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Upholstery Cleaning

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 11 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Cleaning Upholstery Cleaning Sofas

Upholstered furniture may be comfortable and attractive but they can also be a hassle to keep looking nice and clean. Regular attention and quick action around any staining is the key combined with an occasional “deep clean” which may involve shampooing the fabric.


This is a common enemy (dust can settle on upholstered furniture just as on hard surfaces) and needs to be tackled on a regular basis, at least once a month. Otherwise, it will solidify into grime that is harder to remove and may leave permanent stains and discolourations.

Use a vacuum cleaner with the correct attachments (the upholstery nozzle and the crevice tool) or a brush, although this is less ideal as it will also scatter dust around the room and into the air. Note, though, that if you have any cushions that are filled with down, only vacuum them if they are lined with a down-proof ticking, as otherwise the vacuum may suck the down out. In this case, it may be better to use the brush.

Shampooing Your Upholstery

Most modern upholstery comes with labels or tags, which explain how it should be cleaned, via “Fabric Cleaning Codes” – and it is best to follow these instructions. Sometime, fabric will be marked “Dry-Clean Only” but otherwise, most fabrics can be safely shampooed at home.

Nowadays, it is possible to purchase specially formulated upholstery shampoos from your local hardware store or even supermarket that are remarkably effective and very easy and convenient to use. However, if you wish, you can also make do with a homemade version:

  • Make up a solution of ¼ cup liquid dishwashing or laundry detergent and 1 cup of warm water.
  • Whip this up (using a hand mixer) until dry suds form, so that it looks like whipped cream.
  • Apply the dry suds to a small, inconspicuous test area on your upholstery using a cloth or soft brush. Scrub lightly and then allow to dry. Ideally, the area should look the same but cleaner. If this is the case, you can go on to do all the upholstery.
  • Work on one small area at a time and once you have worked the suds in, use a rubber scraper or spatula to lift off the dirty suds.
  • “Rinse” by wiping with a clean cloth dipped in clean water (make sure it is wrung nearly dry) – it is essential that you do not overwet upholstery as this can seriously damage it.
  • Allow the upholstery to dry completely before use – open all windows and keep the area well ventilated through the use of a fan, a dehumidifier or an air conditioner.

A Note About Leather

Leather requires special attention and it is crucial that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Do no use detergents on leather – only pure soap products. Like above, apply only the dry suds, using a soft-bristled brush, and then wipe clean with a damp cloth or sponge. In addition, you should apply a conditioning product from time to time to help restore moisture to the leather and add a sheen.


It can be a good idea to protect your furnishings to prevent heavy soiling, particularly during times like summer when there is a lot of indoor-outdoor traffic and people are likely to sit on furniture in shorts or other skimpy clothing, increasing the chance of body soiling and stains.

Similarly, if you have pets and they are allowed on the furniture, protective covers are essential. You can simply use washable throws, sheets or blankets – or even have arm and headrest covers that match or blend with the upholstery fabric. In some cases, you can make exchangeable covers for your sofas that can be washed and replaced as necessary.

If you do a lot of frying in your cooking and the living area is close to the kitchen, use a range hood and extractor fan when cooking to reduce the amount of oil and other greasy soil in the air, which may then settle on the upholstery.

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