How To Clean A Fabric Couch: A Step-By-Step Guide

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First, here’s a quick tip on how to clean a couch: Add a few drops of vinegar to half a cup of water. Spray the solution onto the dirty area using a spray bottle. Blot — don’t rub — the area with a clean towel to lift the stain. Keep reading to learn more in-depth methods if you need to deep clean a couch, including steam cleaning, disinfecting, or using rubbing alcohol for oily stains.

Table Of Contents

What Are Couch Cleaning Cleaning Codes?

First, check the manufacturer’s instructions. Often the manufacturer has pre-treated the fabric to create a stain-resistant couch, and some cleaning solutions reduce the effectiveness of this pre-treatment (or even invalidate the sofa’s warranty).

Many upholstered sofas include cleaning guidelines on their labels. You can usually find the label with the codes attached to your couch underneath the cushions. 

Location of the tag with the couch's cleaning code.

Fabric Upholstery Cleaning Codes

The most commonly used cleaning codes are below:

  • S: solvent-based cleaner (dry clean only)
  • W: water-based cleaner only for this fabric
  • W/S: water-based or solvent-based cleaners are both okay
  • X: vacuum or brush clean only; no water- or solvent-based cleaners

Upholstery Cleaning Products

The most effective DIY couch-cleaning products are below:

  • Soft-bristle brush
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Baking soda
  • Steamer
  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Drying towel

How To Clean A Fabric Couch (Without A Steam Cleaner)

Always spot-check an inconspicuous area before cleaning your sofa to ensure you won’t damage the fabric’s finish. You should also check that the color won’t run by scrubbing a small area of the couch with a clean cloth (ideally a microfiber cloth) and cleaning solution. If some of the couch’s color comes off onto the fabric, don’t use that cleaner on the entire couch.

Although steam cleaning is an effective way to clean fabric sofas, there are other options. You can try the steps below first:

  1. Brush the couch on top of and under the cushions using a stiff-bristled brush.
  2. Use a vacuum with a brush attachment (or upholstery attachment) to vacuum the couch.
  3. Use a cleaning solution to spot-treat stubborn stains, blotting the area with a clean cloth.
  4. Let the couch fabric air dry.

Here are some DIY cleaning solutions you can use:

  • 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol, 1/2 cup white vinegar, and 1 cup water. Shake it well before using it.
  • In a bowl, mix 2 tablespoons laundry detergent with 2 tablespoons white vinegar, 2 tablespoons baking soda, and 2 cups water.
  • For tough stains, make a paste with 1/2 cup baking soda and a few teaspoons of water. Keep adding water a bit at a time until you have a thick, spreadable paste. You can use the cleaning solutions above to lift the baking soda paste off the couch and then let the sofa dry.

How To Clean A Couch With A Steamer

A woman steam cleaning a couch.

Here’s how to get rid of stains from a fabric sofa:

1. Check The Fabric First

Check that the fabric is safe to steam. Cotton, denim, and linen are okay to steam. Polyester is usually alright, but Rayon isn’t. You should avoid steaming a real or fake leather couch or velvet. If the cover is removable, you can wash it according to the instructions.

2. Vacuum The Sofa

Don’t skip this step, or you could sink crumbs and debris deeper into the couch, making it harder to get out later. A crevice tool that attaches to your vacuum can help you get into the hardest-to-reach spots.

3. Pre-Treat The Stains

Steam alone can remove stains such as food, urine, and dirt. Anything oil-based requires a pre-treatment cleaner. You should apply the cleaner before starting to steam and give it enough time to remove some of the stain on its own.

For oil-based stains, you could also use white vinegar and rubbing alcohol at home. You can also use baking soda and cornstarch mixed with water. To avoid possible color loss, don’t scrub the material too hard.

4. Steam The Sofa

First, make sure to use the correct machine. An upholstery steamer is made specifically for furniture fabrics. You can use it handheld or as a floor machine with attachments. Avoid carpet cleaning machines, even if they advertise that they come with an upholstery-cleaning tool. Carpet cleaners leave couches soaking wet, which you want to avoid.

Fill the steamer’s tank with a solution that the instructions recommend. Some steamers use water, and some use cleaning solutions.

