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5 Effective Ways to Clean a Fabric Couch

Modern gray couch with throw pillows.

Like so many other commodities, furniture is getting noticeably more expensive nowadays. Hit by inflation, prices jumped up by over 12% in 2022, the most extreme year-over-year increase in 80 years!

There’s no way around buying a new sofa when the fabric rips or the frame breaks, but with these prices, there has also been no better time to love the one you’ve got. 

If you’re considering replacing your fabric couch because of dirty cushions and glaring stains, there’s a better way to get a fresh-looking sofa without the expense. We’ll help you fall back in love with your living room setup with these five effective ways to clean a fabric sofa.

Different Types of Fabric Furniture

There isn’t one single best way to clean a fabric sofa because there are numerous cloth materials in furniture, and most have particular cleaning demands. Synthetic fabrics are some of the most stain-resistant, durable, and easy-to-clean materials. Popular synthetic materials in upholstered furniture include:

  • Polyester
  • Olefin (polypropylene)
  • Nylon
  • Acrylic

Natural fabric couches provide more luxurious looks and touchable textures. Aesthetics and comfort are the primary selling points for these materials, as they’re less durable and much more challenging to maintain than performance synthetics. Common natural fabrics include:

  • Cotton
  • Silk
  • Wool
  • Linen

Leather is another natural material, but unlike woven fabric, it’s remarkably resistant to immediate staining, rips, and picking. Corrected top-grain leather you’ll typically find in stationary and reclining sofas doesn’t soak up liquids, nor does it offer any loops for dogs to snag a nail. It’s more expensive, but leather can be practical for people with pets and kids who want an easy-to-clean material.

Sofa Upholstery Cleaning Codes

Many modern sofas include material blends, such as cotton-polyester or polyester mixed with small amounts of acrylic or nylon. Maintaining clean upholstery can become confusing when each couch fabric has specific durability and cleanability characteristics. But rather than fret over the most effective yet fabric-safe way to get grease stains out of your 94% polyester, 6% linen couch cushions, you can take the easy route and find the answer on the cleaning tag!

Furniture manufacturers tell you the best way to clean a fabric sofa with an attached cleaning code. The code for your sofa is on a white product tag on the platform under one of the cushions. On a reclining sofa, it’s often on the underside of one of the footrests.

Cleaning codes for furniture fabrics include:

  • W: Clean with a water-based solution (usually synthetic fabrics)
  • S: Clean with a solvent-based dry-cleaning solution (usually natural fabrics)
  • S/W: Both solvent and water-based cleaners will work
  • X: No water or solvent-based cleaners allowed, only vacuuming and brushing

Solvent-based “S” code fabric generally restricts you to dry-cleaning products available online to spot-treat stains. A water-based cleaner can shrink or warp the fabric or leave unsightly water stains.

Fabric sofas with a “W” code don’t always take kindly to solvent-based cleaners, but they’ll let you use several of your favorite household DIY cleaning solutions without fear of damage.

How to Clean a Fabric Couch

Before cleaning your fabric sofa, always spot-test your cleaning solution in an inconspicuous area to ensure it doesn’t strip the color or leave a new stain. To save time, you can skip a few steps by referencing the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions to see what they recommend.

Here are five effective cleaning methods to use on your fabric couch.

1. Vacuum and Brush

Fabric: Any code

Like cleaning any household surface, you need to start big and end small when you clean a fabric sofa. That means pulling out the vacuum cleaner and upholstery attachment to remove crumbs, dirt, and pet hair before applying a stain-cleaning solution. If you don’t have a brush attachment, grab a separate stiff brush to loosen dirt as you vacuum.

2. Deodorize with Baking Soda

Fabric: Any code

Baking soda is an all-around wonder for deodorizing the fridge, scrubbing grime off counters, and extracting stains from numerous surfaces. And on a fabric sofa, it can do a little of everything!

To deodorize your sofa, sprinkle baking soda over the cushions. It’s a perfect solution if your sofa cushions start to take on pet smells or odors from the air. A regular cleaning with baking soda and vacuuming is a healthy habit to maintain a fresh sofa.

