Just like the fabric in clothing, upholstery gets assaulted daily by skin oils, hair, dust, food crumbs, and spills. If your chairs and sofas are starting to look worse for the wear, save yourself hundreds of dollars and don’t call in a pro—not yet, anyway. Banishing dirt, stains, even discoloration yourself can cost mere pennies.
But before you dive into this guide on how to clean upholstery, first learn what you’re dealing with by checking the label on the bottom of the piece or under a cushion to see what type of cleaner is recommended. The label should have a code:
Then use the cleaning tips and techniques here (making sure to test on an inconspicuous area first).
If you do a general upholstery upkeep as part of your routine home maintenance, your furniture will look great longer.
How to Remove Dirt from Upholstery
Give the piece a thorough vacuuming using the upholstery attachment. Start at the top, and work your way down, using short, left-to-right strokes. Working in the same direction is important, especially for fabrics that have a nap, like corduroy, chenille, or suede. Switch to the crevice attachment to better clean seams and folds, as well as around buttons and tufting. Or, employ a can of compressed air (just as when cleaning your computer keyboard) to dislodge dirt and dust from nooks and crannies.
Use only solvent-based cleaners such as a dry cleaning solvent; water-based cleaners can damage these fabrics. Dry cleaning solvent can be purchased online (type “upholstery safe dry cleaning solvent” into a search engine), or you may find it in home dry cleaning kits like DRYEL, available at grocery stores, big box discount stores, and via online retailers (view on Amazon).Advertisement
Make sure your work area is well ventilated. Apply dry cleaning solvent to a clean towel and gently brush over generally dirty areas of upholstery. You can work solvent into heavily soiled areas with a clean, soft-bristled brush. Allow the piece to dry completely before sitting on it again.
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How to Clean Stains on Upholstery
The quicker you attend to a spill (of wine, sauce, greasy food), the less likely it will stain, so as soon as your able, blot—don’t rub!—immediately with a clean, white cloth.
To treat whatever mark remains, or go after spills that have set into stains, try a spot cleaner or dry cleaning solvent approved for your type of upholstery. If your fabric is water-safe, wet and wring out a clean cloth or sponge and dip it into a mixture of water and a little liquid dish soap. Then gently blot the stain. Follow-up by blotting with a clean cloth or sponge that has been dipped in clean water, and wrung out. Repeat as necessary, and then blot the spot dry with a clean cloth or white paper towels.
If the spot does not come out after two or three applications, it’s time to call a professional.
How to Deal with Discoloration
“Browning” can occur when natural fabrics get overly wet or dry too slowly. To counteract, use a neutral pH-based, fast-drying upholstery shampoo.