Upholstered Furnishings Care

Not all upholstered furniture is the same! Understanding the basics of fabrics and how to clean them can also lend helpful advice when purchasing.


Furnishings turn rooms into a comfortable home. Proper care will also keep your furnishings looking good while they add enjoyment to your home. Although families with young children and houses pets often have extra work to maintain upholstered furnishings in particular, prudent care is worth the effort.

It is also worthwhile to note that it may be fairly simple to avoid some types of damage to upholstered furniture. To reduce fabric fading, for instance, avoid letting full sun shine on textiles. Control the light with shades, blinds, or draperies. In addition, stashing a few paper towels or a small terry towel underneath seat cushions will give you a quick way to deal with spills.

Read below for pointers on vacuuming.

Vacuuming

Frequent vacuuming is the best way to clean and maintain upholstery. Vacuuming helps prevent dust, dirt, and stains from embedding in the fibers of upholstered pieces and keeps them looking new.

Here are a few quick tips on vacuuming:

  • Check for loose buttons and threads, weak spots in the fabric, or debris that could clog the vacuum.
  • Clip threads and repair or tighten buttons before vacuuming.
  • Use the soft brush attachment on the vacuum. Be sure to keep it clean and free of oily residue. Or, buy two of these attachments and label one for use only with upholstery.
  • Use a crevice tool for corners and tight spots.
  • Important Tip: Read and carefully follow the furniture manufacturer's and cleaner label directions before applying any product to upholstery.
  • Deep-clean upholstered furniture every year or two, depending on the use, color, and pattern. Commercial cleaning, do-it-yourself cleaning, and foam cleaners all work.
  • Do not soak the fabric or furniture structure with upholstery cleaners.
  • Remove all soap residue to avoid attracting dirt to the clean upholstery.
  • Use a cleaning product that contains a soil retardant to prevent future staining. If in doubt, check label directions or consult a professional cleaner about soil retardants.
  • If frequent soiling is a problem, use a spray-silicon soil retardant to prevent dirt and stains from setting. If your fabric was treated at the time of manufacture or purchase (with a finish such as Teflon or Scotchgard), it is important that you use compatible products whenever cleaning the piece.
  • See spot cleaning tips on the following page.
  • Spills are inevitable, especially when there are children in the house. Look at furniture labels for care instructions or keep printed instructions in a household notebook.
  • Always test your cleaning method first on an inconspicuous spot. If a ring remains around the stain after cleaning, you'll need to deep clean the entire cushion or chair.
  • Gently blot spills -- don't rub -- as quickly as possible with a white towel or paper towel. Don't use colored towels or printed paper towels because they may transfer dye or ink to the upholstery.
  • If a large amount is spilled, remove as much as possible with clean toweling, a scraper, or spoon; blot up the rest, then treat the remaining stain.
  • It's generally best to remove slipcovers to spot-clean, to make sure the upholstery underneath is not affected. Or, place a clean folded towel under the slipcover to protect the upholstery while you work on spot-cleaning the slipcover.
  • Find tips below on removing pet hair.
How to Remove Pet Hair
  • Use a clothes brush with either a bristle head or napped fabric head to collect pet hair.
  • Use a clothes lint remover with a refillable sticky tape to pick up pet hair. Or look for a similar brush sold in pet stores.
  • In a pinch, wrap masking tape around your hand, sticky side out, to pick up loose hair and fuzz.

Cotton fabrics are commonly used for upholstery, however their durability depends on the weave and finish. If a cotton fabric has been pre-washed (as is often the case with slipcovers), then it should be fine to clean with soap and water, however, it is always wise to check the manufacturer's recommended cleaning method. Cotton fabrics will fade in direct sunlight.

Cotton Blends can be a sturdy, family-friendly product. A stain-resistant finish should be applied for everyday use.

Canvas can be a good choice for family rooms because it is especially durable. The flat surface shows grime and holds dirt particles, however, so frequent vacuuming is a must. Pre-washing before fabrication can make it easy to pop smaller canvas slipcovers into the washing machine for cleaning.

Damask weaves are formal. They should be brushed and vacuumed gently to avoid breaking threads.

Linen is best suited for formal living rooms or adult areas. Have soiled pieces professionally cleaned. Keep linen out of direct exposure to sunlight whenever possible.

Microfibers are a new addition to home furnishings. Offering a soft hand and a vast color range, they also resist most stains and can easily be cleaned with soap and water. This fabric is a good choice for households with children.

Wools and wool blends are sturdy and durable to use for sofas and chairs. Blends can be spot cleaned when necessary. Check manufacturer's recommended cleaning method.

Silk is a delicate fabric only suitable for adult areas, such as formal living rooms. It must be professionally cleaned if soiled. Keep silks out of direct exposure to sunlight whenever possible.

Sunbrella fabrics are being seen both indoors and out. They offer superior resistance to stains and fading which makes them a good choice for busy families.

Leather furniture should be gently vacuumed and damp wiped as needed, using as little water as possible. Clean with leather conditioner or saddle soap, buffing thoroughly to remove residue.

Suede can be vacuumed with a soft brush attachment. Use only made-for-suede leather cleaners. Remove small spots with art gum erasers. Never clean with water.

Quiz: Furniture IQ

Chair Care Tips

Leather Furniture Care

Adapted from the book, Making a Home, Meredith c. 2001


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