How to Clean a Sofa or Couch

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Your sofa is an important piece of furniture and a big financial commitment. Learn how to clean a sofa to keep it in good shape and free of stains.

Clean, stain-free sofa topped with blue throw pillows and a blanket

How to Clean Your Sofa and Eliminate stains

The following guide explains how to eliminate stains on both fabric and leather sofas by deep-cleaning. You’ll also find out how to perform lighter, regular cleanings to keep your sofa or couch looking and smelling fresh all the time.

Step One: Remove Odors, Dirt, and Pet Hair

Remove all throw pillows and cushions from the sofa. Sprinkle the entire sofa and all cushions with baking soda. Pat the powder in lightly with your hand, so it has a chance to bond with moisture and odor-causing substances. Wait 15 minutes, then proceed with the next step.

Use your vacuum‘s crevice tool around the base of the seating platform to remove crumbs and other debris. Switch to the vacuum’s upholstery attachment and go over the seating platform, arms, sides, and back of your sofa. Continue using the upholstery attachment to vacuum all surfaces of the cushions.

Step Two: Get Rid of Sofa Stains

Before treating food spills and other stains on your sofa, check your manufacturer’s instructions. Some stain-removal methods are not suitable for certain fabrics and can cause damage. Always spot test before proceeding! The instructions below are specifically for fabric sofas. There are different steps to clean artificial leather sofas and furniture. If there’s not a label beneath the cushions, try unzipping them and checking inside for a cleaning label.

What the Upholstery Label Codes Mean

W – This code calls for a “water-based cleaner,” such as laundry detergent or dish soap combined with water. You can also use a commercial non-solvent upholstery shampoo.

S – This code indicates you must only use a water-free, chemical-based solvent or dry-cleaning product. Cleaning with a water-based solution may cause spots or damage the fabric.

WS – This code indicates you can use either a water-based cleaner or a solvent-based cleaner.

X – You should not use any form of cleaner. Only vacuuming or softly brushing the fabric is safe

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Food and Grease Stains

(For W and WS) Mix 2 cups of warm water with 1/4 teaspoon of a liquid dish detergent. For S fabrics, use a commercial solvent-based cleaner. (Here is one from Sprayway that works well.) Dampen the corner of a clean microfiber cloth with this mixture and dab at the stain. Do not rub or saturate the area. Rotate the cloth as needed, so you’re always working with a clean spot as you lift the stain. Once the food stain is off your couch upholstery, wipe the area with a clean, damp cloth then pat it dry.

Ink Stains

Use plain isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol* and a clean, white cloth to remove ink stains from sofa fabrics. Dab the area to transfer the ink from your sofa to the cloth. Do NOT rub. As the stain lifts, dampen a new area of your cleaning cloth and continue to dab at the spot. Repeat until the stain is gone. Get a clean cloth lightly damp with plain water and wipe the area you just cleaned. Pat it dry.

Pet Stains and Other “Accidents”

Whether your pet had an accident on the sofa, or your child did, the methods below will eliminate the stain and odor from W or WS fabrics.

• Urine: If it’s still fresh, press a dry cloth against the spot to soak up as much liquid as possible. Mix equal parts of distilled white vinegar and warm water. Using a clean cloth, dab this mixture onto the spot to neutralize the odor. Wait 5 minutes, then pat the area dry with a fresh towel.

Poop or Vomit: Use a paper plate to scrape up as much of the mess as possible and discard it in the trash. Stir 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 2 tablespoons of oxygen bleach (like Oxiclean), and 1 teaspoon of liquid dish detergent into 2 cups of warm water. Use fresh rags as needed to dab away the stain. Once the stain is gone, go over the area with a new cloth lightly dampened with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to kill germs. Let this air dry.

Step Three: Launder or Steam Clean

Treating individual stains before laundering or steam cleaning your sofa keeps the heat from these processes from making the stains permanent. So, once you’re satisfied you’ve removed all stains, it’s time to deep-clean the rest of the W or WS type upholstery.

How to Wash Sofa Cushion Covers

If your manufacturer’s label allows it, you can remove the cushion covers and launder them in your washing machine. To launder sofa cushion covers, add no more than two at a time to your machine. Use a cold wash and rinse cycle, and an enzyme-based detergent specifically designed for cold water cleaning. Either air-dry or tumble the covers on low heat, then put them back on the cushions.

How to Steam Clean a Sofa

Use lukewarm water and a low-foam upholstery shampoo in the tank. Work slowly, in overlapping sections, using as little water as possible. Too much moisture can lead to mold or mildew and even warp the frame. Do not press the upholstery attachment into the fabric too hard, or you may damage both the sofa and your machine. Once you’ve cleaned an area, use the extraction tool to remove as much water as possible, then go over the surface again at a right angle. Then aim a fan at your sofa to help it finish drying.

Step Four: Finishing Steps

Once your sofa is fully dry, you should vacuum it one more time. Although it may seem like overkill, this second vacuuming will lift the fabric’s nap, so your sofa feels soft and comfortable — not crunchy from laundering. Then return your cushions to place and enjoy.

How Often Should You Clean a Sofa?

Straighten the cushions daily and clean fresh spills before they have a chance to become actual stains. Then, when you’re doing your weekly cleaning, vacuum the top of the cushions and flip them so they wear evenly. If you have pets or small children, you may need to vacuum more often.

Once a month, take all of the cushions off and vacuum your sofa’s seating platform, crevices, sides, and back. Take cushions outside to beat more dust out of them if the weather is nice. Then once or twice a year, give your sofa this deep-cleaning treatment and you’ll keep it looking new for years to come.

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