How to Clean Upholstery

A person shampooing the backseat upholstery.

Remember the first couch you ever acquired all by yourself? I’m not talking about the one from the garage that your parents sent with you when you moved away from home for the first time. I’m not even talkin’ that seventies floral print one that you acquired from your <insert crazy relative here>. No. That stuff was quality. I’m talkin’ that torn-up, mouse–urine laden, red faux crushed-velvet sofa that you went out and commandeered all by your little lonesome. Remember? It’s the one you picked up off the curb at 3:00 a.m. after eight beers down at the Corner Bar. Or maybe you even paid a little something for it. Maybe it actually came from dropping a fifteen-dollar bill at the local consignment shop. Wherever it came from and whatever it looked like, chances are it came with a little more than you bargained for. Chances are the upholstery stains alone added 8.4 pounds of self-procured comfort. Chances are . . . you’re still sitting on that couch, and it’s time to do something about it

Here’s the deal: my first couch was no gem either. In fact, it’s entirely possible that I might have “borrowed” it from the student lounge on the 12th floor of the dormitory I lived in. It’s also possible that my burning pride over my new acquisition was the only reason I could actually bring myself to sit on the stain-ridden thing. If I hadn’t finally noticed that all of my friends (except Nils) kept choosing to sit on the counter instead of my stained couch, it probably wouldn’t have been long until Nils was all I had left. And so, with a quick phone call for some grandmotherly wisdom and a little research, I picked up some pretty good furniture cleaning tips. So, sit back (carefully) and learn a thing or two on how to clean upholstery naturally.

Furniture Upholstery Cleaning

  1. rubber scraper and metal spoonStart your upholstery cleaning by getting rid of the big chunks. First, if there are any dry crusty chunks on or around the upholstery stains you are cleaning, carefully scrape them off using the edge of a spoon. If you are lucky enough to get to the stain quickly and whatever goo got spilled on it is still wet, use the edge of a rubber spatula to get as much of it off as you can. Be extra care not to rub it in.
  2. vacuuming upholsteryNext, so that those dried chunks don’t get ground in later, grab the vacuum and go over the entire piece of furniture. Don’t be afraid to pull out a little of that OCD we all carry around with us because you want to get it all. Most vacuum cleaners come with a dusting brush attachment that connects to the hose. If you have it, use it. If you don’t, do what you can with what you’ve got or get yourself an old-school dusting brush. Any hardware store will have one. If you are dealing with a stain that’s still wet, skip this step and go to the next one. If your stain is on a removable cushion, remove that cushion before cleaning it.
  3. mixing cleanerIt’s now time to make your very own natural upholstery cleaner. And I gotta tell ya; this truly is the fun part. Simple, too. First grab a ¼ cup measuring cup and fill it with your favorite natural/biodegradable dish detergent and pour it into a mixing bowl with 1 cup of warm water. Next—here comes the fun part—use a handheld or electric mixer to beat the soap and water into a nice thick meringue-like foam.
  4. sudsing brush on upholsteryBring on the suds! After you have thoroughly read, understood ,and probably disregarded the cleaning instructions suggested by the manufacturer (not that that’s what I’m telling you to do), it’s time to get down and foamy. Using a soft bristled brush, gently rub some of the foam into the stain and watch as the dirt and grime lifts out of the fabric and into the foam. Remove the soiled foam with a rubber spatula.
  5. wiping away sudsRinse (wipe) away the suds. If you don’t have one, get yourself a clean white cloth and dampen it with fresh clean water. Rinse the spot you just cleaned by gently but thoroughly wiping away any leftover suds. Rinse the suds out of your rag at least once during the process. After everything is dry, examine the spot you cleaned to see if the process needs to be repeated.
  6. cushion in front of radiatorDry thoroughly before use. Now that your furniture is clean, you don’t want to mess it up even worse by allowing it to mildew. Keep all cushions and pillows separate for quicker drying. Once you are 174% positive that everything is completely dry, go ahead and put it all back together and enjoy. As always, make sure this entire process is first tried on an inconspicuous spot of your furniture so you can test for color fastness and shrinkage.

Precautions for Cleaning Upholstery Fabrics

When it comes time to clean upholstery, use only natural cleaners. There are several reasons for this. Most notable is the fact that many commercial upholstery cleaners and detergents contain toxic/hazardous substances (acetone) or possible carcinogens such as nitrilotriacetic acid. Also, many of these same products contain petroleum-based chemicals that leave a sticky film on your fabric that will eventually attract dirt. Finally, the method outlined above is just plain cheaper. A bottle of good eco-friendly dish detergent is generally under $3.00, and when you’re done with all of your furniture upholstery cleaning, you’ll have some leftover for all those dishes that have been piling up.

  • Don’t use too much water. Be very careful not to use too much of the wet stuff when you clean upholstery. An overabundance of water can leave water stains and cause the fabric to shrink.
  • Avoid getting water on metal components. This includes any and all buttons, snaps, and adornments. If you’re cleaning a recliner, make sure to avoid levers and gears, too. The last thing you want to do is cause the metal bits in your furniture to rust. Not only is it ugly but it can lead to rust stains on the fabric.
  • Prevention is best. I know it sounds simple, but really, just be a little thoughtful. Vacuum your furniture regularly. If company is coming and they have kids, cover the furniture. If you have dogs, keep ’em off the couch. I know it can be difficult but try putting a bed on the floor for them. If you’re not down with the bed, place a blanket at one end of the couch or on the dog’s favorite chair. Not only will it help protect the furniture but it will also make it a little more comfortable for the pooch.

Natural Furniture Cleaners

Spray Bottle of Howard NaturalsHoward Naturals Upholstery Cleaner is one of many organic furniture cleaners that can be used on furniture upholstery and auto upholstery. It uses vegetable-derived soaps for removing dirt, food, and grime from furniture and rugs. You can order spray bottles of Howard Natural from Amazon.

Bottle of Begley's BestBegley’s Best Spot Remover cleans upholstery, carpet, fabrics, and clothing using vegetable-based organic ingredients. It comes in an easy to use spray bottle and contains no perfumes, fragrances ,and definitely no phosphates.

Package of EnzawayEnzAway Spot Remover by Restore the Earth is another product made by a company committed to using all natural and biodegradable ingredients. Not only is this a great product but they’re keepin’ it extra green by allowing you to refill the empty containers at Restore Refill Stations.