9 Living Room Sofa Mistakes You Might be Making—and How to Fix Them

published May 6, 2020
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Credit: Liz Calka

Couches and sofas are typically a big investment, and they’re often the focal point of a living room. You want it to last as long as possible, but it’s not always easy keeping a couch in mint condition. This is the spot where movie nights happen, snacking takes place, and long, lazy weekend days unfold. To extend the life of your sofa and keep it from looking shabby, we asked designers for some sofa shopping and maintenance advice, plus tips on what not to do to your sofa. Things happen so don’t beat yourself up over a misstep. If you’re able to avoid these nine common mistakes going forward or can fix them with these smart solves though, your couch will look brand new—or aged to perfection, like the above leather design—for years to come.

You Picked a High-Maintenance Leather

Leather sofas add a distinguished touch to a room, and in general, they tend to be quite durable and patina nicely over time. But picking a finicky leather can lead to some trouble down the road. “Many types of leather are prone to scratching, staining, and fading,” says Chris Stout-Hazard, co-founder of Roger + Chris, a furniture company. “If you have a dog, avoid leathers with a waxy finish, which, though beautiful, may be more likely to show claw marks.” 

Have young children? Stout-Hazard also suggests skipping uncoated, matte finish leathers because these fabrics tend to absorb stains. The most life-proof options are high-quality protected leathers, which have special coatings built into their finishes. If you find yourself stuck with a leather sofa that doesn’t work with your lifestyle, consider coating it with a separate leather protector product, which provides an invisible, breathable barrier for some protection against things like cracking, peeling, and discoloration. Note, however, that these kinds of protective coatings are not for use on nubuck or suede leathers. Be sure to do your research before applying any special coatings—and always spot test in an inconspicuous place—to avoid doing further damage.

You Chose a Fabric That’s Finicky

Even if you’ve eliminated leather for the above reasons or due to budget, choosing a sofa fabric can still be hard because there are a lot of other upholstery options and many factors to consider. If you are just starting your search, consider questions like: Is this sofa fabric easy to clean? Will it work with my lifestyle? Will this fabric pill or fray quickly? Ideally, you’d want something that’s durable, comfortable, and cleanable. So while white bouclé may be all the rage right now, it just might be impractical for getting the most mileage out of your sofa. That said, everyone’s threshold for wear is different. 

In general, for longevity, Stout-Hazard recommends any fabric that’s rated in excess of “50,000 double rubs.” For reference, a “double rub” is a measuring unit used by upholstery manufacturers in an industry-standard mechanized test, and commercial fabrics are often rated at 100,000+ double rubs. 

If you have kids, pets, or just like eating on the couch, Stout-Hazard recommends specifically seeking a fabric with stain resistance so you can easily clean up messes. If you missed the boat on this for your current sofa and have no plans to replace it anytime soon, you could think about adding a machine-washable slipcover or using a few well-placed, budget faux sheepskins or throws for extra protection. 

You Always Sit in the Same Spot

You might love curling up on the chaise of your sectional, but always hunkering down in the same exact spot will age your sofa faster. “If you always sit on one side and never in the middle, your sofa may wear differently over time,” says Alessandra Wood of Modsy, an online interior design service. “Try to mix up your positions to give every spot a bit of love, which will keep your sofa looking fresh and even.”


You Went All in on Cleaning Up a Spill—Without Reading Directions

“The time to familiarize yourself with the care instructions for your sofa is before you have a stain,” Stout-Hazard says. Unfortunately, using the wrong cleaning process can damage your fabric and make a stain even more noticeable. For best stain-lifting results, you should do your best to act quickly, gently, and in accordance with your sofa’s care instructions.

“Most stains should be approached with a light touch at first, starting with a gentle soap and water mixture,” says Stout-Hazard. “Stronger cleaning products can be used with the right fabric, but you should always spot test in an out-of-the-way area to verify that the cleaner will not bleach the fabric.” He also suggests using a light “combing” motion instead of scrubbing, which can damage a sofa’s finish.

You Didn’t Consider Outdoor Fabric as an Option

If you know you’re prone to spills and stains, don’t limit yourself to indoor fabrics. All-weather materials have come a long way over the past decade or so, and they’re brighter, bolder, and comfier than ever. There’s no rule that says you can’t use an outdoor sofa inside.

“Swap out your current setup by using outdoor fabrics,” textile designer John Robshaw suggests. “Outdoor fabrics last longer and are stain-resistant and more durable than your indoor counterparts. There are plenty of high quality options that perfectly replicate indoor patterns, without all the wear and tear and stress.”

You Forgot to Condition Your Leather Sofa

This one doesn’t apply to everyone, but leather sofa owners, listen up! You should try to show your upholstery some extra TLC from time to time. “Conditioning and scratch removal kits can be found online for each leather type,” says Stout-Hazard. “A regular, semi-annual conditioning will make colors more vibrant and the finish more consistent.”

Credit: Alina Hvostikova/Stocksy

You Never Rotate Your Cushion(s) 

“Sofa cushions are like the tires on a car,” says Stout-Hazard. “To maximize their lifespan, you need to rotate them regularly. Most of us sit in the corners of a sofa, which means that area of the seat cushion will get compressed the fastest.” 

According to Stout-Hazard, simply flipping around your cushions and fluffing them periodically gives them a chance to wear more evenly. Aim to do this flip-and-fluff routine monthly or even quarterly, and it will keep your sofa looking its best for the long haul. If your cushion covers are removable and machine-washable, plan to clean them a few times a year as well.

You Never Vacuum Your Sofa

“It’s gross to think about, but your sofa is a dust monster,” says Stout-Hazard. “It collects lint, pet hair, pollen, and dead skin cells.” All things considered, it’s a good idea to vacuum it semi-regularly.

Use your vacuum’s hand attachment and try to be as thorough as possible. “Pull the sofa away from the wall (if it isn’t floating in your space) and clean the back, and clean every side of the cushions,” says Stout-Hazard. “Don’t forget the deck—the area below the cushions.” 

You’re Giving Up on Your Couch Too Soon

If you love your sofa but it’s looking a little shabby, you don’t need to get rid of it right away. “If your sofa’s seat and back cushions are worn out, a local upholstery shop should be able to make replacement inserts,” says Stout-Hazard. “Because most furniture companies use relatively low-quality foam and polyfill to save on material costs, consider asking the upholsterer about higher-grade replacements.” There are also DIY inserts for fixing issues like sagging cushions

Pro upholsterers may also be able to perform repairs like replacing broken springs, repairing damaged legs, and more. Even so, Stout-Hazard says it usually isn’t cost-effective to fully reupholster most of today’s mass-market sofas. “The frames simply aren’t built well enough to be worth the expense,” he says. “But smaller repairs can give you a few more years from your furniture.”