How to Clean a Couch the Right Way, According to Experts

published Apr 8, 2024
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If your home is anything like mine, spills are an unavoidable part of life. And most of the spills happen where my family spends the most time: on the couch. Because you can’t exactly throw it into the washing machine, here’s a guide on how to clean a couch — including different fabric types like leather and velvet — according to cleaning and furniture experts.

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How to Clean a Fabric Couch 

Follow these steps to clean a standard fabric couch.

  1. Brush off dirt and debris, then vacuum the couch with the upholstery attachment.
  2. If the couch cushions have removable covers, take them off and clean them in the washing machine on a gentle cycle with mild detergent and cool water. Don’t forget to toss in some sanitizer for the rinse cycle to eliminate any lingering bacteria, says Nicole Lopez, R&D Senior Associate, R&D Operations North America, Hygiene at Reckitt. Air dry or dry the covers on low heat. Hand wash them if the tags say not to put them in the machine.
  3. Spot-clean the couch using an upholstery cleaner or liquid laundry detergent. Always spot-test before you clean. Rhonda Wilson, the quality lead cleaner at FreshSpace Cleaning, notes that different stains should be cleaned differently. For food stains, use a mixture of mild detergent and water on it and blot it with a cloth, then rinse with cold water. For grease and oil stains, sprinkle on baking soda or cornstarch and let it sit for an hour. Then vacuum it up, put a degreasing soap on the spot, and let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing with cold water. For wine stains, sprinkle salt or baking soda on the spot and let it sit, then vacuum it and use a mixture of dish soap and hydrogen peroxide to blot the spot clean.
  4. For softer fabric couches, Milly McEwan, product and design manager at RJ Living, suggests brushing the couch to help rejuvenate the fibers.
  5. Let the couch air dry before putting the cushion covers back on (if they were removed) and sitting on it. Do not use a dryer or heater.
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How to Clean a Leather Couch

It’s actually much easier to clean a leather couch than you may think. You’ll want to remove debris and dust by brushing it off or vacuuming, then use a leather cleaner or a mixture of mild soap and water to clean it. Spot test before proceeding. Wilson suggests dipping a soft cloth into the cleaning mixture and wiping the couch in small circular motions, then wiping it clean with a damp cloth. Pay extra attention to stubborn spots, but don’t rub too hard because it can damage the leather. Finish by blotting it dry with a clean, dry towel. Check the couch’s care instructions to determine if you should use leather conditioner.

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How to Clean a Velvet Couch

Velvet couches can get dirty quickly because the fabric traps dirt and debris. So the first step is to remove dirt using a vacuum with an upholstery attachment or a velvet brush. Remember to move the vacuum and brush in only one direction so the velvet texture doesn’t get damaged, says Wilson. Blot stains with a clean cloth using one of the products Wilson and McEwan recommend: Woolite Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner Stain Remover, Bissell Professional Power Shot Oxy Carpet Spot and Stain Remover, or a specialized velvet cleaner. Make sure you spot-test first! You can also use a combination of white vinegar and water if you want a natural cleaning solution. A sprinkle of cornstarch will get rid of oily stains, as well. Let the couch air dry and then use a soft brush or microfiber cloth to refresh the velvet’s texture.

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How to Clean a Polyester Couch

For a polyester couch, vacuum all the surfaces with an upholstery attachment. Then spot-clean it with a mixture of equal parts dish soap, warm water, and white vinegar, McEwan says. Wipe away the soap with clean water and let the couch air dry. Don’t use any direct heat, as that can damage the fabric.

What Not to Do When Cleaning a Couch

McEwan and Wilson agree that using too much water, no matter the type of couch, can damage the fabric or seep in and allow for mold growth. And if you’re brushing or scrubbing the couch, don’t use too much force — otherwise, you might damage both the fabric and the padding.

Always remember to use white microfiber cloths when you’re cleaning. You don’t want fabric dye to transfer from the cloth to your couch. Avoid high heat when drying your couch (or even direct the fabric to fade or destroy the quality of the fabric — especially with velvet.