How to Clean a Couch: An Expert Guide

Person Hovering a Couch

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We spend a lot of time relaxing on our sofas, so naturally, they pick up stains every now and then. But there's no need to worry. 

This guide will show you step-by-step methods to get rid of any kind of dirt and clean up spillages on any type of couch. Plus, we have included juicy pro cleaning tips that will get you feeling like a cleaning genius.

Let's get right to it.

Fabric Cleaning Codes

Have you ever set out to clean your couch and then spent some minutes gazing at it in confusion because it just occurred to you that you had no clue the correct cleaning method to use? 

Thankfully, manufacturers mark upholsteries with a cleaning code that tells the user the right way to clean the fabric. These codes are small letters representing a cleaning method. Here are the most likely places to find these codes;

  • On the tags attached to your couch
  • Tucked down the sides of the cushion
  • Around the back of the couch
  • Besides the armrest
  • On the platform of the sofa (the hard part where the cushion sits on)
  • If you still cannot find the code, then it should be on the company's product page, or you can contact their customer service. 

And here are the most common fabric sofa cleaning codes: 

  • "W": Water — Clean the couch with a water-based cleaner.
  • "S": Solvent — Clean with solvent only. A couch with this code only requires dry cleaning and will not react well to water.
  • "S/W" — Solvent + Water. This couch can be cleaned with a mixture of solvents and water. 
  • "X": Vacuum — This couch has a delicate fabric and can only be cleaned with a vacuum. 

"Sometimes, an upholstery manufacturer will tag the upholstery with 'X' cleaning code because that has the lowest possible risk and will reduce customer complaints," says Stuart Emmons, CEO PristineGreen Upholstery and Carpet Cleaning. Therefore, you should take extra care with upholsteries marked 'X' as there might be other cleaning options available for it. Confirming from an expert upholstery cleaner is the best bet.

Where possible, always check the sofa manufacturer's instructions to ensure you're taking the appropriate steps to clean your couch. 

Meet the Experts

To create this guide on how to clean a couch, we spoke to several cleaning experts, including:

How To Clean Different Types of Couches?

How to Clean a Microfiber Couch

Microfiber couches are famous for being stain-resistant. However, life does happen, yeah? It is an ultra-soft polyester fabric with a velvet texture that gives you comfort and warmth. The fibers are intricately woven, and they are so small that they are woven tightly together. This does two things:

  • Prevents a lot of dust from gaining access into the fabric
  • Denies liquid spills access to deep areas of the fabric.

What you'll need

  • Two large bowls
  • Spray bottle
  • Clean cloth
  • Whisk (this is optional)
  • Soft-bristled scrubbing brush or sponge. 
  • Vacuum
  • Water
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Liquid dishwashing soap
  • Baking soda (this is optional)

Cleaning instructions (with soap and water)

  1. Begin by deep vacuuming the couch. Pay attention to inconspicuous areas and hidden crevices. 
  2. Get a solution of 4 cups of warm distilled water and one-fourth of a cup of dishwashing soap in one of your large bowls.
  3. Fill the other large bowl with clean water.
  4. Using your scrubbing brush, collect the suds from the mixture and scrub the couch thoroughly, starting from the top and working your way down to the bottom. 
  5. When you have cleaned an area, use the microfiber clean cloth, Submerge it in clean water, wring it thoroughly, and clean out the area. Do this until all suds and fluffs are wholly removed. 
  6. Allow the couch to air-dry thoroughly.

Cleaning instructions (with rubbing alcohol)

  1. Begin with a thorough vacuuming.
  2. Put the rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle, and start spritzing the contents on the couch slightly. 
  3. When the sofa is wet, use the scrubbing brush to remove dirt. Deep the brush in clean water to remove the dirt collected from the couch, then repeat.
  4. Allow the couch to air dry thoroughly.

To get rid of odors

  • Baking soda magic: Sprinkle the couch with baking soda, and use a scrubbing brush to work it evenly into the sofa. Do this at night and let it sit in overnight. By morning, use a vacuum to remove the baking soda and, of course, the odor. 

Pro tip

"To keep your microfiber couch clean, vacuum regularly with an upholstery attachment. You can also use a stiff fabric brush to dislodge the dirt and restore the fabric. Keep your furniture free of crumbs, dust, and anything that could harm the fabric". Says Dean Davies, upholstery cleaning expert at Fantastic services.