Plug in the steamer and wait for it to come to the correct temperature (otherwise, you’ll just be putting water on your couch).

4a. How To Start The Steam Cleaning

You may feel tempted to start with the couch’s frame, but that’s the last part to clean. Start by taking out any removable cushions or pillows. Only clean one side at a time, waiting for that side to dry before doing the other side of the cushion. If you don’t, they could develop mold. (Especially a concern in rainy climates like where I am in the Pacific Northwest.)

Use the steamer to spray the cushions’ entire surface in quick strokes.

If one spot is especially dirty, don’t hold the steamer over it for a long time — instead, repeat your strokes across the whole cushion.

4b. Steam Clean The Couch’s Large Parts

Now move onto the bigger areas of the couch and the frame, cleaning in small sections.

If you find dirt in particular areas, you can do another pass over the area. You can clean it as many times as necessary before letting it dry. However, be careful not to waterlog the fabric if you repeat the cleaning on a particular spot. If you need to (and the machine’s instructions say it’s okay), you can add something like borax to the steam cleaner to clean tough spots.

4c. Let Your Sofa Air Dry

Dry time depends on many factors, including the time of day and weather. But to speed up the drying process, you can also use a fan to create a draft or open a window (if it’s not humid outside).

You can use a fan to speed up the drying process. If the weather isn’t humid, you can open a window.

You might need to repeat this process if you can still see the stain (or use a spot cleaner).

How Do You Clean Couch Cushions?

  1. First, brush off loose dirt.
  2. Mix ¼ teaspoon dishwashing liquid with 1 cup water and spray the solution onto the cushion.
  3. Use a sponge or soft bristle toothbrush to apply the solution to the affected area. Blot the area.
  4. Rinse the area with water, blotting excess moisture with a microfiber cloth or sponge. Allow the area to air dry and repeat as needed.

How Often Should You Wash Your Couch Cushion Covers?

Cleaning your sofa cushions roughly every six months is enough for most people. You may also want to vacuum your couch cushions once a month.

How Do You Clean The Foam Inside Couch Cushions?

  1. If the cushions have covers, remove them.
  2. Ensure your bathtub is clean and fill it with soap and warm water.
  3. Submerge the cushions and work the soapy water into them.
  4. Empty the bathtub and refill it with clean water. Squeeze the cushions to rinse them. Repeat this process until the bathtub water stays clear.
  5. Once finished, wrap the cushions in towels and squeeze to wring out the water.
  6. Wrap the cushions in clean towels to dry. If possible, put them in the sun.

How To Disinfect A Couch

Two potatoes on a couch that's about to be disinfected.

Here are a few options to disinfect a fabric sofa:

  1. Steam clean the couch using the method above.
  2. Spray your couch with Lysol until slightly damp. Lysol is fabric-safe, but trying it on a small, hard-to-see spot is a good idea.
  3. Make a DIY disinfecting spray with two cups of rubbing alcohol and one cup of water. If a spot test comes out well, spray the solution onto your sofa until slightly damp and let it air dry.

What’s The Best Disinfectant Spray For A Couch?

Lysol is the best disinfectant spray for a sofa. Lysol kills 99% of viruses, germs, and bacteria and is safe for most fabrics.

How To Clean A Fabric Sofa Naturally

Steam cleaning is the best way to disinfect a fabric sofa without using chemicals.

Can Baking Soda Clean A Fabric Sofa?

Baking soda can remove stains and odors, but it doesn’t disinfect.

How To Shampoo A Couch

A carpet-cleaner machine or specialist couch-cleaner machine is the best way to shampoo a couch. Vacuum the couch first to remove dirt and dust. Then fill the cleaner with water and detergent according to the instructions. Avoid getting the couch wet because this can cause dampness and mold. To remove as much water from the cleaner as possible, use the suction function on the cleaner. To speed up drying, use clean towels to blot up water after cleaning. Before you replace the cushions, let the sofa air dry. You can also set up a fan to speed this up.

How To Deep Clean A Couch

For deep cleaning a couch, steam cleaning is the best option.