Let the baking soda sit and neutralize odors for 30 minutes or longer. Vacuum the entire couch, using your brush attachment to pick up loosened dirt and dug-in baking soda.

3. Remove Stains with Baking Soda

Fabric: W code

Baking soda is back, coming into the couch cleaning equation this time by helping you remove stubborn stains. Rather than press into the stain and potentially push it further into the fabric, baking soda gently pulls the stain out of the fibers to absorb it.

Mix baking soda and a touch of warm water to create a thick paste. Dab a generous clump of paste on the stain, ensuring its spread to the edges, and gently rub it in. Let it sit for 30 minutes or more, and vacuum the spot.

Use dry baking soda for fresh liquid stains. After blotting as much stain as possible with a clean cloth, apply baking soda to the spot. Let it sit for about 30 minutes before vacuuming it up.

4. Use Dish Soap and Vinegar for Stains

Fabric: W code

DIYers love to use vinegar to remove stains around the home for its safe yet powerful dirt-loosening ability. For water-safe fabrics, white vinegar pairs with mild dishwashing liquid and water to make a practical cleaning spray.

Add the following ingredients to a spray bottle to make an effective DIY cleaner:

  • 1 cup distilled water
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • A few drops of mild dish soap

Agitate the spray bottle to mix the ingredients. Spray the spot with your cleaner, making sure not to oversaturate it. Gently blot the stain with a clean, dry microfiber cloth, and let the sofa air dry.

5. Clean with Rubbing Alcohol

Fabric: S code

If you have natural fiber sofa cushions, you can spring for a solvent-based cleaner or reach into the medicine cabinet for a DIY cleaner. Many natural fabric sofas allow you to use rubbing alcohol as a viable dry-cleaning alternative. Check the manufacturer’s instructions on any S code fabric to ensure you won’t cause any additional damage. Follow the same process of spot-testing in an inconspicuous area to ensure it doesn’t leave a mark.

To clean a couch, mix one cup of isopropyl alcohol with half a cup of water, and dip a soft cloth into the solution. Gently blot the stain, being careful to avoid oversaturating it. The alcohol will evaporate quickly, so letting it air dry will remove any residual moisture in little time.

Are Couch Cushion Covers Machine-Washable?

Hand-washing or machine-washing stained sofa cushions may not be out of the question if they have a W cleaning code and removable covers. Tossing machine-washable covers in the laundry can help you simplify a general deep clean and deal with stubborn stains.

Use dye-free liquid detergent or a gentle homemade detergent. Wash your sofa cushions in a cold water cycle with the zippers closed to prevent any tangles or warped fabric in the machine. Hang the machine-washed covers up in an area with adequate air circulation to dry. 

Cold water and air drying are crucial to prevent stains from setting. If you’re using an enzymatic cleaner or detergent to lift blood, oil, or other tough stains, hot water can break down the enzymes, reducing their effectiveness. Meanwhile, a heated dryer can set any lingering stains, making it almost impossible to clean your sofa.

Is a Steam Cleaning Solution Safe for a Fabric Sofa?

Steam cleaning is an effective and convenient way to give your entire couch a deep clean or to remove challenging dug-in dirt stains. You can rent a carpet cleaner from a local hardware store, or you can purchase a small upholstery steam cleaner to have handy for under $100.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to steam clean a fabric sofa, taking care not to get it overly wet. Many manufacturers recommend using distilled water to reduce the amount of upkeep, but regular tap water will work fine for most units.

Remove the cushions to clean separately, and steam the couch and cushions on all sides. Move smoothly but swiftly to prevent one section from becoming too soggy.

Book a Deep Cleaning Service

Fabric can be tricky to maintain, especially when you have pets, kids, and the general flurry of life working against you. When you need a helping hand to manage the mess, take a few minutes to schedule a custom cleaning with Anita’s. Request a booking today, and let a local cleaning expert help freshen your home!


Anita's Housekeeping Editors