The best care is to protect your microfiber couch from wear and stains. This will save you the stress of getting it clean and increasing your couch's lifespan.

How To Clean a Suede Couch

Suede Couch

This couch fabric is the definition of luxury. However, it's very susceptible to water stains, so you should avoid spilling liquid on your suede fabric at all costs. This can make it a bit more challenging to maintain. But with the right care, a suede couch can last a long time.

What you will need

  • A suede brush
  • A bowl
  • Spray bottle
  • Vacuum
  • Scrubbing brush
  • Sponge
  • Cornstarch
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Rubbing alcohol 

Cleaning instructions

  1. Start with the vacuuming. Thorough vacuuming of the couch using the upholstery brush attachment of the vacuum cleaner to reach every area. 
  2. For oil stains, cornstarch is excellent for absorbing oil. Apply the cornstarch on the stains, leave for a while, then use a vacuum to remove it. Commercial glue removers can be used to eliminate sticky residues. 
  3. Air-dry the couch to dry out all wet spots. 
  4. In cases where the stains are deep, it is best to contact a professional cleaning for a piece of fabric as delicate as suede. 

Cleaning instructions (for suede + microfiber material)

Most times, manufacturers combine suede with microfiber for upholsteries. If your couch is a mixture of both fabrics, then the cleaning process is the same as the cleaning for microfiber. 

Pro tip

"Microsuede and suede fabrics require different cleaning techniques. One fabric is natural, and the other is synthetic. Real suede is undoubtedly a delicate fabric that requires special care. If you spill liquid on your suede sofa, quickly get a towel or cloth and dab to absorb as much liquid as possible. Lift on the fabric after dabbing to avoid pressing the moisture into the fabric. Wait for it to completely dry, and then decide if you need to take more action. If you notice stains on your microsuede couch, there are a few steps to take to remove them."

"First, gently wipe the stain with a damp cloth and white vinegar or rubbing alcohol. Gently rub the spoil and be careful not to use too much force, damaging the fabric. Be careful not to overwet the cloth since oversaturation can worsen the stain. Test a small area on your couch first to check for potential discoloration or damage before starting. Afterward, smoothen the fibers by brushing the couch," says Davies.

How to Clean a Leather Couch

Leather Couch

Leather is very durable, and if given the proper care, it can last you for years while retaining its fresh appearance. Also, leather upholstery is relatively easy to clean. 

What you will need

  • A clean cloth
  • Liquid dishwashing soap
  • Conditioner for leather
  • A large bowl
  • Warm water
  • Baking soda (this is optional)
  • Rubbing alcohol (this is optional)

Cleaning steps

  1. Use a dry clean cloth to dry the couch. Add a few drops of the liquid soap to your already dampened clean cloth, and use it to wipe all surfaces of your leather couch.
  2. When there is no moisture left on the couch, apply the leather conditioner all over the couch. This is just like applying body lotion after a warm bath, and you will be able to tell the difference in the appearance of the couch.

To remove grease stains

  1. Apply baking soda to the stain and allow it to sit for a while to absorb the stain. 
  2. Use a dry cloth to wipe off the baking soda, and the grease will follow. 
  3. Use a damp cloth to clean off any excess baking soda.

To take out odors

  1. Apply baking soda all over the couch, rubbing it in with a clean cloth. Then, allow it to sit in over the night. 
  2. By morning, use the upholstery attachment on your vacuum cleaner to remove the baking soda, and the odor will disappear. 

Pro tip

"If you want to revive the luster of a leather couch, then coconut oil does wonders. Lightly dampen a cloth with coconut oil and rub it into the lather in a circular motion. Leave it for 10 minutes, and buff out the excess oil with a soft, clean cloth," says Ana Andres, co-founder of Tidy Choice.

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How to Clean a Fabric Couch

Since all couches are made of a type of fabric, this term is extensive. A couch can be made from cotton, wool, polyester, or other materials. Couches generally require cleaning at least once, but fabric upholstery sometimes needs to be cleaned more often. 

