How to Clean a Couch So It Lasts Forever

With this step-by-step guide, you can stop hiding stains with throw pillows and blankets.

Couches are expensive. After spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a sofa, most of us would like it to last for as long as possible. The secret? Learning how to clean a couch the right way. If you have an upholstered or slipcovered fabric sofa, the techniques below will banish dirt, dust, and stains so the focal point of your living room will stay pristine for as long as possible.

Considerations Before You Get Started

Check out the care instructions provided by the manufacturer—those recommendations should always supersede the tips you read online. Then, be sure to choose the right couch cleaning method for the material of your sofa. Cleaning a leather couch will be a different process and require different products than cleaning a microfiber couch.

It's always a smart idea to test any new products or cleaning methods on an inconspicuous spot first. The fabric care tag on your sofa will give you a heads-up on which method to use.

  • W = can be cleaned with water
  • S = can be cleaned with a solvent-based cleaner (aka dry cleaning)
  • WS = can be cleaned with either water or solvent-based cleaner
  • X = can only be vacuumed (or requires professional cleaning)

What You Need:

With Vinegar and Soap

With Solvent-Based Cleaner

  • Dry cleaning solvent for upholstery
  • White cloth
  • Upholstery brush

Slipcovered Sofa

  • Stain removing spray
  • Mild laundry detergent

How to Clean an Upholstered Sofa With Vinegar and Soap ("WS")

Step 1: Vacuum Loose Crumbs

Using the upholstery attachment, vacuum up any loose dirt or crumbs on your sofa. Remove the seat cushions to get all of the crumbs hiding below. Vacuum all sides of the couch, even the side facing the wall.

Step 2: Dab Stains and Rinse

Create a solution of water, a squirt of dishwashing liquid, and one tablespoon of white vinegar. Using a white microfiber cloth (so the dye won't bleed onto your sofa), gently dab the solution on any stained areas. Rinse off any soapy residue with a second dampened cloth.

Step 3: Refresh as Needed

Between now and the next couch cleaning, you can make a light-colored fabric sofa smell fresher within 30 minutes. Just sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda onto the surface of the sofa. Wait 20 minutes, then vacuum up the baking soda.

How to Clean an Upholstered Sofa with Solvent-Based Cleaner ("S" or "WS")

Step 1: Vacuum Loose Crumbs

Using the upholstery attachment, vacuum up any loose dirt or crumbs on your sofa. Remove the seat cushions to get all of the crumbs hiding below​​​. Vacuum all sides of the couch, even the side facing the wall.

Step 2: Apply a Dry Cleaning Solvent

Make sure the room is well-ventilated, and apply a dry cleaning solvent or upholstery cleaner to soiled areas of the sofa (like the headrest or armrest) using a white cloth. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes.

Step 3: Brush Solvent Into Fabric

Use a soft bristle upholstery brush to gently work the solvent into the fabric. Use another barely damp cloth to lift away any remaining solvent. Don't sit on the couch until it's completely dry. If stains remain, call in a professional.

How to Clean a Slipcovered Sofa in a Washing Machine

Read the care instructions on the tag. Many slipcovers are designed to be machine-washable, but you want to check whether they can be machine dried, or else you could wind up with a too-snug slipcover.

Step 1: Remove Cover and Spray Stains

  • Remove the slipcovers and shake out any crumbs or lint.
  • Pre-treat any stained areas using a gentle stain-removing spray or reference a stain removal chart for specific spots.

Step 2: Toss in Washing Machine

  • Wash the covers on a gentle cycle using cold water unless the tag says otherwise.
  • Try to wash all the pieces together to prevent color variations from different loads of laundry.
  • If there are zippers, make sure they are zipped up.
  • When you remove them from the washing machine, check for any remaining stains. If there are still visible stains, try pre-treating the spots again and rewashing the covers.

Step 3: Air Dry or Throw in Dryer

  • If your slipcovers are air-dry-only, set them on a drying rack to help them dry more quickly and prevent mildew. Or throw them in the dryer, following the fabric care instructions.
  • Remove the covers right away so that wrinkles don't set in. Some cleaning experts recommend that you remove them from the dryer while still slightly damp; they will be more moldable when you put them back on.

Step 4: Replace Slipcovers and Allow to Dry

  • Put the slipcovers back on the sofa. Visible wrinkles will typically decrease within a few days, but a handheld steamer can also help release any creases in the fabric.
  • Ensure the fabric is completely dry before sitting down—or else the moisture could cause the dye on your jeans to bleed onto your clean couch.

How to Keep Your Sofa Clean Longer

Buy a Couch That Defies Grime

Unfortunately, the self-cleaning couch has yet to be invented. (We'll let you know as soon as it happens!) But you can buy a couch that is less likely to look dingy in six months. Some fabrics and colors are better than others at disguising or preventing scratches and stains. Why not buy a couch built to resist damage?

Use a Pretty Throw

A throw blanket can do more than keep you warm when you cuddle on the couch. It also protects the couch from crumbs and dirt, and it's much easier to wash a blanket than a whole couch. It can also add a pretty design element to your room if you choose an attractive one.

Do Frequent, Light Cleanings

Running a handheld vacuum over your sofa's fabric every other day will only take a minute or two but will save you more arduous work later. Alternatively, keep your upholstery clean and smooth by using a fabric shaver like Gleener's to remove lint, pet hair, and other debris. Consider investing in a small upholstery cleaner or a portable carpet cleaner that might fit inside a nearby cabinet. The easier and more convenient the task, the more likely you'll do it regularly.

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