Basic Upholstery Cleaning

The basics of uholstery cleaning

Keeping your upholstered fabrics clean and looking new is easier than you thought with these simple tips.

Basic Upholstery Cleaning

1. The basics

  • Vacuum regularly with upholstery attachment tools: the broad-throated one to dislodge dust from flat surfaces, including cushions; and the crevice tool to reach the inner corners.
  • Turn over loose seat and back cushions and throw pillows every few weeks to distribute the wear evenly.
  • Unless you have a washable slipcover, never remove and wash cushion covers — the zippers are there solely to aid the "dressing" process as the piece is manufactured.

2. Cleaning codes

Many new sofas and chairs come with a care label indicating the type of cleaning required. The code classifications are "W," safe to clean with water or water-based cleaners; "S," dry clean or spot clean with dry cleaning solvents; "W-S," safe for water or solvent; and "X," clean only with brush or vacuum.

If the spot or stain is small and the fabric has a "W" cleaning code and has no stain- or soil-resistant finish, then you may try removing the spot yourself. Whatever you intend to use to clean the spot, always pre-test on a hidden area first.

3. When to call a professional

In most cases, a professional's service will be needed to remove bad spots and stains, and deeply ingrained soil. If a friend cannot recommend someone, consult the Yellow Pages under "Furniture Cleaning." Typical methods offered will be steam cleaning, dry cleaning and dry foam cleaning. Be aware that any cleaning procedure will destroy the original protective soil-resistant coating on your upholstery. You should apply a new stain-resistant finish; be aware that it won't be as effective as the factory-applied one.

4. Pre-test a cleanser

Working in a hidden area of the upholstery, such as the back side of a skirt or under a cushioned area, pre-test your dry-cleaning fluid or homemade cleaner. If the solution does not spot the fabric when you test it, you have a chance at success in removing the accidental spot. If the solution causes a problem on its own, do not proceed. Instead, blot out as much of the problem as possible and turn the job over to a professional, the sooner the better.

5. Pre-treat slipcover spots

The arms and backs of washable slipcovers will probably pick up the most soil. If necessary, try pre-treating these areas after removing the slipcover from the furniture but before washing.

  • With a hand mixer, blend 50 millilitres (1⁄4 cup) liquid laundry detergent in 250 millilitres (one cup) of water until it foams up to the consistency of whipped cream.
  • Spread the suds over the soiled area and gently rub them into the fabric.
  • When you see dirt lifting, scrape off the dirty suds with a spatula.
  • Repeat if necessary.

6. How to clean slipcovers

Slipcovers should always be professionally dry cleaned unless they are clearly marked "washable."

  • Give your slipcovers a good shake outdoors before you put them in the washer and check to see if pre-treating for stains is needed. Always wash all the pieces at the same time (though it may take several machine loads) so the colour stays even.
  • Dry on medium to low heat; don't line dry because the weight of the slipcover may distort the fabric.
  • Slipcovers will fit best if you take them out of the dryer before they are completely dry.
  • Put the slipcovers on the frame or cushions while they are still slightly damp.
  • Smooth them into place, straightening seams and pinching pleats by hand or with a hand-steamer.

These tips will guide you through the basics of properly cleaning upholstered material.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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