upholstery cleaning:
Sanitizing Your Sofa and More

Fabrics that have absorbed a season's worth (or longer) of dirt, body oil, and germs need a bath to get them ready for another season of entertaining - and for that close inspection from visiting friends and family.

Before you begin, locate the manufacturer's upholstery cleaning tag on the sofa cushions or chair. Check the label's recommended cleaning method. 

Much like clothes care labels with symbols that communicate washing and drying instructions, upholstery cleaning has its own code. One that is often hard to decipher.

If your upholstered furniture doesn't have a code, test a cleaner on a hidden spot first.

How to Decipher Upholstery Cleaning Codes

Here's how to decipher what you're likely to see on your upholstery care labels:

O =  Clean with cold water because the upholstery is made from organic materials.

S =  Clean with a mild water-free dry-cleaning solvent. Use just a little solvent, and make sure you have plenty of ventilation. Do not use water or water-based products on this item. 

W =  Clean with a water-based product, such as a little foam from a mild detergent or non-solvent upholstery shampoo. Use as little foam and water as possible to do the job; you don't want to get the upholstery too wet. Moisture encourages mold, mildew, and bacteria to take up residence.

WS =  You can use a dry-cleaning solvent, the foam of a mild detergent, or upholstery shampoo.

X =  Don't clean it yourself. You can, however, vacuum or brush off surface grime. Hire a professional when a deeper cleaning is required. 

The  Cleaning Routine

When you're ready to clean upholstered furniture, follow these four basic steps to get the job done right - the first time.

1  Start with a Vacuum

Woman brushing clean an upholstered couch.

Vacuum the surface, cushions, the body below the cushions (where crumbs, quarters, and remote controls hide), and behind and under the furniture piece. 

Then brush with an upholstery brush to dislodge surface dirt and dust, following the vacuum path, so you don't miss any area. Vacuum the dislodged dirt.

2   Get on a Roll

Store-Bought Product versus Your Pantry

Carpet and upholstery freshening powders exist, but it's so easy to make your own natural solution. If you really want to impress fellow clean freaks, quickly remove any lingering odors with baking soda.

Use a cheese shaker, sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda over carpets or upholstered surfaces. Let sit for 15 minutes or overnight, then vacuum clean. Aren't you the thorough one!

Go over the main body and cushions with a lint roller, following the vacuum and the brush path. This will bring out stubborn pet hair and resistant dust.

3   Clean with Foam

This step is for water-tolerant upholstery only - do not use it if your upholstery is coded S or X. Whip equal parts dishwashing liquid and water.

Apply the resulting foam to the upholstery. Gently work the foam into the upholstery with your fingertips so as not to stain the fabric. Let it sit for 5 minutes.

4   Blot-Rinse (Don't Saturate)

Again, this step is for water-tolerant upholstery only - do not use if your upholstery is coded S or X. Remove the soapy foam from the cleaned areas using a sponge dampened with water.

This will be easier if you have a bucket of clean water handy. Blot dry with a microfiber or cotton cloth, soaking up as much moisture as you can. Let air-dry completely before the family takes a seat.

Final cleaning tips:

  • Protect your upholstered furniture from direct sunlight.
  • Rotate and reverse cushions occasionally so they will fade evenly and receive equal wear.
  • Monthly upholstery cleaning should include vacuuming the furniture with a soft brush attachment to remove surface dust and dirt before it becomes a ground-in upholstery stain.

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