Clean Upholstered Furniture Like a Pro

A couch stain never goes unnoticed. Follow these top tips, gathered from industry experts, to tackle upholstery cleaning.

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You can worry all you like about your furniture, but spills and accidents are just a part of life. The best way to prevent stains isn't by banning food and pets from the living room; it's by knowing what to do when stains happen. By working fast, cleaning regularly, and knowing your fabric, you will be able to handle all that life throws your way. Check out our expert advice below on cleaning upholstered furniture. Some of these tips might surprise you! 

Cleaning Unusual Chair Materials

Removing Stains from Fabrics

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Vacuum, Vacuum, Vacuum

Our number one DIY upholstery cleaning tip? Vacuum your upholstered furniture often, since dirt not only affects the appearance of your furniture, it can also wear away upholstery fibers. Use a clean, dry upholstery attachment, or any stiff-bristle brush, to loosen dried dirt and debris. Use the crevice tool for hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.

How to Clean a Microfiber Couch

Baby Your Furniture

Baby wipes are surprisingly effective for quick DIY upholstery cleaning. They offer a nice mixture of water and soap, use very little moisture, and are gentle. Keep a travel pack stashed in the living room for instant spot removal. Baby wipes are also ideal for spot-cleaning rugs. Act quick on coffee drips and the stain will be out before it even has time to set. 

Know Your Codes

Your piece probably came with a DIY upholstery cleaning code. "W" means it's OK to use water. Remove the cushion covers and launder according to the manufacturer's instructions. "S" means skip the water and use a nonwater-based solvent, such as alcohol, instead. Spray it on lightly, then blot with a clean white cloth or scrubby sponge. "S/W" means you're OK using either solvents or water, and "X" means use neither—vacuum only.

Treat and Re-Treat

If your furniture doesn't come pretreated with a fabric protector to repel stains, apply one yourself (or have an expert do it for you). If it does, ask how long it will last. "Many of the treatments on the market must be reapplied every few years to retain their stain-fighting powers," says Melissa Homer, Chief Cleaning Officer of MaidPro. Keeping it treated is key in maximizing the life of your furniture, she says.

Go Easy

Don't scrub, even when you're dealing with tough, set-in stains. Scrubbing could actually grind the stain further into the fibers, or damage the fabric. Better to let the stain remover sink in and do its thing, then gently blot away. Use a soft, microfiber cloth for blotting instead of a coarse fabric or bristled brush. If the fibers are stiff after cleaning and drying, use a soft brush to loosen the material. 

Watch It with Water

"Many people believe that the more moisture you use, the better. This is not always true," says Ron Holt, CEO of Two Maids and a Mop. Try a specially formulated solvent (water-free) spot remover first. Many upholstery sprays are inexpensive and work beautifully on most stains. If you move on to a water-based approach, Holt says, use it sparingly.

Surprising Pet Hair Solution

It's best to not let your pets on the furniture at all, but we all know that is not always realistic. To remove pet hair, put on a pair of rubber gloves and run them over your furniture, says Leslie Reichert, aka The Cleaning Coach. "The gloves create static that pulls the hair off to the edge of the piece, where you can easily vacuum it off," she says.

Details, Details

Don't forget the blankets and throw pillows! Stick with the gentle cycle on cold. If the pillow covers are removable, do so, and wash them inside-out. Be sure to dry pillows thoroughly, as inner dampness can lead to mold. If you're not sure your pillows are washable, freshen them with a spritz of water spiked with your favorite essential oil, followed by a tumble in the dryer with a couple of tennis balls.

DIY Spot Removers

The sooner you treat a spot, the better your chances of removing it. If you catch it right away, says MyClean COO Kenny Schultz, you may be able to get away with simply blotting with a microfiber cloth. If water is safe to use on your upholstery, there are also many DIY upholstery cleaning tactics you can try. Vacuum before attempting removal, says Two Maids and a Mop's Holt, to reduce the risk of spreading the stain. (Always test in an inconspicuous spot first.)

  • General stain removal: Start with club soda. Dab it on gently with a clean, white cloth. Two more easy options: a little vinegar, left to sit for about 15 minutes before blotting with clear water, or plain old soap and water.
  • Grease/oil stains: Sprinkle with salt, let sit, then dab with soap and water. Alternatively, try rubbing alcohol instead of salt.
  • Coffee stains: Blot in a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar with a little dish detergent.
  • Crayon stains: Work in a dab of non-gel toothpaste, then rinse with clear water.
  • Blood stains: Blot with hydrogen peroxide, then water.
  • Red wine stains: Sprinkle with salt. Blot with hydrogen peroxide or lemon juice. Blot with water to rinse.
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