How to clean upholstery

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 upholstery cleaning 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 the manufacturer’s website).

Follow these furniture upholstery cleaning tips:

  • Test cleaning products for colorfastness and shrinkage in an area you can’t see before spot-cleaning upholstery and furniture.

  • Make your own non-toxic, environmentally safe, water-based upholstery cleaner by mixing one cup of warm water with 1/4 cup of 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, 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.

How to clean a leather couch

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 leather 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.

More 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.

When cleaning, use a paper towel or washcloth to blot wet stains, but avoid rubbing — that 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.

Make sure you know whether your furniture is still under warranty. Cleaning warrantied furniture on your own may invalidate the warranty.

Re-read the warranty and if professional cleaning is required, and discuss the warranty with the professional upholstery cleaner before work begins. If you're still uncertain, call the company that holds the warranty.

Hiring an upholstery cleaner

The chief reason you would hire a professional upholstery cleaner is that there are many stains you can't remove yourself.

Furniture is commonly 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 furniture such as couches, sectionals and loveseats. 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, 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 properly ventilate 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.

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