How to Clean a Couch

A person vacuuming a grey sofa.

My grandmother lined all of her furniture with plastic. During the summer, it was the easily the worst thing in the world to sit on (or stick to), and it was just as uncomfortably cold and stiff during the winter months. It was so bad that I used to sit on the floor. To this day, even though I have two perfectly comfortable cloth couches in my home, I prefer to sit on the floor.

What I realize now is that Grandma did that to minimize the amount of time she needed to spend cleaning her couches. I don’t know exactly how well it worked, but since that very same couch and loveseat set are now in the family room at my parents’ house (sans horrific freak plastic) some 20 years later, and still very comfortable and pristine, I’d say it worked fairly well. So, while plastic is a viable way to keep a couch clean and safe, you may want to rethink that option, unless you want your guests sitting on your floor.

Cleaning Different Types of Couches

  1. overstuffed couchCleaning couches made of cloth or microfiber. If you have an immediate need to spot clean your couch, check out the article How to Clean Upholstery for cloth couches orHow to Clean Microfiber for microfiber couches. If all you’re wanting is a routine cleaning, keep reading. Start by removing any pillows or decorative blankets from your couch.
  2. sprinkling baking powder on couchSteps for cleaning a cloth couch. Sprinkle a healthy dusting of a fresh container of baking soda over your couch. Let that sit for an hour or two to absorb any smells. Once the baking soda has had a chance to do its job, use the hose attachment of your vacuum to get the baking soda off the couch. If you have a particularly smelly region, such as where a pet may have marked his territory, pour baking soda directly onto the spot. Lay down a layer thick enough that you can’t see the couch beneath. Cover it with a cotton cloth so it won’t be disturbed, and let it sit overnight. The next morning, vacuum it up. That should take care of the problem. If not, check out How to Clean Urine.
  3. leather couchCleaning couches made of leather. This process is a little trickier, but it’s not rocket science. In depth coverage is handled in the article How to Clean Leather, but I’ll give you an abbreviated version here. Before you go whole hog on the cleaning, you’ll want to test on a patch of leather that’s out of view to see if there is any damage or discoloration. Start by gathering a mild dish detergent or hand soap, olive oil, room temperature tap water, and a few clean cloths.
  4. wiping leatherSteps for cleaning a leather couch. Take one of your rags, soak it completely, and squeeze it out so that it’s merely damp. Add a few drops of a very mild soap of your choice (I recommend using Seventh Generation hand wash) to the rag, and work it into the rag. You’ll also want to prep another damp cloth for wiping up the soapy residue. Proceed to scrub the couch clean, and then wipe the soapy residue away with your fresh, damp cloth. Use a third, dry cloth to wipe up any remaining water or soap. It’s a good idea to treat your leather couch with a few drops of olive oil on a dry rag, and rubbing it into the couch. I said a few drops. Too much oil will cause your leather to become greasy and slick.
  5. brown suede couchCleaning couches made of suede. Suede is the mother of all couch cleaning problems. They are expensive enough to begin with, and getting a suede couch professionally cleaned is very costly. My best advice is to not panic if something soils your suede couch. Take a deep breath before you begin. For a more in depth article, please read How to Clean Suede. I will describe a shortened version of the method here.
  6. suede eraser and brushSteps for cleaning a suede couch. This is going to be a long process, so stick with me. Deodorize use the baking soda method I describe in the cloth couch section above. For straight up cleaning, you’re going to need a suede brush and suede eraser. If you don’t have these items and you own a suede couch, you’ll want to go out right now and purchase them. These two things will be invaluable for the life of your couch. First, use the suede brush to get nap nice and fuzzy. Once that is done, use the suede eraser on the affected area. For spills, blot the excess liquid with a towel, taking care not to press too hard otherwise you will set the stain, and let it dry. Follow that with the suede brush and eraser process. For deep set stains, you can use a fine grain sandpaper to buff it out, but be very cautious or risk damaging your couch.

Protection is Key

Now, despite the plastic story, I’m not saying it isn’t a good idea to protect your couch. It will extend the couch’s life, and since a new unit can be a bit pricey, this is a good thing. There are many spray-on protectors available for cloth couches, and treating your leather couch with olive oil will help protect it, as well. They even make a suede protector for suede couches. There are plenty of options available if you look for them.

Nontoxic Couch Protection Options

can of scotchgardScotchgard Fabric & Upholstery Protector.Another fine 3M product, my family has been using Scotchgard protectors for years, but this one is especially near and dear to my heart. It’s a new formula specifically designed to be environmentally friendly. It’s water-based and scent-free, making it perfect for protecting your cloth or suede couch.

spray bottle of odor gotta goOdor Gotta Go.From Eco-Living Friendly brands, this is a viable alternative to baking soda, though I would only recommend it for cloth couches. It’s nontoxic, environmentally friendly, and works exceedingly well.

bottle of leather honeyLeather Honey.A potential alternative to olive oil for treating your leather. It’s nontoxic, water repellent, and made specifically for use on all kinds of leather products, including couches. Note that while I said it is nontoxic, but I can’t claim that it is all natural. Use it as sparingly as possible when you’re treating your leather. When you get to the end of your jar, be sure to use every last bit before disposal. If you go this route, you can order bottles of Leather Honey from Amazon.