A dog on a yellow sofa

How To Wash A Couch

Originally contributed by • last updated 4/9/2021

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Kids, pets, and parties usually spell trouble for your couch. Even if your couch is on the newer side, you’re bound to find a stain sooner rather than later. Luckily, with the magic of a few household items, you can eliminate most stains and dirt from upholstery.

With a little elbow grease, you can refresh your couch so it looks, well, almost new. Aside from leather, most of today’s upholstery is synthetic making it easier to DIY clean.

But, you’ll still need to know the right way to wash a couch so it doesn't end up looking worse.

How To Clean A Couch The Right Way

Before you begin, read through this entire lesson to identify your sofa’s cleaning method and decide if you feel up to learning how to wash a couch.

Before doing anything else, look for a cleaning code label on your sofa underneath the cushions or on the underside of the sofa.

Your sofa may not have a label, and that's okay, but if it does, it can be a great starting point in knowing how your couch is meant to be cleaned.

Marilyn Syarto
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Makey

If you do find a label, you may spot a letter code that reads either W, S, WS, or rarely, an X. If you do not have a label or can’t find a code, assume it’s an S. It's better to be safe than sorry.

You might be wondering what harm could water do to a couch? A lot!


Especially if the fabric can't tolerate water, you'll run the risk of marking or damaging the upholstery in many ways.


You may read elsewhere that you can scrub a mix of liquid dish detergent and water into upholstery — but that may discolor the fabric on top of creating water stains, even if there's a W code. 

Here's a breakdown of the codes to help you translate your label:

  • S: This is the most common way to clean a couch, whether it is microfiber or another type of fabric.
  • Clean your sofa only with a solvent cleaner (a chemical solution that dissolves dirt and stains, including commercial cleaning fluids, rubbing alcohol, vinegar, and even baking soda).
  • Using water and detergent to clean may cause water rings, shrink, or otherwise damage the fabric.
  • W: Wash your couch with a water-based cleaner (or mild detergent and warm water).
  • A W code also means you may be able to take off the cushion covers and wash them in a washing machine.
  • Don't put cushion covers in the dryer, as they may shrink.
  • SW: You can clean your sofa with a solvent cleaner or a water-based cleaner.
  • X: Rare, but it means vacuum or brush only. Do not use any cleaning solution on the sofa.

Pre-testing is important regardless of whatever code you might find on furniture.


Always try the cleaning method in a hidden spot of your couch to make sure no discoloration or other bad results happen.

Marilyn Syarto
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Makey

Not to scare anyone, but the image above shows what can happen when you try to wash the wrong kind of couch with water and liquid dish detergent. This is irreparable because the color has come off the fabric — but sadly the stain remains.

The order of operations when cleaning your couch is very important.

Each step eliminates a layer of dirt (and odor) to make the next steps more effective.

The steps below are geared more towards S code furniture. That's because many of us can't find labels with codes on our couches!

Handling specific stains on an S couch can be tricky, but you'll find tips for common problems in Step 6.

If you have a couch with the code W, consider yourself lucky because you can probably take off the cushion covers and pop them in the washing machine.


If not, it's still likely safe to use water and detergent to clean the couch without leaving water marks. Just do a pre-test to be sure.

We've also left out steps using vinegar (with exception to removing cat urine). Though vinegar is a superb cleaner on hard surfaces — and can work well on many fabrics — sometimes the smell can linger for a long time in certain weaves, and no one wants to feel like they are sitting on a salad!

Let's Make It

Equipment

  • Vacuum cleaner with crevice and upholstery tool
  • Rubber gloves (optional)
  • Dry white sponge
  • White or light colored blotting or microfiber cloths
  • Hard-bristle brush
  • Natural-bristle brush (optional)
  • Spray bottle (optional)

Materials

  • Baking soda
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Dry carpet cleaner (optional)
  • Vinegar (optional)
01/10

Brush Away Surface Dirt

How To Get Pet Hair Off A Couch

Marilyn Syarto
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Makey

Pet hair will fall into crevices of your couch and also sit on the surface. Sometimes you can't even see it. The fine fur can sometime escape a vacuum, so it's best to get as much as possible first.

