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.

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Did you just score a beautiful vintage sofa at a secondhand shop, and you want to know how to clean it or has your once-new sofa seen better days? Over time, crumbs, spilled soda, pet hair, dirt and oil from hands and feet build up on upholstered furniture and make it look dingy. Here's how to clean furniture made of a variety of fabrics and materials.

1. Vacuum the Couch

Use a hand vacuum or the brush attachment on your vacuum to clean debris and dirt from the sofa surface. Be sure to clean the crevices where pet hair, food crumbs and dirt accumulate. If the cushions are not attached, remove them and vacuum both sides.

2. Clean the Wood or Metal Areas

Wipe down the sofa feet and other non-fabric parts of the sofa with a solution of warm water and liquid dish soap. If necessary, work your way up to heavier-duty cleansers, such as some of these DIY wood cleaning and polish options. Always wipe down with a microfiber cloth to prevent soap residue from remaining on the surface.

3. Determine the Type of Fabric

Find the tag on the couch and read the instructions for how to clean that type of upholstery.

Here are the codes found on the 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.

4. How to Remove Odors

Before you tackle odors, determine what type of fabric your furniture is made of. It may be too delicate for liquid solutions.

In terms of tackling odors in your home, baking soda is a fantastic odor neutralizer (as most of us already know from using it in our refrigerators and freezers). Sprinkle baking soda on the couch cushions (make sure to check labels and test in a small area first). You may want to use a soft bristle brush to get the baking soda worked into the fabric. Let it sit for a few minutes, then vacuum it up.

Vinegar is also an amazing natural cleaning option for serious odors. Try using vinegar diluted with a bit of water in a spray bottle and spray on the upholstery. When the vinegar dries, its smell will dissipate. If the baking soda or vinegar didn’t work on their own, try them in combination for an extra powerful, odor-eliminating punch.

If it’s pet smells you’re trying to eliminate, try an enzymatic neutralizer such as Nature’s Miracle to spot-treat an area and eliminate the odor.

5. Use a Bug Spray on Secondhand Upholstery

Even if you know that pre-loved sofa came from a clean home, it’s best to be cautious and treat it with some pest control. Many commercial sprays are non-toxic and safe for kids and pets. Another option is to sprinkle the upholstery with diatomaceous earth and let it sit for several hours then vacuum it up.

6. How to Clean Fresh Spills

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.

7. Remove Stains With a Steam Cleaner

You might expect that you'll just have to live with 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 a steam cleaner for carpets and upholstery 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.

8. Try a DIY Cleaner

If you don't have a steam cleaner to remove stains, create mild-solution cleaners from natural ingredients you probably already have in the kitchen. Homemade cleaners are cheaper and kinder to the earth.

Here's how to clean a sofa, by fabric type:

  • For fabric upholstery: Mix 1/4 cup vinegar, 3/4 warm water and 1 tablespoon of dish soap or Castile soap. Put in a spray bottle. Mist the soiled area. Scrub with a soft cloth until the stain lifts. Use a second cloth moistened with clean water to remove the soap. Dry with a towel.

  • For leather upholstery. Mix 1/2 cup olive oil with 1/4 cup vinegar and put into a spray bottle. Spray the cleaner on the surface of the couch and buff with a soft cloth.

  • For synthetic upholstery: Mix 1/2 cup of vinegar, 1 cup of warm water and 1/2 tablespoon of liquid dish soap or Castile soap in a spray bottle. Mist the soiled area and scrub with a soft cloth until the stain is gone.

9. Let the Couch Dry

Use a towel to soak up any excess water remaining on the sofa surface. Let the sofa air dry. If it's humid, you may want to set up a box fan pointed at the sofa for speed drying. Water can cause cushions and fabric to mildew.

More Couch Cleaning Tips

Lint Roller

If your couch is made from a fabric that easily attracts lint, hair or dust, you should keep a lint roller on hand that you can exclusively use for your couch. This works best for a couch that only requires a light amount of de-linting, but it can work for larger jobs, too. In a pinch, you can use large pieces of packing tape to de-puppify the couch.

Leather Soap and Conditioner

If you have a leather couch, leather soap and conditioner are something you can use to keep it looking clean and fresh. You also can use a slightly damp, clean rag to wipe off my leather furniture about once a week.


If your couch is made of a fabric that can be cleaned with a water-based cleaner, try using steam to loosen up dirt and stains. Try this: Grab your iron, put it on the "steam" setting, and wave it back and forth across any trouble spots on your couch.

How to Clean a Sofa
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