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 preferred spot on the couch or a comfy chair that we use every day for relaxing, napping, and even a bit of work. Eventually, the fabric gets dirty and perhaps develops a few stains—especially if you love eating and drinking while hanging out on your favorite recliner. Even an accent chair can get dirty when you entertain often. And if you have a futon that also doubles as a sofa, then you'll really want to get at all the crumbs and hidden 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—a portable carpet cleaner like the Bissell Pet Stain Eraser Plus is a good investment if that is a constant issue.
  • Weekly use the upholstery brush attachment on your vacuum—or a handheld model like the eufy homevac (one of our favorite cordless vacuums for hardwood floors)—to get rid of dust and loose soil.
  • Seasonally (or as needed) do a thorough cleaning—an upholstery cleaner can help revive your furniture. Alternatively, a steam cleaner can disinfect and remove germs, allergens, and pests.

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, like the Kenmore Pet-Friendly Pop-N-Go Canister, one of our favorite vacuums for pet hair. 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. You can also use something like the Gleener Fabric Shaver and Lint Brush to remove debris and pet hair, and keep your upholstery clean and smooth.

Step 2: Mix a Stain Remover

If using a commercial cleaner, like a pet stain remover, 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. This stain remover can also be used to spot clean non-machinable picnic blankets.

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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