How To Clean Fabric Sofa Without Water: Quick Guide

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How do you clean a sofa upholstered in fabric that can’t withstand water-based cleaners (Code S)? This article will show you how to clean fabric sofa without water, so you can save money on calling a professional cleaner.

Table Of Contents

How Frequently Should You Clean A Fabric Couch Without Water?

You should treat spills and stains immediately, and it’s a good idea to vacuum at least monthly to get rid of dust, debris, and loose soil. Thoroughly cleaning the upholstery twice a year should keep the sofa looking its best.

how often to clean your sofa

Don’t Skip This Before Beginning

How can you tell if the sofa fabric is not washable with water? You must verify the correct way to clean the fabric so you don’t damage or shrink the upholstery .

Check the care tag to determine how to clean the sofa’s fabric. Since 1969, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has mandated that furniture manufacturers include a tag under the cushions or couch to assist owners in determining the best and safe way to clean the fabric.

The tag has a code to help you figure out whether to use solvent-based or water-based cleaners. You will need to test the solvent on the fabric in an inconspicuous place if there is no tag.

Upholstery Care Tag Codes

Here are the most commonly used cleaning codes:

  • 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

Stuff You Need

Tools / Equipment

  • Vacuum with upholstery tools
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Dropcloth or tarp
  • Circulating fan


  • Dry cleaning solvent (water-free solvent cleaner)
  • Baking soda

Instructions For How To Clean Fabric Sofa Without Water

Step 1: Vacuum The Couch

vacuuming a couch crevice with an upholstery attachment

Regular vacuuming will remove dust and dirt from the upholstery so it doesn’t look worn and dirty. A vacuum with a hose or upholstery cleaner attachment, such as a powerhead, crevice tool, and upholstery brush, is the most effective. But if you don’t have those tools, a handheld vacuum can at least remove surface dust.

Begin at the sofa’s top and move the vacuum slowly over the upholstery. If your vacuum has no upholstery attachment, use a soft brush to loosen soil before vacuuming. Make sure to thoroughly clean under all detachable cushions, on the sofa’s back, and on the couch’s fabric sides.

Optional: Sprinkle the sofa with baking soda to remove odors and brighten the fabric. Use a soft-bristled brush to gently get the baking soda into the upholstery. Let the baking soda work for 20 minutes to an hour. Next, vacuum the baking soda off the couch.

Step 2: Improve Air Flow And Get Rid Of Hazards

improving ventilation with open windows and fan
  • Before using any dry cleaning solvent, ensure all fire sources are put out (candles, fireplaces, etc.).
  • Avoid smoking while using dry cleaning solvents.
  • Dry cleaning solvent fumes can be strong. To improve ventilation, open windows and doors or add a fan.
  • Drop cloths are a great way to protect painted or finished wood surfaces (floors, trim); otherwise, the solvent can permanently damage the finish.

Step 3: Spot-Test A Small, Inconspicuous Area First

Do a spot test in a hidden spot with the dry cleaning solvent before you clean any stains or heavily soiled areas. Dampen a white microfiber cloth with a little solvent and rub it onto a small, inconspicuous area (e.g., under a cushion). Let the area dry. Look for color changes or dye transfer to the cloth. If none occur, you can safely use the solvent to clean larger areas.

You can buy the solvent at a home improvement store or online. Brand names include KleenRite Dry Spotter VS, Chemspec Dry Fabric Cleaner, and ForceField Dry Cleaning Fluid.

Step 4: Spot Clean Select Areas

Dampen a cloth with the dry cleaning solvent to clean stains or heavily soiled areas such as armrests. To stop the stain from spreading, begin at the edges of the soiled areas. Blot the solvent onto the dirty area and switch to clean parts of the cloth as it gets dirty.

To prevent streaking and discoloration, I recommend you clean the entire couch section (cushion, armrest, etc.) if the dirty area is extensive.

While dry cleaning solvent can be an effective oily stain remover, it might not remove all traces of water-based stains, such as Kool-Aid and wine, that contain dyes or tannins.

Step 5: Let The Fabric Dry

Quicken the dry time by putting a fan close to the freshly cleaned upholstery. Make sure NOT to use a heater or hairdryer to speed up drying, and don’t let any open flames near the sofa until all of the fumes are gone.

Five More Ideas To Keep Code S Upholstery Clean

  1. Regularly vacuum the upholstery fabric.
  2. Use a fabric-protecting spray to treat new and freshly cleaned upholstery.
  3. Cover armrests with washable covers.
  4. If possible, don’t put your fabric sofa near a window. The sunlight can dull the color in only a few years.
  5. If you have any care questions, contact the manufacturer.

What Is A Fabric Sofa?

Fabric couches are made of materials like cotton, linen, synthetic material, or wool.

What Is Dry Cleaning Solvent?

Dry cleaning solvent is a non-water, hydrocarbon-based compound for cleaning delicate or non-colorfast fabrics that water-based cleaning methods would damage. The solvent is flammable and toxic, and you should use and dispose of it with caution.

Can I Steam Clean My Sofa?

You should never use a steam cleaner on a sofa labeled S because it can damage the fabric and possibly even void the manufacturer’s warranty.

How To Clean Your Sofa Without A Vacuum Cleaner?

If you don’t have a vacuum, you can follow these steps instead:

  1. Remove the cushions and beat them outside to get rid of dust.
  2. After you’ve removed the cushions, use a clean broom to sweep off dust or debris.

What If My Couch Is Still Under Warranty?

Cleaning your sofa yourself instead of having it professionally cleaned may void the warranty.

Can I Use Baking Powder To Clean My Couch Instead of Baking Soda?

No, baking powder isn’t the same as baking soda. Make sure to use baking soda.

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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.