Marilyn Syarto
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Makey

Use a rubber glove to lift most of the pet hair from the couch. Put on a glove and rub your hand across all areas of your sofa to grab the pet hair — you won’t have to do much because the friction of the glove on the fabric does the job.

Peel off the pet hair from the glove and continue. You’ll be amazed at how much pet hair the glove picks up. 

02/10

Vacuum Couch 

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Makey

Go over every surface of the sofa using your vacuum's upholstery tool. You want the surface to be smooth and dirt-free so nothing becomes embedded into the fabric when you begin more vigorously cleaning the sofa.

In addition, use the crevice tool of your vacuum to grab every crumb under the cushions and between the seat, back, and arms.

03/10

Pre-Test For Colorfastness

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Makey

Before attempting to put any ingredient on your couch, experiment with it in a hidden spot. You don’t want anything to lift or fade the color, or further stain your sofa, even if you have a code that says SW.

Try under the skirt in the back, test a corner of the underside, or try cleaning a small spot on a coordinating pillow (shown here) that you won’t mind sacrificing if it's damaged.

Test by dabbing the solution onto the hidden upholstery fabric and then blotting it up with a clean sponge or cloth.

If you see any of the sofa's color on the clean sponge or cloth, stop. Don't use that cleaning method on the entire couch or you will damage the fabric.

Here are a few examples of couches that may turn out to be more complicated, even if the label says otherwise.

How To Clean A Microfiber Couch

Microfiber couches are not as indestructible as you may have been led to believe.

Some microfiber couches can be cleaned with solvents and/or water-based cleaners, but if you don’t have a label with a code, you won’t know which will work for your sofa. 

If there's no label or code, assume your sofa should be cleaned with S methods. That means avoiding washing your couch with any water or detergent, as you run the risk of crating water rings on the fabric.

Microfiber fabric for furniture is a soft, dense, and tough polyester fabric. Fibers are thin so they can be tightly woven to create a water- and stain-resistant textile.


However, microfiber couches will still get dirty and tend to show water stains.

How To Clean A Cloth Couch

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If you have a fabric couch that is not considered microfiber — that would be denim, wool, and even polyester — look for a code or consider that it's "S" if you can't find one.

If you have a fabric sofa that is "W" or "SW," then you're able to use an oxygen bleach product to clean the fabric that is not removable for machine washing. Oxygen bleach is not a chlorine bleach. It's meant to help remove stains from colored fabrics. But if your sofa is dark, test out a hidden spot first for colorfastness.

If you have the go-ahead to use oxygen bleach, follow manufacturer's directions on mixing it for upholstery. Don't be afraid to scrub it into durable fabrics to lift the stains. Be sure to air-dry, fan-dry, or use a hairdryer to hasten the time.

How To Clean A Velvet Couch

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If your couch is upholstered in silk, rayon, or acetate velvet, do not clean it yourself or you may damage the fabric. Call a professional cleaner.

A velvet made with cotton or polyester may be spot cleaned only by using a white cloth or paper towel to very gently blot a gentle dish detergent onto the stain.

But it is best to try this out on a hidden part of the sofa first to see how the fiber reacts.

04/10

Sprinkle Baking Soda 

How To Clean A Smelly Couch

Marilyn Syarto
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Makey

Baking soda is a mild abrasive that deodorizes and cleans. If you gently rub it into your sofa's fabric, it will break down odors and dirt. It's safe for any microfiber or fabric sofa, but you still want to test a hidden spot, first.

Make certain your sofa fabric is bone dry for this step. Any wetness will make it difficult to vacuum up the baking soda. 

Sprinkle the baking soda liberally all over your sofa, including underneath the cushions, on the arms, and back cushions.

Gently rub or brush the baking soda over particularly odorous and stained spots to loosen it all up from the fibers. Leave the baking soda on for 20 minutes minimum.

You may begin to notice odors developing as the baking soda begins to work, but don't panic! The baking soda is just doing its job and bringing odors up and out of your fabric.

Vacuum up the soda using either an upholstery or brush tool. This step alone will brighten your couch considerably.

