Tips for cleaning and removing stains from upholstery

Upholstery poses a cleaning challenge, since it almost always covers some sort of padding — be it cotton batting or foam rubber. Even when upholstery material can be removed from the padding, if the upholstery shrinks, it may not fit back on the cushion. So you need to clean without soaking the padding beneath.

Tips for cleaning and removing stains from upholstery

1. Regular maintenance

  • Vacuum upholstery regularly to remove dust and the dust mites it harbours.
  • Use an upholstery attachment with a gentle brush end, so you don't damage the upholstery material, and use the crevice tool attachment for nooks and crannies.
  • If your upholstered piece is stuffed with feathers, do not vacuum it unless it is lined with a down-proof ticking. Otherwise, you might suck the feathers out while you're cleaning.
  • If you don't have any vacuum-cleaner attachments, brush the dust away with a soft-bristled brush at least once a month.
  • Dust, when it's moistened or ground in, can stain upholstery.

2. For more thorough cleaning

  • To remove stains, your upholstery will need washing.
  • First, check the upholstery manufacturer's suggestions on the care label instructions. This label will tell you whether you should use a water-based shampoo, a dry-cleaning solvent or neither of the two.
  • Next, pick an inconspicuous spot on the upholstery and pretest whatever cleaning technique is recommended.
  • If there is shrinking, bleeding or running colours, contact a professional cleaner. If not, you can assume it's safe to clean it.

3. To make your own upholstery shampoo

  • Mix 7 ml (11/2 tsp) of dishwashing liquid per 1 litre (1 quart) of warm water. Make suds by squeezing a sponge in the solution.
  • Scoop the suds off the top, applying them sparingly with the sponge to the upholstery.
  • Rub gently in the direction of the fabric's grain.
  • Rather than letting the suds dry as you would a commercial shampoo, work on a small area at a time, lightly rinsing each area as you go with a clean, damp sponge. Again, avoid soaking the fabric.
  • Make sure you rinse out all of the suds from the fabric, or the residue will cause the fabric to soil faster.

4. If the fabric calls for dry-cleaning only

  • If the upholstery is portable, have it professionally cleaned.
  • If, however, you are cleaning a stain — or if the upholstery is part of a large piece of furniture — you can do it yourself, using a commercial dry cleaning solvent. Moisten a clean, white cloth with the solvent and use that to draw the stain out.
  • Blot repeatedly — never rub. Rubbing can stretch or damage the texture of the fabric.
  • Use solvents sparingly and in a well-ventilated area. Don't use them on upholstery filled with latex foam rubber padding, because the solvent can dissolve the padding.

5. Upholstery stain-removal basics

  • Here are some general tips for removing stains from upholstery:
  • Remove as much of the stain as you can by blotting with paper towels or scraping with a dull knife.
  • When blotting up a large stain, always blot from the edge of the stain to the centre to contain it.
  • Avoid rubbing or pushing the stain deeper into the upholstery.
  • To dry upholstery that has been rinsed with water, lay a wad of paper towels on the spot and place a weight, such as a brick or a heavy book, on the pile of paper towels. (Put the brick in a plastic bag or on a piece of foil to prevent colour transfer from the brick to the upholstery.) Allow the upholstery to dry and then remove the paper towels.
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