Your Ultimate Guide to Upholstery Cleaning

By Tara Sebolt
Upholstery cleaning for white couch

Your furniture is just as much a valuable living space as it is décor. As you enjoy your furniture, it’s bound to wind up with dust, dirt, and a few spill stains. Regular upholstery cleaning removes dirt and grime buildup from your furniture so that it’s clean and maintained.

Homemade cleaners, store-bought upholstery soaps, and professional upholstery cleaning services can all help keep upholstery looking great and extend the life of your furniture. Follow our tips in this in-depth upholstery cleaning guide to make removing stains an easy process.

DIY upholstery cleaning

Cleaning your upholstery removes dirt and dust and makes your furniture look brighter. Furniture without stains or dust gives your home a fresh, clean feel. Upholstery cleaning can also greatly increase the indoor air quality within your house, which can have a big effect on your health.

While mold, mildew, and gases are usually considered the biggest issues in indoor air quality, particles like dust and pollen are usually more common. These particles can be found on the upholstery of your furniture, which catches the particles in the fabric fibers. That’s why it’s so important to properly clean your upholstery.

What upholstery cleaning products should you use?

The type of upholstery on your furniture makes a big difference in how approach stain removal. It changes the types of upholstery cleaning products or other household cleaners you can safely use on your furniture’s fabric. The last thing you want is to start cleaning your furniture only to cause discoloration from a reaction between the fabric and cleaner.

Fabric and upholstery manufacturers use a fabric code system of letters to let consumers know what types of cleaning products can be used on the fabric.

  • W: The “W” code indicates fabric can be cleaned with a water-based cleaner. These are the easiest types of fabrics to clean. If your upholstery has a W, you can use water-based fabric shampoo or foam upholstery cleaner, along with a brush to agitate the cleaning product.
  • S: An “S” code means fabrics must be cleaned with solvents only. Fabrics that require solvent cleaners are better known as dry-clean only. Stains on S-rated upholstery can be spot cleaned using water-free solvent cleaners or a dry-cleaning product. Solvent cleaners should be used in a well-ventilated area.
  • W/S: Dual W/S fabrics can be cleaned with mild water-based cleaners or dry-cleaning products. This type of upholstery should always be spot cleaned. Check how the cleaning product reacts to your furniture with a pre-test on a hidden part of the fabric.
  • X: Fabrics with cleaning code “X” can’t be cleaned with either a water-based cleaner or a solvent cleaner. These fabrics can be wiped down with a dry cloth, lightly brushed, or vacuumed.

How to clean types of upholstery

See below what cleaners can be used on common types of upholstery fabric. Check your individual furniture pieces for cleaning codes or call your manufacturer to make sure you use the right type of cleaner. You can make upholstery cleaning easier by first vacuuming your furniture to remove any loose dirt, pet hair, or crumbs from the surface of the fabric.

Leather: Since leather is made from animal hide, usually cow, it is not technically a fabric. However, it’s a popular choice for furniture and can be cleaned using soaps made specifically for leather. Grain leather should be cleaned with a damp rag and leather soaps such as saddle soap. Condition your leather furniture with a leather furniture conditioner every six to 12 months to avoid cracking.

Microfiber (polyester): Spot clean by sprinkling a dry upholstery detergent (for S furniture) or foaming furniture cleaner (for W furniture) onto stained areas. Gently massage your cleaning product into the stain with a cleaning brush. Let the detergent or cleaning product sit on the fabric for the recommended time on the label, then vacuum or blot it up. You may also use rubbing alcohol to remove stains. After blotting the stain, use a dry cloth to soak up the excess moisture. Use a soft-bristled brush to gently brush the fibers so they don’t become hard. You can also use a spot cleaner to quickly remove stains from synthetic upholstery like microfiber.

Cotton or natural fibers: If your furniture is natural cotton or linen, it likely has an S cleaning code. Using water on cotton upholstery can cause the dyes to bleed or fade. Use a dry-cleaning solvent or dry upholstery detergent for spot cleaning. Apply a small amount of product to stains and follow the product direction for use. Vacuum the product from your couch using a brush attachment. Reapply as needed to help lift the stain. Dry baking soda gently brushed into the fabric and vacuumed up can also be used for cotton.

Synthetic leather: Typically a W-coded fabric, faux leather can be spot cleaned using mild soap or detergent and warm water. Faux leathers can usually be wiped down with disinfectants and other harsher cleaning materials. Regardless of the products used to clean synthetic leather, make sure to wipe off the cleaning product with a damp towel. Be careful not to oversaturate the fabric, as too much water will leave stains.

Top-rated upholstery cleaning products

For most DIY upholstery cleaning solutions, you can use a variety of commercial products available in stores. Many of these cleaning products and detergents can be purchased in formulas specifically for different types of upholstery fabrics. Check out some of the top-rated upholstery cleaners available.

Capture Carpet Dry Cleaner Powder

Price: $19.94/4 lb.

Rating: 4.45 stars

How to apply: Sprinkle onto fabric and brush into fibers. Vacuum after 30 minutes.

Capture Carpet Dry Cleaner Powder

Chemical Guys Fabric Cleaner and Upholstery Shampoo

Price: $11.99/16 oz.