If you'd like to add a pleasant fragrance to the baking soda, mix a bit of dry carpet cleaner in before you sprinkle it on.

05/10

Apply Rubbing Alcohol

Before

If the fabric of your microfiber sofa’s armrests, cushions, or the trim looks darker or shinier than the rest of the couch, it’s likely caused by body oils making it look soiled.

Discoloration also happens when clothing or skin rubs against the edges of the bottom sofa cushions. Baking soda can take care of some of it, but rubbing alcohol is one of the best ways to brighten, soften, and eliminate those embedded stains.

After

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Makey

Rubbing alcohol is ideal when you want to learn how to wash a couch that has an S code or no code at all that is soiled with dirt and oil.


It’s also inexpensive, dries on microfiber in seconds, doesn’t leave a water spot, and won’t leave a lingering smell. 

The best way to use rubbing alcohol is to dampen a white or light colored microfiber towel with the undiluted alcohol and start rubbing it into the stain or oily area.

For larger areas, use undiluted rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle. Spray liberally on the affected area then rub with a light-colored cloth.

Do not pour the alcohol directly onto the fabric or it will overly saturate the sofa.

Vigorously rub and scrub the area with the alcohol-dampened towel until dirt and oil lifts. This is a good workout, especially if your sofa is very soiled.

This method of using rubbing alcohol and scrubbing with a microfiber towel works wonders on rejuvenating darkened microfiber cushion trim.

06/10

How To Clean Couch Stains

How To Clean Throw Up Off A Couch

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Makey

Tackle this stain when the vomit is fresh, if possible. You'll be glad you did.

  1. Remove as much of the solid material as possible with an old credit card, dull plastic knife, or spoon.
  2. Use a baby wipe, if you have any, to remove more of the vomit. Dab, but don't rub. You don't want to saturate the spot with moisture or embed the sick into the fibers.
  3. Sprinkle baking powder on the area, and leave to sit for at least 20 minutes.
  4. If there's a stain remaining, use the appropriate cleaning method for your couch's code.

For dried vomit, you will need to rely on a baby wipe and baking soda to do the cleaning.

  1. Make a thick paste of baking soda with a drop of water and rub the paste onto the stain. This will simultaneously loosen the mess up and begin to lift it from the fabric.
  2. Leave it on until the paste dries, then vacuum it all away.
  3. Use a baby wipe to clean more of the stain, but don't saturate the spot.
  4. Apply a layer of dry baking soda on the stain.
  5. Leave for 20 minutes then vacuum again. The stain should be gone.
  6. If slight staining is still visible, you can use rubbing alcohol to remove the remainder.

How To Clean Cat Pee Off A Couch

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If you've had a cat, you know that their urine has a very special sort of funk. There are plenty of products you can purchase to remove cat urine from upholstery, but if you want to go the DIY route, white vinegar is the way to go.

  1. Blot up any excess, wet urine with paper towel.
  2. Dab or spray the spot with undiluted vinegar. Do not rub it, since that will push the urine deeper into the fibers.
  3. If your couch is safe to use water on, you can dilute the vinegar up to 50% and it should still be effective.
  4. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes before blotting up with a dry cloth or paper towel.
  5. Sprinkle over the spot with a heavy layer of baking soda.
  6. Leave the baking soda in place for 4-to-5 hours before vacuuming up.
  7. Clean any lingering discoloration with rubbing alcohol.

How To Get Red Wine Out Of A Couch

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Hopefully, you can remove the red wine when it's fresh. The sooner you attend to removing the stain, the better.

Use oxygen bleach to remove this type of tannin stain.

  1. Follow manufacturer's directions on how to mix the powder for upholstery.
  2. Dab it on with a clean, white sponge.
  3. Let it sit for a minute before blotting up with a cloth.
07/10

Let Dry

Marilyn Syarto
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Makey

After washing the couch using the appropriate method for your upholstery's code, you will want to let the fabric dry completely.

You can use a portable fan or handheld hairdryer to quicken the process.

08/10

Brush Or Vacuum The Fabric Again

Marilyn Syarto
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Makey

This step is typically necessary for microfiber sofas.

