Use these upholstery cleaning tips to easily remove stains, prevent wear, and clear off pet hair on your furniture.

By Jessica Bennett and Berit Thorkelson
Updated April 14, 2020
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The upholstered furniture in your living areas can take a lot of wear and tear. Even if you and your family are extra careful, spills and accidents, whether it's a spilled glass of wine or muddy paw prints, are just a part of life. The best way to prevent stains on upholstered furniture, including sofas, chairs, benches, ottomans, and other fabric-covered pieces, isn't by banning food and pets from the living room altogether. You just need to know what to do when stains happen. When you work fast, clean upholstery regularly, and know your fabric, you can handle spills, stains, and other mishaps with ease. When you're tackling a tough stain and removing unsightly pet hair, these tips on how to clean upholstered furniture will help keep your sofas and chairs looking pristine for years to come.

Jay Wilde

Vacuum Upholstered Furniture Often

Our number one DIY upholstery cleaning tip is to vacuum your upholstered furniture often. Dirt not only affects the appearance of your furniture, but 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.

Use Baby Wipes to Clean Furniture

Baby wipes are surprisingly effective for quick DIY upholstery cleaning (although you should always test first on an inconspicuous area to make sure they won't damage the fabric). Great for leather, cotton, or polyester upholstery, these wipes offer a gentle mixture of water and soap that contains very little moisture. Keep a travel pack stashed in the living room for instant spot removal whenever spills happen. Baby wipes are also ideal for spot-cleaning rugs. Act quickly on coffee drips and other spills, and the stain will be out before it even has time to set.

Lincoln Barbour

Clean Upholstery According to Codes

Refer to your piece's manufacturer instructions and fabric cleaning code for the best way to clean upholstered furniture. "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 sponge. "S/W" means you're OK using either solvents or water, and "X" means use neither and vacuum only.

Prevent Stains on Upholstered Furniture

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's already treated, ask the manufacturer 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.

Buff Stickland

Clean Upholstered Furniture Gently

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

Use Water Sparingly

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

Remove Pet Hair from Upholstered Furniture

If your furry friends like to cozy up on the couch with you, try these tips for cleaning upholstered furniture. To remove pet hair from furniture, put on a pair of rubber gloves and run them over your furniture, says Leslie Reichert of Green 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. You can also create a DIY static spray by mixing water and a small amount of fabric softener. Spray the solution on the furniture and wipe off hair with a cloth. Other effective tools for removing fur from upholstery include furniture brushes and hand vacuums designed for pet hair.

Jason Donnelly

Clean Throw Blankets and Pillows

While cleaning your upholstered furniture, don't forget to wash your throw blankets and throw pillows. When using a washing machine, it's generally best to stick with the gentle cycle on cold. If the pillow covers are removable, throw them in the machine 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.

Jacob Fox

DIY Spot Removers for Upholstery Stains

The sooner you treat a spot, the better your chances of removing it. If you catch it right away, you might be able to get away with simply blotting with a microfiber cloth, says Kenny Schultz of MyClean cleaning service. If water is safe to use on your upholstery, there are also many DIY upholstery cleaning tactics you can try. Vacuum before attempting removal to reduce the risk of spreading the stain, and always test in an inconspicuous spot first. Try these tricks to remove stains from upholstered furniture:

  • General upholstery 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 a solution of mild dish soap and water.
  • Grease or 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, then rinse by blotting with water.

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