Rating: 4.4/5 stars

How to apply: Mix the concentrated shampoo in a 20:1 ratio of water to shampoo. Use a brush to apply the foaming mixture to your stains. Blot up the foam with a clean towel. Use a damp towel to remove any leftover residue.

Chemical Guys Fabric Clean

Lexol Leather Cleaner and Condition Kit

Price: $12.99

Rating: 4.4/5 stars

How to apply: Shake well and spray onto a clean cloth or sponge. Briskly rub the cleaner onto leather furniture surface. Use a slightly damp towel to wipe away foam and dirt, then dry with a clean towel.

lexol leather cleaner

Best homemade upholstery cleaner

In addition to the products available commercially, you can make effective upholstery cleaning solutions at home from regular household products. The best pre-treatment for your upholstery is to use baking soda on the stained areas. Use a brush to agitate the baking soda on the fabric. Vacuum the baking soda using a brush attachment.

Once you’ve loosen stains and debris using baking soda, you can mix up a simple, effective homemade upholstery cleaner. Follow the directions for the best homemade upholstery cleaner for spot treating tough stains.

  • Mix 1 cup rubbing alcohol and 1 cup white vinegar in a spray bottle.
  • Spray the mixture onto stained spots, taking care not to oversaturate the fabric.
  • Wait 1–3 minutes for the solution to work.
  • Using a brush, sponge, or towel, gently scrub the solution to loosen dirt.
  • Blot the fabric with a clean, dry towel until dry.

It’s important to note that rubbing alcohol can damage certain types of fabrics like acrylic fibers (faux fur or faux wool) or acetate. You can also use vinegar or rubbing alcohol to treat couch stains, though separately you may need more applications and more scrubbing.

Upholstery spot treatment vs. full cleaning

Cleaning upholstery yourself takes several spot treatments rather than one full cleaning. Many of the products available are designed to only clean small sections of upholstery at a time. Trying to clean your entire couch or chair with a spot treatment cleaner may cause stains or may not work.

A full cleaning consists of removing the majority of dirt and debris from your upholstery. You may need to invest in a steam cleaner or hire a professional cleaning company to completely remove your upholstery of all dirt and stains. Remember to clean the frames of your furniture during a full cleaning. This includes dusting and polishing wood frames or chair backs.

Tips for containing dirt and grime between cleanings

Vacuuming allergy-causing pet hair and dander and brushing off dust with a stiff brush can help maintain the overall cleanliness of your furniture. You should vacuum your carpets and furniture at least once a week. If you live in a dusty area or have several pets, consider vacuuming two or three times a week. A quick once-over with the vacuum can greatly reduce the frequency of full cleanings.

If someone spills on your upholstery, make sure you clean up the spill as soon as possible. Blot the area instead of scrubbing to encourage any liquids to attach to your cleaning cloth instead of your furniture.

Sleeping beagle on sofa

Professional upholstery cleaning

Professional cleaning companies and carpet cleaners usually offer upholstery cleaning services as well. Many homeowners find the resulting clean feeling and the cost to be well worth hiring a professional cleaning service. You might expect to pay between $200–$500 to have a sectional couch cleaned.

When does furniture need professional upholstery cleaning?

While it’s not required to have your upholstery professionally cleaned, there are times when a professional cleaning company may be a good choice. Consider these scenarios when deciding whether you want to hire a professional upholstery cleaner:

  • Restoration services—If your furniture has water damage, a restoration company may be able to remove serious stains.
  • During carpet cleaning—If you’re having your carpet cleaned, the cleaning company may offer a discount on upholstery cleaning.
  • Antique furniture—Older furniture or high-end fabrics may require the knowledge of a professional cleaning technician.
  • Staging a home for sale—Give your furniture a professional deep cleaning before staging your home, so the décor looks brighter and more inviting to potential buyers.

Professional upholstery cleaning process

Professional cleaners use a variety of cleaning products and specialized carpet and upholstery cleaners to give your furniture a new life. Most cleaning companies inspect your furniture first so they know what type of fabric it is.

The cleaners will use the right products (either water-based of solvent cleaners) to remove deep stains, dirt, and dust from your upholstery. Usually, an upholstery cleaner, which looks similar to a vacuum or steamer, is used to extract cleaning solutions from your furniture’s upholstery.

How to choose a professional upholstery cleaning company

Like any home cleaning service, you want to make sure you know what you’re paying for with an upholstery cleaning company. Ask the company how much services cost for your furniture. You should also find out if the company is insured and if they have customer references you can contact. You may also be able to find online customer reviews.

Removing dirt from sofa with upholstery cleaner, closeup

Can I rent an upholstery cleaning machine?

Another option for deep cleaning your upholstery is to rent an upholstery cleaning machine. These machines are usually easy to transport and can be rented for a few hours or days. Pros of renting an upholstery machine include:

  • Less expensive than hiring a cleaning company
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Can complete upholstery cleaning at your own pace

On the other hand, you may find that there are negatives to renting a machine, including:

  • Lack of proper use may cause staining or ruin your upholstery
  • May still be expensive to rent

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