How To Clean A Couch With Vinegar

Follow these steps, depending on the material type:

  • Fabric: Mix 1/4 cup vinegar, 3/4 cup warm water, and 1 tablespoon Castile or dish soap. Put the solution in a spray bottle and lightly spray the dirty area. Blot with a soft cloth until the stain lifts. To remove the solution soap, use a second towel dampened with clean water. Blot with a towel.
  • Leather upholstery: Combine 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup olive oil in a spray bottle. Spray the cleaner onto the leather couch and buff it with a clean cloth.
  • Synthetic upholstery: Mix 1/2 cup vinegar, 1 cup warm water, and 1/2 tablespoon Castile soap or liquid dish soap into a spray bottle. Spray the affected area with water and blot the area with a clean, soft cloth until the stain is gone.

How To Clean A Couch With Laundry Detergent

You can clean a fabric couch with a small amount of laundry detergent. Mix 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon detergent, then test it on an inconspicuous part of the couch. If that looks good, spray (don’t saturate) the rest of the sofa with the solution and use a clean cloth to blot the couch.

How To Clean Fabric Sofa Without Water

To clean a fabric couch without water, you’ll use a dry-cleaning solvent like KleenRite or ForceField. Here are the steps:

  1. First, vacuum the sofa to remove debris.
  2. You can sprinkle baking soda on the couch to remove odor and brighten the fabric. Use a soft-bristled brush to work it into the fabric and let it sit for at least an hour. Then vacuum up the baking soda and debris.
  3. Test a small, inconspicuous part of your couch with the dry-cleaning solvent.
  4. If the test spot looks good, dampen a clean cloth with the solvent. Starting at the outside edges of the stain, blot the stain with the dampened cloth. Then, as the cloth gets dirty, move to clean parts of the cloth.
  5. Let the upholstery air dry (don’t use a hair dryer). Instead, you can place a fan near the couch to speed up the process.

Note: Dry-cleaning solvents are suitable for oily or oil-based stains but not for wine or water-based ones like Kool-Aid.

Can You Use A Carpet Cleaner On A Sofa?

You can use carpet-cleaning spray on your couch. However, I don’t recommend using a carpet sprayer machine on your couch because of the risk of soaking the couch and causing mildew.

How To Get Water Stains Out Of Couch

To get water stains out of your sofa, follow these steps:

  1. Mix ½ cup white vinegar with 2 cups water in a spray bottle.
  2. Spot-test the solution in a non-noticeable area.
  3. Lightly spray the stain.
  4. Using a clean cloth to blot the stain, continue to spray and blot until the stains go away.
  5. Let the upholstery air dry.

How To Get Grease Stains Out Of Couch (Oil Stains, Too)

Grease stain on couch from pizza

To get grease or oil stains out of your sofa, take these steps:

  1. Vacuum debris from the area.
  2. Use a clean cloth to absorb as much moisture and oil as possible.
  3. Sprinkle the oil or grease stain with baking soda and let it sit for 15 minutes.
  4. Vacuum away the rest of the baking soda.
  5. For the S cleaning code, use a dry-cleaning solvent for S code to lift the stain (follow manufacturer instructions).
  6. For the W code, apply a DIY couch cleaner made from 1 cup water and 2 teaspoons liquid dishwashing soap designed to cut grease.
  7. For the S/W code, use either technique above.
  8. Blot the solution into the stain using a clean cloth.
  9. Repeat with a clean cloth until the stain begins to lift. 
  10. Avoid soaking the upholstery or cushion underneath it.

Should I Use Distilled Water To Clean My Couch?

It’s not strictly necessary to use distilled water when cleaning your couch, but you may get slightly better results if you use distilled water instead of water directly from the tap.

Can You Clean A Leather Couch Yourself?

Yes, here’s how to clean a leather couch:

  1. Combine 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup vinegar in a spray bottle.
  2. Spray the cleaner onto the leather couch
  3. Buff the leather sofa with a soft, clean cloth.

Photo of author


Lucy Henderson is a Seattle-based home décor expert and creator of Palladio Interiors. She loves writing about design trends, home-interior inspiration, and home-decorating tips. She's a fan of coziness and simplicity.