A vacuum, a few clean white cloths, a can of compressed air (like Dust-Off Duster; $8, staples.com), gentle clear dish soap (like Dawn Ultra Pure Essentials; $6.50, soap.com), a horsehair upholstery brush ($8.50, jondon.com), and a small bucket.
For stains: Capture Soil Release Pre-Mist ($10, amazon.com) and Capture Carpet and Rug Dry Cleaner ($20, homedepot.com).
*If a piece is a cherished heirloom or rather expensive, consult a professional before attempting to clean it yourself.
Using the upholstery attachment, vacuum left to right in short, overlapping strokes, starting at the top of the piece and working toward the bottom. (For delicate fabrics, like silk and linen, set the suction to low.) This left-to-right technique is especially important for nappy materials that hold on to dirt, like chenille, suede, velvet, and corduroy. Click in the crevice nozzle (if you’re worried about sucking up coins, cover it with a piece of old panty hose secured with a rubber band); vacuum under cushions and around seams. Then use a can of compressed air to blast dirt from tufting and button nooks.
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5 Minutes of Spot Removal
Attack stains on linen, cotton, jacquard, and polyester-acrylic blends with Capture Soil Release Pre-Mist. (Test first in an inconspicuous spot.) Then sprinkle with just enough Capture Carpet and Rug Dry Cleaner to cover the stain; gently rub the powder into the fabric with a dry cloth, then vacuum. Repeat if needed. If the stain remains after two rounds, leave it alone or you might harm the fabric; call a pro if you can’t live with it. For stains on leather and vinyl, spray Pledge on a cloth and gently rub the area. Wipe well with a dry cloth so no residue remains. Don’t use cleaners containing silicone—they close up the pores of leather and vinyl, causing them to tighten and potentially crack.
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5 Minutes of Sudsing*
Pour about ½ teaspoon clear dish soap in a small bucket; run warm water into the bucket to create lots of suds. Dip a soft upholstery brush in the suds only—do not submerge—and sweep the fabric in small sections, with a light touch (as if you’re frosting a cake). Less is more here; you don’t want to soak the fabric. After you’ve sudsed the entire piece, wipe the fabric with a clean, damp cloth. Let the upholstery dry completely before using the piece again. If you want to wash the other sides of the cushions, do it the next day, when the fabric on the front is fully dry.
* This step is for upholstery with labels containing the code W or WS. (Look for a label beneath a cushion or on the underside of the furniture.) If the label says S, you can vacuum and spot-clean, but skip the sudsing—water is no good on your upholstery. An X means vacuum only; hire a pro for a deeper cleaning.