How to Clean Upholstery in 15 Minutes or Less

Try this quick cleaning strategy to remove dirt and stains from upholstered living room furniture.

Most of us have a favorite spot on the sofa or a comfy chair that we use every day for relaxing, napping, snacking, and even a bit of work. Eventually, the fabric gets dirty and perhaps develops a few stains. Fortunately, if you have about 15 minutes, you can clean the upholstery with just a few tools and products you probably have on hand.

Considerations Before You Get Started

Before you do anything, hunt down your upholstered furniture's care tag. (Look under the cushions or at the bottom of the piece.) This tag has a code that tells you the best way to clean the fabric:

  • W or W-S means you can clean it easily with a water-based solution.
  • X or S means to vacuum, use a dry-cleaning solvent, or call a professional.

If the tag is missing, use our 15-minute method to test a hidden spot before tackling the entire piece.

How Often to Clean Upholstery

  • Immediately clean away spills, stains, and pet accidents.
  • Weekly use the upholstery brush attachment on your vacuum to get rid of dust and loose soil.
  • Seasonally (or as needed) do a thorough cleaning.

What You Need

How to Clean Upholstery

Step 1: Vacuum Well

Use the upholstery attachment and crevice tool to vacuum away loose dust and soil. Start at the top of the furniture and work down slowly. Don’t forget to clean the back and sides of the piece and under the cushions.

Step 2: Mix a Stain Remover

If using a commercial cleaner, follow the label's directions carefully. To make your own, combine ¼ cup dishwashing liquid and 1 cup warm water in a medium bowl, and then use a whisk or handheld electric mixer to create suds.

Step 3: Prepare Rinse

Fill a second bowl or small bucket with warm water to use for rinsing.

Step 4: Treat the Stains

Dipping only into the suds, use a sponge or soft-bristled brush to gently scrub the stains. As the soil transfers, rinse the sponge in clear water. Wring the rinsed sponge until it's no longer dripping, gather more suds, and then apply the suds to any remaining stain or heavily soiled areas.

Step 5: Mix an Overall Upholstery Cleaner

For overall cleaning, add 1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid per gallon of water in a bucket. Set out a second bucket filled with clean water.

Step 6: Start at the Top

Dip a sponge in your cleaning solution and then wring until just damp (not dripping). Starting at the top, wipe down all surfaces of the upholstered piece. Rinse out the sponge in the cleaning solution frequently as you work. Wring the sponge well so the furniture's padding does not become overly wet.

Step 7: Rinse the Upholstery

When your piece is clean, dip a microfiber cloth in the clean water and wring until just damp. Start at the top and wipe away any soapy residue that remains. (Leaving sticky traces of cleaner on the surface attracts soil more quickly.)

Step 8: Air-Dry

Allow the upholstery to air-dry away from direct heat or sunlight, and don’t use the piece until it's completely dry. To speed up the process, set up a circulating fan in the room.

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