How to Clean Upholstery
By Steve Gillman
The following instructions cover how to clean most upholstery
using some basic procedures. At times though, you may not be
able to get all the stains out on your own. You also can't deep
clean very effectively with do-it-your-self methods, so we'll
also take a look at when you might need a professional cleaner,
and how much you can expect to pay.
Always vacuum a chair or couch before you start the rest of
the cleaning process. Otherwise it is possible to cause more
staining, since you will be adding moisture to whatever is already
there. If there are any dried substances that can be broken up
a bit, carefully do so using your fingers, and then vacuum again.
If any spots are from recent spills you might still get some
of the material off with a rubber spatula or the edge of a spoon.
Be careful with the more delicate upholstery fabrics, and be
careful not to spread spot in any case. If you are cleaning cushions
that can be removed, take them to an area where you can work
on them without introducing more dirt; a clean garage or a kitchen
floor, for example.
For the cleaning itself you can use a mild dish detergent
and a small scrub brush (a toothbrush can work for small stains).
Mix two tablespoons of detergent into a cup of water and put
it in a blender. Blend until you have a frothy foam.
With a soft brush work a little bit of the cleaning solution
into the stain. You should see some of the dirt or staining material
lift up into the foam. You can carefully scrape away the dirty
foam with a spoon or rubber spatula. Then repeat the process
if necessary. Be careful not to use too much of the cleaning
solution and don't let it spread too far.
Drip some fresh water on the spot to rinse out the soap, and
soak this up with a clean white cloth. repeat this several times
to remove as much detergent as possible. If you have a wet-dry
shop-vac it will be more effective than a cloth for removing
the solution. Just apply a bit of water, suck it out and repeat.
That's how to clean upholstery, but you aren't done yet. It
is important to dry the material quickly. If you have that shop-vac,
suck out as much moisture as possible. Push on the the area and
dab out moisture to the extent possible with a clean white cotton
cloth or undyed white paper towels. After this, place a fan where
it will blow some air across the spot, and leave it there for
an hour or more.
More Upholstery Tips
You may want to try this whole process on a inconspicuous
part of the furniture first, to be sure that the material is
If your homemade cleaning solvent doesn't get the job done,
you can try some of the commercial upholstery cleaners. Be aware
though, that often contain toxins such as acetone or nitrilotriacetic
acid. Wear gloves and be sure you completely rinse the cleaned
Finally, if you cannot clean upholstery sufficiently by yourself,
call a professional. Almost all carpet cleaners also clean couches
and chairs. For a sofa they will charge anywhere from $50 to
$200, and for love seats or chairs you can expect to pay anywhere
from $35 to $135 each. Remembering those cleaning costs might
motivate you to keep that upholstery from getting dirty too often.