How to Clean Couch Cushions

Keep your couch cushions looking and smelling fresh with these routine and deep cleaning tips.

rectangular leather ottoman in bright living room
Photo: Jay Wilde
Project Overview
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Skill Level: Beginner

We spend more time on our couches than almost any other piece of furniture, making it one of the dirtiest spots in the home. From spills and stains to the buildup of environmental and body soils like dust, pollen, dander, and hair—both pet and human—couch cushions are a magnet for messes.

Couch cushions should be cleaned regularly using a vacuum fitted with an upholstery brush attachment. Vacuum couch cushions at least once a week, more in households with pets, children, or high levels of dust. Additionally, every six months, couch cushions should be deep cleaned.

This guide offers instructions on both routine and deep cleaning, as well as the information you need to protect cushions from damage due to improper cleaning.

Understanding Couch Cushion Types

Upholstered furniture has a universal cleaning code or legend that appears on the care tag that is sewn onto an inconspicuous area of the sofa (usually the underside of the seat). It is important to look for this code, which appears as one of four letter symbols, before cleaning couch cushions. Here's what the letters are and what they mean:

  • W = Wet/water cleaning only
  • S = Dry solvent cleaning only
  • SW = Dry solvent and/or wet cleaning
  • X = Professional cleaning or vacuuming only

Additional special care instructions are also included on the care tag. Before trying any of the cleaning techniques outlined in this article, perform a spot test on an inconspicuous area to ensure the products will not cause damage to your couch cushions.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Tools for Routine Cleaning

  • Vacuum
  • Crevice tool attachment
  • Upholstery brush attachment

Tools for Deep Cleaning

  • Vacuum
  • Upholstery brush attachment

Tools for Cleaning Non-Removable Cushions

  • Vacuum
  • Upholstery brush attachment
  • Upholstery cleaning machine


Supplies for Routine Cleaning

  • Light-colored cloth
  • Mild detergent

Supplies for Deep Cleaning

  • Liquid laundry detergent
  • Towels


Routine Cleaning for Couch Cushions

Regular upkeep using a vacuum cleaner is the best way to keep sofa cushions looking and smelling fresh. When vacuuming, take note of any stains or soiled areas and use a technique called spot treating to remove them. 

  1. Vacuum Cushions

    Using a vacuum fitted with an upholstery brush attachment, vacuum the cushions to remove crumbs, hair, dust, dander, and other environmental and body soils. Work in the direction of the fibers, and use a light touch to avoid abrading the fabric. If the cushions are removable, flip them over and vacuum the sides and bottoms.

  2. Use a Crevice Tool on Seams

    Switch to the vacuum's crevice tool and vacuum along the cushions' seams, where crumbs, hair, and dust collect.

  3. Spot-Treat Small Stains

    Dilute a small amount of dish soap or gentle liquid laundry detergent in water, and agitate the solution to create suds. Dip a light-colored cloth in the suds and, working in the direction of the fibers, apply the detergent to the stained or soiled area. After removing the stain, rinse the cloth with clean water and go over the area to remove any sudsy residue.

How to Deep-Clean Removable Couch Cushions

Even with regular cleaning, couch cushions will need to be deep cleaned every six months; households with pets or children may need to deep-clean couch cushions more often.

  1. Vacuum Sofa Cushions

    Before deep-cleaning couch cushions, take them off the couch and vacuum all sides using a vacuum fitted with an upholstery brush attachment. If the cushions have removable slipcovers, take them off and either machine-wash them separately in cold water or wash them by hand along with the cushions.

  2. Fill Tub with Water and Detergent

    Fill the bathtub about one-third of the way up with cool water, so that there is enough room to submerge the cushions and for your hands to move through the water. Add 1–2 Tbsp. liquid detergent, using your hands to dilute and distribute it in the water.

  3. Submerge Cushions in Detergent Solution

    Place the cushions in the detergent solution, using your hands to fully submerge them; add more water if necessary. Because of their size, it may be necessary to wash only 1 to 2 cushions at a time.

  4. Agitate and Soak Cushions

    Making a pumping motion with your hands, agitate the cushions so that the water and detergent penetrate their fibers, releasing dirt and grime. Allow the cushions to soak in the detergent solution for 10–15 minutes, then repeat the pumping motion.

  5. Rinse Cushions

    After soaking, drain the detergent solution. Using your hands, press down on the cushions to extrude sudsy water. Then, fill the tub with clean water and use the same pumping motion to push out more of the suds. Repeat this process, draining and refilling the water as necessary, until the suds are gone and the water runs clear.

  6. Extrude Excess Water

    While still in the tub, press down firmly on the cushions to extrude as much water as possible. Use the pumping motion and gently squeeze the cushions to push out excess water, but do not wring or twist them to avoid tearing or breaking up the fill. Then, remove the cushions from the tub and wrap them in clean, dry towels. Press down again so that the towel can absorb more excess water.

  7. Allow Cushions to Air Dry

    Allow the cushions to air dry completely before returning them to the couch. To promote even drying time, use a flat mesh drying rack or flip the cushions over at regular intervals. Setting up a fan and/or dehumidifier nearby can also help to speed up drying time.

How to Deep-Clean Non-Removable Couch Cushions

Carpet and upholstery cleaning machines work by forcing a cleaning solution deep into fibers, using suction to extract the solution, along with dirt, pollutants, and stains out of the fabric. They are the best way to clean non-removable couch cushions and are a good alternative to handwashing removable cushions, which is a time- and energy-consuming task.

  1. Vacuum Couch Cushions

    Before deep cleaning with an upholstery cleaning machine, vacuum sofa cushions using the upholstery brush attachment to remove environmental and body soils like dust, pollen, and hair.

  2. Prepare the Machine

    Consult the manufacturer's instructions for guidelines on the proper use of your upholstery cleaning machine. Fill the water tank and add the upholstery cleaning solution per the manufacturer's instructions.

  3. Perform a Spot Test

    Even if the care tag says it is safe to use an upholstery cleaning machine on the cushion, perform a spot test in an inconspicuous area to ensure it will not cause damage to the fabric.

  4. Work in Sections

    Working in sections and moving the nozzle in straight lines, clean the entire surface of the cushions with the upholstery cleaning machine. Cushions that have not been cleaned regularly may require more than one pass; you will know the cushions are clean when the solution extracted from them runs clear.

  5. Allow Cushions to Dry

    Let the couch cushions air dry completely before returning them to the couch. To promote even drying time, use a flat mesh drying rack or flip the cushions over at regular intervals. Consider setting up a fan and/or dehumidifier nearby to help speed up drying time.

Related Articles