Angie's LIST Guide to
Upholstery cleaning

You can save money cleaning upholstered furniture yourself, but you can also make things worse if you don't know what you're doing. Learn what to do and what not to do.


upholstery cleaning
Professional cleaners can tackle stains on hard-to-clean upholstered furniture. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Carlos S.)

DIY upholstery cleaning

Professional upholstery cleaning can be expensive -- with a typical 8-foot-long sofa costing about $150.  That may be worth it for the level of service and expertise you're getting, but if you know what you're doing you can

DIY furniture cleaning

For small furniture messes, DIY cleaning upholstery can save you money and preserve your furniture. Learn what the upholstery tags on your furniture mean before you DIY (look under cushions or check manufacturer’s website):

Code What it means
W The letter stands for "water," meaning it can be cleaned with water-based cleaning products, so it is a good option for DIY.
S This should only be cleaned with a "solvent" or water-free product, like a dry-cleaning solvent. Using water-based produce could leave a water ring or fade the dye. If you use a dry-cleaning product be sure to read the label because the chemicals can be hazardous if not used correctly.
WS or SW This means that either water-based or dry-cleaning products could be used. However, there is some risk of damaging the fabric. Either have this professionally cleaned or carefully spot test in an inconspicuous area before using any product.
X Cleaning fabric with this tag is a challenge even for professionals because neither water nor standard dry-cleaning solvents can be used. Definitely not a DIY job.

Follow these furniture cleaning tips:

Test cleaning products for colorfastness and shrinkage in an area you can’t see before spot-cleaning upholstery and furniture. Here’s how to make your own non-toxic, environmentally-safe water-based cleaner: mix one cup of warm water with ¼ dishwashing soap in a mixing bowl. With an electric mixer, beat until liquid becomes a thick foam.

  • Remove furniture cushions
  • Vacuum surfaces thoroughly with vacuum attachment
  • With a soft-bristled brush, rub foam cleaner onto fabric
  • Remove foam with a spatula
  • With a clean, damp cloth, and wipe away remaining suds
  • Use care: Too much water can leave stains and cause fabric shrinkage
  • Keep cleaning solution away from wood accents
  • Let dry completely

For leather upholstery:

Make your own cleaner by adding a few drops of moisturizing soap to a damp washcloth.
Wipe the off the soap solution gently and rinse with another damp washcloth
Buff with a dry washcloth

Other furniture cleaning tips:

To extend the life of your upholstery, clean it every 18 months or more frequently. In between cleanings, vacuum thoroughly every two weeks and treat stains right away. Use a paper towel or washcloth, blot wet stains, avoid rubbing; it can be abrasive and damage the fabric. Work your way from the outside in to avoid spreading the stain more.
For solid food spills, scoop up with a spatula, the spot-treat with a stain remover.

Is your furniture under warranty?

Cleaning warrantied furniture on your own may invalidate the warranty. Re-read the warranty and if professional cleaning is required, discuss the warranty with the professional upholstery cleaner before work begins. Still uncertain? Call the company that holds the warranty.

For more information, see 5 DIY tips for cleaning household upholstery.

What to know before cleaning upholstery

Being careful to clean uphostery properly is a critical element to execute a job well-done. Follow these steps to ensure success before tidying up your furniture:

  1. Remove furniture cushions
  2. Vacuum all surfaces thoroughly with an upholstery attachment
  3. Be sure to vacuum all the nooks and crannies

One of the best water based upholstery cleaners is very easy to make at home. Put one cup of warm (not hot) water into a mixing bowl and then add 1/4 cup of biodegradable dish washing soap. Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until the liquid becomes a thick foam. This foam will remove built up dirt and most food or drink stains. Not only is this cleaner simple to make and cheap to use, it's also nontoxic and environmentally-friendly. Most commercial upholstery cleaners contain hazardous ingredients like acetone or carcinogenic agents like nitrilotriacetic acid.

The upholstery cleaning process

upholstery cleaning
Though cleaning upholstery can by a DIY project, a professional will have the right products and tools to make sure nothing is damaged in the process. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Gina I.)

Once your ready to take on cleaning, implement this process to keep your task on track:

1. Test the cleaner in an inconspicuous area for shrinkage and colorfastness
2. Use a soft-bristled brush to rub foam gently onto the fabric
3. Dirt will lift out of the upholstery fabric and into the foam
4. Remove used foam with a spatula
5. Dampen a clean white cloth with fresh water and wipe away the remaining suds
6. Rinse the cloth and wipe again

Take care to use a minimal amount of water. Too much moisture can leave water stains and cause fabric shrinkage. Keep the foam away from wood surfaces such as armrests and steer clear of recliner levers to prevent rust. This process can be used on individual stains or on an entire upholstered surface. If you clean the entire surface, be sure to let it dry completely before replacing the cushions and pillows or sitting on it.

Leather upholstery is even easier to clean because you don't have to wait for it to dry. Make your own leather cleaner by adding a few drops of moisturizing soap to a slightly damp washcloth. Gently wipe off a section of the leather upholstery, use another slightly damp washcloth to remove the soap, then buff with a dry washcloth. Repeat this process over the entire upholstered area.
In between cleanings, vacuum upholstery thoroughly every two weeks and treat stains immediately. If spills are wet, blot the moisture first with paper towels and then spot-treat with a cleaner. If the spill involves solids such as food, scoop it off with a spatula and then treat with a stain-remover. Avoid rubbing staining agents into the upholstery. The water-based cleaner suggested above will lift stains out instead.

When to hire a professional furniture cleaning service

The chief reason you would hire a professional upholstery cleaner is that there are many stains you can't remove yourself. Most furniture is upholstered with specific fabrics that do not respond well to normal cleaning methods. Special chemicals are needed to clean this upholstery, chemicals that most homeowners do not possess. Professional upholstery cleaners have expertise in using these chemicals to clean all kinds of furniture.

Also, the unique shapes of upholstered furniture call for special tools to clean all the nooks and crannies found on most furniture. It's not cost effective for most homeowners to buy these tools. It is far more efficient to hire a professional upholstery cleaner instead.

Cleaning companies will come to your home and clean the furniture wherever it is located. In rare circumstances, a professional upholstery cleaner may have to take your furniture to another location for a special cleaning. This will only happen in the case that the furniture is particularly soiled or when it is made from an extremely unusual fabric.

Most of the chemicals that professional upholstery cleaners use are similar to the chemicals used in the dry cleaning of clothes. As a rule, these chemicals are generally safe for people and animals once they have dried. At the same time, however, they can cause respiratory issues, so it is important for upholstery cleaning to always take place in a well-ventilated area.

The most dangerous upholstery cleaning chemicals are those that contain volatile organic compounds. These chemicals are still safe once they have dried, but they can lead to respiratory problems if they are inhaled. To prevent these difficulties, make sure to ventilate well the room in which the furniture is cleaned. Those who are particularly concerned about these chemicals can hire a professional upholstery cleaner that uses chemicals with low levels of volatile organic compounds. There are also many professional upholstery cleaners that use green chemicals, which are chemicals that are not harmful to people, animals or the natural environment.


When I spot clean my micro fibre furniture it leave water rings any suggestions,please

you have to use distilled water

Add comment


What is Angie's List?

Angie’s List is the trusted site where more than 3 million households go to get ratings and reviews on everything from home repair to health care. Stop guessing when it comes to hiring! Check Angie’s List to find out who does the best work in town.

Local Discounts

Daily deals up to 70% off popular home improvement projects from top-rated contractors on Angie’s List!