Open Accessibility Menu

How to Clean a Fabric Sofa

Fabric sofas look great and can be especially cozy. They can also be a major nightmare when it comes to cleaning. But spills are bound to happen from time to time and, unless you want to adorn your couch with those beautiful plastic covers, you’re going to need to know how to clean a fabric sofa.

Reclaim your couch’s lounge-worthy status with the help of some handy how-tos.

But First…Look Before You Clean

There are a few factors you need to keep in mind when determining how to clean a fabric sofa properly.

1. You need to review your manufacturer’s instructions:

Always, always check the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions before attempting to remove stains from your sofa or freshen up your couch. Failing to do so could void warranties or flat-out ruin your couch.

2. The tags can answer many cleaning questions:

If you can’t find the manufacturer’s instructions, don’t fret. There should be a tag on your sofa cushions that clues you in on important facts, such as whether the material is water soluble. Keep in mind that one side of the tag may address the cleaning of the sofa cover, while the other will provide information for washing the cushions themselves. Make sure you’re looking at the correct tag before you clean.

3. Properly reading a cleaning tag can save you a lot of grief:

Typically, you’ll find one of four letters on the cleaning tag of your sofa. Here’s what each means:
  • W — You can clean this material using water.
  • S — No water. You’ll need to purchase a special solvent-based cleaner.
  • WS — You can use water or a solvent-based cleaner on this sofa.
  • X — Vacuum only.

4. You should never deviate from the recommended cleaning methods on the tags:

Water may seem innocuous, but if you use it to clean a couch that specifically calls for a solvent-based cleaner and nothing else, you’re going to be in for an unpleasant surprise. Believe it or not, the water will actually leave a stain on your sofa. Don’t risk ruining your furniture. Stick to the tags. They know what’s best for your couch.

How to Clean a Fabric Sofa If It’s Stained

If your sofa tag is marked with an “X,” you should only vacuum it with an attachment. And, as you now know, sofas tagged with “S” require solvent-based cleaners that should be clearly labeled with the directions you need for those particular products. The cleaning instructions below should only be used for sofas with tags marked “W” or “WS.”

You’ll need the following items and ingredients:
  • A vacuum cleaner with an upholstery attachment
  • At least three light-colored microfiber cloths that won’t bleed on your sofa
  • A bucket
  • Distilled water (The minerals in tap water can leave residue behind. A quick Internet search should yield plenty of DIY instructions on distilling water, or you can find an inexpensive jug at almost any grocery store.)
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Distilled white vinegar
Note: You should always spot test homemade solutions on a small, inconspicuous area of the material before you begin cleaning.
  1. Vacuum your couch so you’re not rubbing in dirt or debris while cleaning.
  2. In the bucket, mix about 2 cups of distilled water with 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid and 1 tablespoon of vinegar.
  3. Dampen a microfiber cloth with your cleaning solution.
  4. Gently blot any stained areas with the cloth. Don’t rub or scrub. This can damage the fibers.
  5. Moisten a fresh microfiber cloth with distilled water (no dishwashing liquid or vinegar this time), and blot the affected area to remove any remaining soap.
  6. With a dry microfiber cloth, blot the area one more time.
  7. Point a fan on the area to make sure it dries completely.

How to Steam Clean Your Couch

If you have a sofa marked “W” or “WS,” you may be able to use an upholstery steam cleaner. Before you get excited, consult the manufacturer’s instructions for the steamer to see whether it’s OK to use it on your couch fabric. While, “W” and “WS” sofas may be able to withstand water, they can’t always take the heat.

Additionally, you’ll want to do a spot test on a small out-of-the-way part of the sofa to make sure steaming won’t cause any permanent damage.

When it comes to figuring out how to steam clean a couch, you’re really just going to follow the manufacturer’s instructions provided with the upholstery steamer. They should tell you what settings you’ll need to use. There are a few tricks that can make your cleaning more successful, though:
  • Vacuum your sofa before you start to steam clean. After you have steamed and the sofa has completely dried, vacuum it again.
  • Pick a nice day to steam clean your couch so that you can open the windows and air out the room.
  • Some steam cleaners use microfiber cloths to help pick up debris. You’ll want to change these out as you steam so you can pick up all the dirt.
  • After steaming, point a fan on your couch to help it dry completely.
  • Wait until the water in the steamer cools before dumping it out.

How to Clean a Fabric Couch That Smells

Like with so many other materials and features around the house, baking soda can help eliminate odors in your couch as well. This miracle substance immediately gets to work capturing odors and loosening stains after it is applied to your couch's fabric. Apply baking soda to your cushions, arms, backrest, and even crevices. You may want to give more attention to stains. Let the baking soda sit for 20 minutes if you are eliminating minor odors. Feel free to leave it for a full hour if you have some serious stench to deal with. Now break out the vacuum and hose everything up. Lastly, it's important to remember that baking soda is not a substitute for actually steam cleaning or blot cleaning your sofa. Those methods are the better way to effectively eliminate stains and dirt hanging onto the fabric fibers. 

Now you know how to clean a fabric sofa so that you can get right back to snuggling and streaming your favorite shows. Have any other stains you need to get rid of? Take a look at these tips on tackling those nasty red wine stains.