Your well-worn couch is comfy as can be, and you love unwinding on the soft fabric after a long day. Unfortunately, you’ve also enjoyed your share fair of snacks, meals and drinks while lounging on your favorite furniture (which your fur pals love, too) leaving all sorts of discolorations, spots and stains behind. You want to get it clean and although you know there are a number of specialty cleaners and cleaning services on the market to make upholstery look like new, you’d rather not shell out for them.
So we got the dirt on upholstery care from top cleaning experts who share their savvy suggestions on how to clean old upholstery so it looks like new (hint: it includes an effective homemade cleaner) and how to get out all kinds of new stains out of upholstery. Bonus? These tips work great for car upholstery too!
One caveat: It’s always wise to spot test any cleaning approach in an inconspicuous area to make sure it works well for your specific upholstered chair or couch.
The best pre-made dirt and stain cleaner for upholstery
Dirt, pet dander, body oils, spills and more can leave upholstery looking all-over drab. All experts agree, if your couch or chairs are looking dark and discolored, shaving cream can help. “Shaving cream contains surfactants and cleaning agents that help break down stains,” shares cleaning expert John Larson of Best Cleaning Tools in Florida. “It can be effective in removing various types of stains and dirt from upholstery fabrics.”
And it’s so simple to use: Apply a small amount of shaving cream to the stain and rub it in with a damp cloth. Then, wipe the area with a clean, damp cloth to avoid leaving behind watermarks, mold or mildew. (Click through to discover more brilliant uses for shaving cream.)
The best homemade dirt and stain cleaner for upholstery
White vinegar can get the job done for pennies! Simply mix one part vinegar with two parts water in a spray bottle. Spray the solution onto the upholstery, and then blot it up with a damp cloth. “White vinegar is a natural disinfectant and can help to remove dirt, dust and odors from upholstery,” shares Larson.
The best way to spot-clean specific stains from upholstery
If you get a spot on your couch, no need to panic: You can remove it before it has a chance to do any damage to the fabric. Larson’s top three tips for any kind of stain:
- Act quickly. The sooner you treat a stain, the easier it will be to remove.
- Blot, don’t rub, as rubbing can spread the stain and make it harder to remove.
- Test any of the below cleaning solutions in an inconspicuous area first to make sure it doesn’t damage the fabric.”
For grease stains: Use baking soda
Accidentally get a spot on the couch after enjoying some chips? “Sprinkle the stain with baking soda to absorb the grease,” says Larson. Let the powder sit for 30 minutes before vacuuming up. Then, wipe the area with a damp cloth.
For ink stains: Use rubbing alcohol
Ugh. Your pen leaked while you were jotting down your to-do list. What can help: Rubbing alcohol! “Dampen a clean cloth with rubbing alcohol and gently blot the stained area — be careful not to scrub, as it may spread the ink further,” says Jain. “The rubbing alcohol helps dissolve the ink, making it easier to remove.”
For red wine stains: Use *this* combo
After a party, you find a spot of red wine on your sofa. The solution? “Sprinkle the stain with cornstarch and then hold an iron 2 inches above the stain, pressing the steam button for 5 seconds,” recommends Larson. “Let the powder sit for an hour, then vacuum.” Steam causes the fabric to expand so the cornstarch can soak up the colored liquid.
The best way to clean deep-set stains
Fabric still looking dull and dingy? You may want to consider steam cleaning. You can rent small steam cleaners at stores like Walmart or Home Depot for less than $30 for a 24-hour usage. “These machines use hot water vapor to break down dirt and stains, while the suction function of the steam cleaner extracts the moisture and dirt from the fabric,” shares Prerna Jain, founder of Ministry of Cleaning in Australia. “Steam cleaning can help eliminate bacteria, allergens and odors, leaving your upholstery refreshed and sanitized.”
Just check the manufacturer’s instructions first to make sure it’s safe to steam clean your specific upholstery fabric.
This video shows how easy it is to use a steam cleaner:
Tip: No matter what type of cleaning solution you opt for, Larson recommends waiting 4-6 hours before sitting on a couch or chair after cleaning it . “Not allowing enough drying time can cause the couch to feel rough,” he adds. His suggestion: point a fan at the furniture to speed up drying time.
How do you get bad smells out of upholstery?
Pets, spills and more can leave upholstery smelling a bit funky. Though cleaning with vinegar can help banish the stench, you may now need to give your couch or chair a full-blown cleaning.
Thankfully, there is an affordable, low-effort way to make things fresh again. “If your upholstery has lingering odors, sprinkle baking soda over the fabric and let it sit for several hours or overnight,” explains Jain. “Then, vacuum it thoroughly to remove the baking soda along with the absorbed odors.” Baking soda is a natural deodorizer, but won’t leave behind any residue on the fabric.
How do you keep upholstery clean?
Whether you recently bought a new couch or just want to keep yours looking like new, there’s one simple step you can take to keep the fabric spotless and in great condition.
What the pros recommend: “Vacuum weekly to remove surface soil and prevent dirt from becoming embedded in the fibers,” says Larson.
Also smart: Use a soft brush attachment when you’re vacuuming upholstery. “The gentle bristles help agitate the fabric and loosen embedded dirt and debris, making it easier for the vacuum to remove them,” adds Jain. “This method is especially useful for delicate or textured fabrics that require a softer touch.”
Your couch will have never looked cleaner!