions, across the backrest, and around the base of the sofa.

You may need to finish things off with a lint roller or a fur brush for particularly fuzzy creatures in your home.

3. Hone in On Simple Stains

Cleaning stains correctly comes down to two things: what caused the stain and the type of fabric on your furniture. General dirt and food stains often respond well to the water-based DIY solutions we've listed below. You can even use these for baby or pet accidents.

Remember, always check your upholstery tags for specific instructions. Next, gather these supplies for fabric and synthetic materials:

  • Empty spray bottle

  • White vinegar

  • Dish soap

  • Gentle microfiber cloth or sponge

Combine one part vinegar, three parts warm water, and a teaspoon of dish soap into your bottle. Spray an area out of sight to test the fabric to ensure the mixture doesn't fade the color.

Spritz the mixture on the stain and work from the outside of the stain, cleaning gently in small circles. Use a new towel with clean, warm water to rinse the soap. Let the spot air dry before assessing for another round.

For leather couches and chairs, mix one part olive oil and two parts white vinegar and follow the same method as above.

4. Rent a Steamer for Deep Cleans

If stains, smells, and general wear are bringing down the overall look of your sofa, it may be time to rent or buy a furniture steamer. You can typically rent a steam cleaner for furniture for around $35 a day or purchase a cleaner for between $100 and $150, depending on its size. While this may look hefty, keep in mind that a professional upholstery clean costs up to $300.

After double-checking your upholstery requirements and vacuuming debris, prep your steamer for use. Start with pillows and loose cushions and set them aside to dry. Move on to the body of your couch, moving with the grain of your fabric in clear, straight lines.

5. Pre-Treat Tough Stains

White upholstered couches in living room
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You may want to pre-treat hard stains depending on the restrictions of your upholstery fabric. If you have a sudden stain—such as a splash of grape juice or salad dressing—begin by soaking up as much of the liquid as possible with a dry rag to avoid rubbing the ingredients further into the upholstery.

There are a few household tricks for initially blotting up and breaking down tricky stains from things like coffee, grease, and even blood. For example:

  • Add a layer of salt to grease, oil, or red wine. Blot with soap and water before performing a deeper clean.

  • Dab areas affected by blood or red wine with hydrogen peroxide and clean with a soap and water solution. Be sure to check this method on hidden spots before applying it to the stain. 

  • Use the vinegar, water, and dish soap method for marker stains, even for permanent markers.

6. Care for Persistent Odors

If you have little ones in the house or pets that love to curl up on the cushions, it might be difficult to keep up with odors over time. In between deep cleans, dust a thin layer of baking soda over your sofa or chair and allow it to absorb odors over several hours. Thoroughly vacuum up the baking soda and repeat once a week or as necessary.

When your upholstered furniture gets a bit overlooked during the year, add a deep clean to your spring cleaning checklist. And remember, you can always call in the professional upholstery cleaners before replacing furniture even crosses your mind.

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