How to Clean an Upholstered Couch—and Remove Tough Stains

Here's the right way to refresh a sofa so it looks brand new.

white upholstered sofa in living room
Photo: Getty Images

We have a theory that the comfier the couch, the more use it gets—and the more dirt it inevitably collects. But because there might be nothing better than relaxing on the sofa after a hard day and streaming your Netflix favorites, you're stuck having to clean this major piece of furniture. The good news is that cleaning an upholstered couch isn't as complicated as you might think and you may be able to handle the process yourself without calling in a professional. Debra Johnson, the home cleaning expert at Merry Maids, shares her best tips for how to clean a microfiber couch and remove those set-in stains.

Know what type of fabric you’re dealing with.

Read the tag on your couch to determine whether or not you can use water, if it's vacuum-only, or if only a dry cleaning solvent can be used. "Sometimes, even using water on the wrong fabric can leave a stain," warns Johnson. You may think your couch is microfiber—a plush, manmade material crafted from polyester and nylon—but it's a good idea to confirm before you start cleaning.

Get to spills and stains fast!

The sooner you start to treat stains, the better, so they won't have time to set. While it may be tempting to ignore a spill that happens while guests are over or while you're in the middle of a show, it's best to start treating the stain right away.

How to Clean an Upholstered Couch:

What You'll Need:

  • Vacuum with a crevice attachment
  • Lint roller (optional)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Spray bottle
  • Clean cloth
  • Baking soda

Follow These Steps:

  1. If the cushions are removable on your sofa, put them aside and vacuum underneath them. Use the crevice attachment to get crumbs that collect along the seams and corners of the couch. Vacuum the cushions and replace them.
  2. When you want to quick-clean crumbs and fur from your sofa, run a lint roller along the surface of each cushion. It will pick up debris with just a few swipes.
  3. If the care tag has a "W": This means you can clean the sofa with water. If the cushion covers are removable, take them off and clean them in the washing machine, following the water temperature and drying instructions on the care tag. Most cushions will recommend air-drying to avoid shrinking.
  4. If the care tag has an "S": This means your upholstered sofa should be cleaned with a solvent, such as rubbing alcohol. Instead of cleaning with water, mist the surface with rubbing alcohol poured into a spray bottle, then blot the surface with a clean cloth to remove dirt. Test in an out-of-the-way spot first, such as the underside of a cushion, to make sure it won't affect the dyes.
  5. Once the upholstery has fully dried, you can use a vacuum to help lift the fibers so the just-cleaned area doesn't look matted.
  6. To treat stains: Dab, don't rub. "Start out by dabbing the stain or spill to remove any moisture," says Johnson. "Then dab with water, working from the outside in so you're not spreading the stain. You can use a combo of one cup water to 1/4 cup white vinegar and a few drops of dish soap to help remove a stain, too," says Johnson.
  7. To remove oil stains: "If it's an oil-based stain, cover it with baking soda and let it sit," says Johnson. "Vacuum any excess baking soda. If the stain is still there, dab it with a damp microfiber cloth."
  8. To freshen up the scent: Sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda on the fabric. Let sit for an hour or up to overnight, then vacuum thoroughly to remove the powder. Avoid this method on dark colored couches.
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