After cleaning, the fabric may feel stiff because the fibers are flattened or tangled after cleaning. That just means you need to help the fibers fluff up again.

Head's up: a very old microfiber fabric may not fluff up as much as a new one.

Soften and plump up the fibers by gently brushing the fabric back and forth with a natural, soft-bristle brush, a dry sponge, or even a fine-tooth comb.

Finally, give your entire couch another round of vacuuming. The upholstery or brush tool will plump up fibers more and sweep away any remaining bits of baking soda.

09/10

How To Clean A Leather Couch

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Leather sofas are meant to form a patina over time, meaning that some wear and discoloration is expected. However, sometimes they still need cleaning.

Leather sofas are durable, but you need to be careful when learning how to wash a couch of their kind.

To clean very mild stains from a leather sofa, use a damp washcloth dipped in warm soapy water, rub gently to remove the dirt, and dry completely. 

To remove a darker ink stain, for example, dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and gently rub it on the stain to lift it away.

Be careful to only apply the rubbing alcohol to the stain itself. Too much can damage the leather.

Cleaning A Leather Sofa With Baby Wipes

Should you? Many leather couch owners swear by baby wipes to clean their sofa's and other leather furniture.

Other cleaning experts will warn never to use baby wipes as a cleaning agent on leather because it can cause cracks and damage.

We would recommend avoiding the use of baby wipes as a way to clean leather couches and use the method and products recommended by the furniture manufacturer.

Better safe than sorry, right?

How To Clean A White Leather Couch

White or light-colored leather is stunning but keeping it that way takes maintenance. Never use bleach or ammonia on white leather.

Instead, remove light soil and smudges by running a dry, white microfiber cloth across the leather. 

For a deeper clean, dampen a microfiber cloth with a solution of warm water and a few drops of dish soap and rub the stain carefully.

Try adding a bit of white non-gel toothpaste to remove scuff marks on white leather.

10/10

How To Deep Clean A Couch

How Much Does It Cost To Clean A Couch?

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If you don’t want to learn how to wash a couch with DIY methods, or your couch is simply too far gone for simple cleaning, you have two choices: rent a heavy-duty carpet shampooing machine, or hire professionals.

Renting A Cleaning Machine

Most home improvement stores have tools and equipment that can be rented by the hour. This is often much cheaper than paying for professional cleaning, however, there are some things to consider:

  • You will need to set aside the correct amount of time in your schedule and work fast, or the cost could add up by the hour.
  • Depending on the store, you may need to pay extra for the upholstery attachment on a carpet shampooer.
  • You may also need to pay for specialty shampoo.
  • You will need to be able to transport the heavy machine to and from your home.

Always test a hidden portion of the sofa to make sure the fabric will tolerate the machine and the cleaning agent you choose to use.

Hiring A Professional Cleaning Service

The second option is to call in the professionals.

For a standard sofa, expect to pay about $100 or more to deep clean, protect, and deodorize one piece. A matching living room set will cost more, depending on the number of pieces.

A sectional or a sofa with a specialty material will cost even more.

However, you may be able to bundle together the upholstery cleaning with carpets or rugs too, which could make the upfront cost worth it.

How To Steam Clean A Couch

Some professionals say they do not steam clean a couch because it will saturate cushions with too much moisture. This can cause water damage to the piece, which could then also take hours, if not days, to dry.

Instead, a company may do a hot water extraction method which still takes two-to-six hours to fully dry after cleaning.

However, if your couch is one suited to cleaning with water, you can usually spot clean with steam safely.

Spray a light stream of steam over the stain and then blot up the moisture again with a clean, dry cloth.

If you do not have a steamer, you can use an iron with a steam setting to steam your sofa.

  1. Fill up the iron's water tank.
  2. Hover the iron above the stain you'd like to remove.
  3. Press the button to release steam onto the fabric.
  4. Let it sit for a few moments, and then blot dry.

Do not allow the bottom of the iron to touch the fabric at any point. In a best case scenario, the heat can set the stain into the fabric permanently.


In a worse case, you could burn and permanently damage your sofa.