You’re probably good about regularly washing your clothes and linens, but what about the other fabric you’re often in contact with—your upholstery? Just as your clothes can become soiled with skin oils, hair, pet dander, dust, food particles and stains, so can your furniture. If your chairs and sofas are starting to look or even smell dirty, then they’re in need of cleaning. If you’re the do it yourself type, you can tackle the job on your own, freshening up your home furnishings and potentially saving hundreds of dollars in the process. Here’s how.
Before you get to work, first check the labels on the bottom of your furniture or cushions to learn what types of cleaners are recommended. The labels should have codes such as W for water-based, S for solvent-based, WS for water or solvent-based or X for professional cleaning only.
When using the suggested cleaning techniques below, make sure to test your cleaner first on an inconspicuous part of the pieces, such as under a cushion or on the back of the skirt. This is so you know the colors won’t bleed or fade.
Avoid getting water or cleaning agents on the wood or metal parts of your furniture. Doing so could rust, corrode or result in discoloration.
NOTE: The techniques below should only be used on natural or synthetic woven fabrics.
Thoroughly vacuum the piece using the upholstery attachment. Work your way down from the top using short strokes from side to side. Vacuuming in the same direction is important, especially for fabrics that have a nap such as corduroy, chenille or suede. Use the crevice attachment to clean folds and seams and around tufting and buttons. You can also use a can of compressed air to blast dust and dirt out of nooks and crannies.
For fabrics with the W or WS codes, add a few drops of liquid dish detergent to a bucket of lukewarm water. Wet a soft bristled brush with the solution and gently brush the entire furniture piece to lightly and evenly dampen the upholstery. Take care not to soak the fabric—too much moisture can lead to discoloration. Wet only one side of cushions. Finish by wiping the entire piece with a clean, damp cloth. Allow your furniture to air dry fully before using it. Fans can be used to speed up the process, but do not use hairdryers as the heat can cause the fabric to shrink or pucker. After drying completely overnight, the other sides of the cushions can be cleaned if desired.
For fabrics with the S code, only use solvent-based cleaners (e.g. dry cleaning solvent). Water-based cleaners may damage these fabrics. Dry cleaning solvent is available for purchase online or in department or grocery stores, often marketed as “upholstery-safe dry cleaning solvent”. Ensure your work area is well ventilated. Apply the dry cleaning solvent to a clean towel and gently brush it over the generally dirty parts of the fabric. You can work the solvent into heavily soiled areas with a clean, soft-bristled brush. Allow the fabric to fully dry before using it.
The faster you respond to a spill such as sauce, wine or greasy food, the more you can do to prevent a stain. Be sure to blot rather than rub with a clean, white cloth. To treat any stains that remain, experiment with a spot cleaner or dry cleaning solvent that matches your type of fabric. If your upholstery is safe for water, wet and wring out a clean cloth or sponge and wet it with a bit of water and dish soap mixture, then carefully blot at the stain. Finish by blotting with a clean cloth or sponge that has been dipped in clean water and wrung out. Repeat this process as needed, and then blot the spot until dry using a clean cloth. If the stain cannot be removed after two or three attempts, it requires the attention of a professional.
Natural fabrics can develop brownish discoloration when they get too wet or dry too slowly. This can be combatted with a neutral pH-based, quick-drying upholstery shampoo. First, thoroughly vacuum the piece. Then, mix the cleaning product in a bucket of water according to its directions. A hand-held egg beater or an electric mixer can used be to create the desired foam. Once there is only a little water remaining at the bottom of the bucket, the shampoo can be applied. Fold a clean, white, absorbent towel and dip it into the foam then wring out as much of the moisture as possible. Wipe the entire upholstery using overlapping strokes, making either vertical or horizontal passes in the same direction. Apply more foam to the towel as necessary. Let the foam sit for five to ten minutes.
Remove the foam using a moist, clean towel, rinsing and wringing it out as needed. Dry the furniture quickly using open windows or fans to circulate air. Hair dryers or any methods with heat should not be used. The goal should be to dry all the fabric at the same rate.
Make these cleaning techniques a part of your regular home maintenance routine, and keep your furniture looking better longer!