What you will need:

  • Vacuum
  • Scrubbing brush
  • A large bowl 
  • Water
  • A piece of clean cloth
  • Vinegar or baking soda (depending on the cleaning method)

Cleaning steps

  1. Brush the couch with the scrubbing brush to remove any dried dirt that might have stuck on the fabric.
  2. Vacuum the couch thoroughly
  3. Sprinkle baking soda all over the couch to get rid of odors and stains. Work the soda in with a brush and allow it to sit for a long time (Overnight)
  4. By morning, the soda should have wholly absorbed the stain and odor. Use a vacuum with an upholstery attachment to remove the soda. 
  5. Use a damp towel to clean off any remaining soda on the couch, then allow the couch to air dry.

Pro tip

"Fabric is a VERY vague term as upholstery is made from so many different materials. Your cleaning method has to be determined by what type of material you are cleaning. No matter which method you use, it should be tested before cleaning to make sure that you have the correct system in place," says Scott Johnston, owner-operator of Carpet Care of the Carolinas.

How to Clean a Polyester Couch

This type of couch is made from synthetic fiber. It is stain-resistant and durable, making it a good fabric for upholstery. It is also water-repellant, and because of its artificial nature, its color does not fade easily. It does take a bit of a look-down when compared with other fabrics, but being cheaper and having all these good qualities, makes it stand out. 

What you will need

  • Vacuum with an upholstery attachment
  • Brush
  • Water
  • Bowls
  • Cleaning solution

An easy polyester couch cleaner can be made by mixing;

  • White vinegar (1 tbsp)
  • Laundry detergent (1 tbsp)
  • warm water (¼ of a cup)

Cleaning steps

  1. Vacuum the couch thoroughly, paying attention to hidden areas. Use a scrubbing brush to rub the couch to get rid of any stuck debris or dust, then vacuum it again. 
  2. Pour the cleaning solution you made into a spray bottle and spritz it on the couch.
  3. Use a clean cloth to dab the couch, rubbing the cleaner deeper into the couch fabric. 
  4. Use a damp cloth to clean off the solution. This step is optional because some people prefer to leave in the solution.
  5. Allow the couch to air dry properly.

Pro tip

"If your sofa has unpleasant smells, the quickest and easiest way to remove them is with baking soda. Simply sprinkle over the furniture and leave it for a couple of hours. After that, you can clean the couch by using a damp sponge and dish soap. Be careful not to over-wet the fabric because that can also result in damage," advises Davies. 

How to Clean a Faux Leather Couch

Faux leather looks and feels like genuine leather but is not. It is made from PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). While it is not always as durable as original leather, it still lasts for a long time. In addition, it is straightforward to clean and care for. 

What you will need

  • Clean cloth
  • Vinegar
  • Spray bottle
  • Laundry detergent
  • Dishwashing soap

Cleaning steps

  1. Prepare a cleaning solution for the faux leather by mixing a tablespoon of laundry detergent in ¼ cup of warm water. 
  2. Spray the solution on the couch and use a clean cloth to rub it in. 
  3. For more minor stains, use baby wipes on the affected area.
  4. For very stubborn stains, add a tablespoon of vinegar to the solution, apply it to the couch, and use a clean cloth to blot out the stain.
  5. You can consider reconditioning the couch if it looks faded or if a part of the couch looks odd due to intensive cleaning. 
  6. Allow the couch to air dry.

Pro tip

"For faux leather, clean with leather cleaner and conditioning treatment; small areas can be lightly cleaned with soap and water and a sponge," says Diana Rodriguez-Zaba. 

How to Clean a Velvet Couch

Velvet Couch

A velvet sofa is a stunning addition to any living space. Its super soft fabric exudes warmth and coziness. It has a lustrous appearance that will immediately cause it to be outstanding in the presence of other fabrics. Velvet is a very durable material which makes it an excellent choice for upholstery. 

What you will need

  • Vacuum
  • Clothes steamer
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Whisk
  • Bowl
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Paper towels 

Cleaning instructions

  1. Attach an upholstery brush to the vacuum cleaner and use this on the surface of the couch thoroughly. Also, have a crevice tool handy, so you can reach the inner and underparts of the couch.
  2. If the couch has sustained some crease, you can release it with a clothes steamer. Target the steamer to the creased part with low heat and move it gently over it while using your hands to smoothen it out in the opposite direction. 
  3. If you get a spill on the velvet couch, use paper towels to dab the moisture until it is entirely absorbed by the towels. 
  4. To get rid of stains, put two drops of liquid soap in a cup of warm water. Use a clean, damp cloth to collect the suds from the cup and then rub it on the stain till it is eliminated. 
  5. Allow the area to air dry properly. 

