Don’t Make These Mistakes When Cleaning Upholstery

Avoid these common cleaning blunders, and help your fabric furnishings look their very best.

Upholstered furniture is one of the biggest investments for many of us homeowners. We might as well embrace the responsibility that comes with maintaining the material so that it lasts a good, long while. Don't simply defer to your routine "all-purpose" cleaners or use the same cleaning methods regardless of material. Instead, take a closer look at the manufacturer's guidelines before you scrub down, and avoid these common mistakes.

Small Family Room with Pink, Oversized Swivel Chairs

Pink, Oversized Swivel Chairs in Small Family Room

A small family room is nestled at the end of the kitchen. To bring this space to life, designers brought in a pair of bright pink, oversized swivel chairs to help make the small space cozy and welcoming.

Photo by: Amy Bartlam

Amy Bartlam

Know How to Interpret the Cleaning Codes

Don’t ignore the owner’s manual! Always look for information about your upholstered items. This information may be in a care pamphlet delivered with the product, or a tag sewn into a seam, and it should tell you what it’s made out of, and how to safely clean the material. Here are some common codes found on labels:

WS: Use a mild detergent with a steam vacuum or a dry-cleaning detergent

S: Use a dry cleaner detergent only.

X: Use a vacuum only. No water.

W: You can use water to clean it.

Girly Glam Living Space with Sectional for Seating

Gray Velvet Sectional Adds Seating in Girly Glam Living Space

A large sofa nestled under the large window gives the living area plenty of seating.

Photo by: Jessica McClendon

Jessica McClendon

Don’t Scrub – Start by Blotting Liquid Spills

Use an absorbent cloth to first blot at spills and moisture to quickly absorb it. This will help reduce the chance that the stain will get "rubbed in," and it’ll help to collect liquid that's soaking into foam layers beneath the upholstery. The more liquid you can absorb by blotting, the less internal damage that happens to your furnishings.

Try to Steam Clean Tough Stains

You might expect that you'll just have to live with the dirty armrests or dried spills for the duration of a seat's existence, but steam cleaning is relatively effective at lifting embedded dirt from fabric. You'll probably find that your steam mop for the floors is an acceptable tool for this task – especially if it comes with a detail cleaning attachment. Always use a low-heat setting, and test in an inconspicuous spot to make sure that the fabric doesn't have an unexpectedly negative reaction to the heat. Do not use steam heat on upholstery that is made of – or contains – silk.

Don't Use Plain Water to Clean Microfiber Surfaces

Water can lead to dried watermarks and spots on microfiber upholstery. Rubbing alcohol is better for cleaning microfiber. Apply it with a spray bottle, and use a dry, clean cloth to lift the stain as it loosens.

Choose the Right Vacuum Attachment

There's actual rationale for using all the different vacuum attachments that came with your high-end product.

Cleaning pet fur in the home with a vacuum.

Vacuums For Cleaning Pet Fur

Find the best vacuum for managing and cleaning your home when it's covered in pet fur.

The airflow attachment, for example, is the one that looks like a smaller version of your vacuum and creates airflow during use that operates the spinning brushes. It’s more gentle than the actual vacuum, smaller, which makes it easier to get into small crevices, and it does a great job at getting pet fur off upholstery because it brushes the surface while extracting the dust and debris.

The more formal upholstery brush attachment is the one that looks more like a lint brush, with softer bristles that lift dust and help to reduce pilling.

Use Caution When Applying Fabric Protectors

UV- and stain-repellant sprays can help keep upholstery looking its best and make messes easier to clean, but over-penetration of the sprays can have an adverse effect, too. Too much chemical saturation can cause stains and excessive scrubbing wears and tears on the materials. It can also cause irritation on sensitive skin or to pets who nap and play on the upholstered surface.

Spraying Scotchguard on Neutral Sofa

Upholstery Stain Protection

Sprayed fabric and upholstery protection is an excellent do-it-yourself approach to increase the lifespan of seating, accents or drapery. Stain protection is available through most major retailers. To apply, keep the spray can approximately six to eight inches from the surface of the upholstery and move back and forth in evenly controlled spurts.

Photo by: Flynnside Out Productions

Flynnside Out Productions

Avoid Fabric Softeners

Don't confuse "softeners" with leather conditioners – you should totally be conditioning your leather upholstery. What we're saying here is that for any washable upholstery, avoid using fabric softeners. Use "free-and-clear" detergents that don't contain scents or dyes, and opt to line dry or dry flat, rather than putting upholstery through the dryer.

Remember to Rotate the Cushions

Avoid the dreaded butt dent and added wear to the fabric on the most sat-upon surfaces by rotating the cushions.

How to Clean Upholstery

If your upholstery can be cleaned with a water-based cleaner, you can do this with a few simple ingredients. A spray-on stain remover can be used for any tough spots, just like in washing laundry. Spray your stain remover and wait for about five minutes. While you wait, mix four parts warm water with one part laundry detergent. Use a rough sponge or a soft bristle brush to apply the cleaning mixture to your upholstery. Scrub along the grain of the fabric until you have lifted the dirt and stains. Use a damp, clean cloth to wipe away any remaining suds or dirt. You can leave your upholstery to dry or use a wet/dry vacuum to remove the remaining moisture.

Cleaning upholstery

How to Clean Upholstery: Wipe Away Dirt

Use a damp, clean cloth to wipe away any remaining suds or dirt. You can leave your upholstery to dry or use a wet/dry vacuum to remove the remaining moisture.

Photo by: Jalynn Baker

Jalynn Baker

Next Up

How to Clean a Couch

Whether you've got tough pet stains on your sofa or you found an amazing used couch at an estate sale, here's how to get that upholstery looking and smelling as good as new.

20 Natural Cleaning Products We Love

Stock up on products that will help you get your house in tip-top shape — all eco-friendly and without harsh chemicals.

How to Clean, Condition and Protect Leather

Learn tips and homemade solutions for cleaning leather, including white leather. Plus, find out how to remove water stains, oil, mold, ink and road salt from leather.

DIY Carpet Cleaning Without a Machine

Try our easy tips for keeping your carpets and rugs looking clean without the use of vacuums or steam cleaners.

How to Clean Wood Furniture

Say goodbye to water stains, ink marks and polish buildup on your wood furniture by following these simple cleaning tips and tricks.

How to Clean an Air Fryer

Maintain your small kitchen appliance easily with these tips for removing baked-on food and residual grease.

How to Clean a Mattress

Learn how to clean dust build-up and treat stains such as sweat, beverages and urine. Plus, find out how to protect and prolong the life of your mattress and get the simple cleaning techniques to keep your bedroom clean.

12 Best Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergents

Skip the harsh chemicals and go straight to these extra-gentle, all-natural formulas.

The Best Problem-Solving Products Under $25

These smart buys solve life's little, annoying problems in a snap. Plus, they're all under $25.

12 Best Console Tables With Storage for Every Budget

Shop our storage-savvy console table finds to add function and beauty to your entryway.

Go Shopping

Get product recommendations from HGTV editors, plus can’t-miss sales and deals.


Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.