Pro tips

 "When shampooing with a sponge or steam cleaning with an upholstery tool, make sure to go from top to bottom. Never go side to side or up and down. Always use a grooming brush to comb fabric down," says Diana Rodriguez-Zaba, president of ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba.

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How to Clean a Couch Cushion

When was the last time you considered the state of your cushion? The poor thing!

Cushions are the inner linings of your couch. They are the materials that make up the internal contents of your couch. Most cushions are made from cotton and polyester fabric. Whatever the material, couch cushions need cleaning. 

There are several ways to clean a couch cushion, depending on the magnitude of the stain or the kind of cleaning you want to do (in case there is no stain).

  • Minor cleaning would involve using a piece of cloth to dab the stained area and then allow the site to air dry.
  • A vacuum cleaner can be used for deeper cleaning. 

"First, inspect for tears and fraying so that you can avoid cleaning too roughly, which would create more fraying. Position the cushion with the zipper side at the bottom -- the front side of the cushion is the part you sit on and needs to be cleaned most thoroughly. Once the cushion is cleaned, let it dry with the zipper side down before putting it back on the couch right side up. This helps prevent musty odors from forming. Always consider the fabric first as delicate fabrics require professional cleaning," says Diana Rodriguez-Zaba

"Cushion covers should be cleaned with the stuffing/foam left inside of the cover. This will ensure that the cushion keeps its shape during the cleaning process. Regardless of what type of material you are cleaning, never over-wet. Wetting the inside of a cushion can be disastrous," adds Scott Johnston. 

How to Remove a Stain

Sofa stain

Couches are very liable to get stains. We spend most of our time there, so food particles, hair grease, dirty hands and feet, and pets can quickly introduce stains to the couch. When this happens, it is best to remove it as soon as possible.

"When it comes to stains, blotting up some of the wetness straight after the accident is a great way to minimize the damages. Apply a small amount of dishwashing detergent to remove the stain and rub gently with a clean cloth. Let the fabric air-dry," says Ana Andres. 

Here are cleaning products that every home should have handy, as they are known for their quick stain-eradication powers;

  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Scrubbing brush
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Laundry detergent.

How to Clean a Couch with a Steam Cleaner

Steam cleaners are great for cleaning couches. They save time and energy and are very effective in getting rid of dirt. The steam is very useful for killing bacteria and other organisms that might be living on your couch. 

Cleaning steps

1. Vacuum the couch:

 "First, vacuum the couch thoroughly to loosen and remove heavy soil. Next, spray mist the couch to get the fabric wet evenly. Go back and forth steaming different areas of the couch, then finish off with dry vacuum strokes," says Diana Rodriguez-Zaba

2. Treat stains

If there are any stains on the couch, use a cleaning solution to eliminate them. 

3. Get the steam cleaner ready

Fill the boiler with water, and attach the hose, the steam gun. Next, activate the safety lock and plug in the cleaner. Allow it to heat up. 

4. Start cleaning

Begin with the cushions and then progress to the rest of the couch. 

How Much Does it Cost to Clean a Couch?

Removing stains and cleaning your couch is a DIY job in most cases. However, sometimes you might want to get a deep clean from the pros. If you're looking to hire professional cleaning services, here's what it might cost: 

"Here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, we charge $30.00 a lineal foot. A standard 7 ft couch costs around $210.00. Many of our customers add Scotchgard fabric protectors to their couches. For heavy stains or pet odor removal, we charge an additional fee," Diana Rodriguez-Zaba.

Carpet Care of the Carolinas has slightly different pricing. "We charge $18 per linear square foot. This includes all pillows and cushions on the piece of furniture. We ALWAYS recommend applying a water-based protector after cleaning. We charge 50% of the cleaning cost for this service," explains owner Scott Johnston.

Written by
Ash Read
Ash is the founder of Living Cozy. He's been featured by publishers like MyDomaine, Realtor, Real Homes, Architectural Digest, The Spruce, Homes and Gardens, and more. As a writer his work has appeared in publications like FastCompany, TNW, and Entrepreneur.

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