How to Clean and Care for Fabric Upholstery : Simple tips

I have always loved fabric texture for as long as I can remember, so when my husband suggested buying a faux leather couch, I would have none of it – I wanted a pure textile-covered couch. I won, of course. Not too much time has passed, and I can already see stains. 

Stains are not the only thing that plagues fabric upholstered furniture. Dust is another villain. And a very persistent one. The airborne dirt and dust mites will settle in the small crevices of the upholstery fabric weave and hide there forever, causing allergies and irritations. Then there is mold, the horror of all horrors.

How to clean upholstery at home

Start caring before you buy

First and foremost, try to buy fabric upholstery that is marked ‘washable’. If it is not, there are ways to clean, but it almost always involves someone else, not you.

Careless cleaning can cause shrinking and color changes and worse additional stains; so be extra vigilant and when in doubt, stop and trust an expert.

And if possible, avoid pure white fabric upholstery, unless you are queen Elizabeth. In which case you would not be reading this article and your housekeeper could teach me a thing or two or a lot.

Avoid buying fabrics with dyes which may run. Dark colors, contrasting fabrics, bright prints, special patterns, all of them look beautiful but you have to be aware that the dyes that make them special might bleed.

You can ask the salesperson to give you a guarantee with these fabrics or check yourself somehow.(You may have to be a little sneaky here by testing it yourself or be ruthless in asking him to do it for you). Fugitive dyes will bleed and may cause you nightmare for the life of that furniture

Here are the other ways that you can take care of your fabric upholstered furniture.

Caring for your upholstered furniture


Dealing with dust

The dust has to be removed frequently (once every week is best but fortnightly cleaning also would do if you are busy) otherwise it can become embedded and get very hard to remove. It can look soiled before long. Dark fabrics especially look dirty with dust. 

For dusting of your fabric upholstery, you can use a nice handy vacuum with the proper attachments to clean dust from fabric (attachment with a soft brush for surface and tube like attachment for reaching nooks and corners). If you do not have a vacuum, use a nylon, soft but stiff bristle brush. 

Loose dirt is easy to brush out. You can use the vacuum brush to take all the dust and dirt without it polluting the rest of your house. Frequent vacuuming is recommended for fabric upholstery to prevent dust buildup. 

Dust is always in the air and it almost always chooses to settle on your favorite couch.

For easy cleaning, I have this small handy brush. When the fabric couch looked absolutely fine, I brushed with this brush and came up with this. I never knew I was sitting on this much dirt.


The best thing about this brush is that dust is trapped inside like a vacuum.

If there is pet hair on the couch use a lint roller for a quick pick up ; even the vacuum brush will do that. If you do not have a lint roller or a vacuum wet a small piece of sponge and then move it in a circular motion over the fabric surface – you will get the hair out this way. 

If you have fabric that has a pile or is a flocked fabric with raised soft piled designs, you should not clean it in any other way at home than to use this soft nylon-bristled brush. Use this to remove the dust from the fabric, gently so that the raised designs are not coming out along with the dirt.

If you have neither brush nor vacuum, dampen a soft cloth (twist and remove all water after wetting) and then dust the furniture with this. 

Cleaning codes for Furniture

If you live in the USA, you may know that there is a cleaning code set for the furniture industry. It provides all the information you need for the best furniture cleaning methods for that particular type – which cleaning method is safest for the fabric. It is usually marked on a tag kept on the furniture. The main code letters are W, S, W-S, and X.

Cleaning Code W 

This fabric can be cleaned only with a water-based product. You can use a mild shampoo or upholstery cleaner. Do not use any solvents

Cleaning Code: S

S is for Solvent. You can spot clean only with a water-free dry cleaning solvent. Do not use water. Dry cleaning is recommended.

Cleaning Code: WS

You can clean this fabric with a mild dry cleaning solvent (for oil-based stains) or a water-based upholstery shampoo or foam from a mild detergent (for water-based stains).

Cleaning Code X

You have to clean this fabric upholstery without the help of any water or solvent-based cleaners. You can vacuum or use a non-metallic, stiff bristle brush to remove dust. 

Cleaning Code: WW

You can clean this fabric only with a water-based cleaner.

Cleaning code: DC

This is marked for fabrics that are Dry Clean only.

Cleaning code: F

This is marked for fabrics that are Dry Clean only – Dry clean only with petroleum solvents or fluorocarbon only

Cleaning code: P

This is marked for fabrics which are Dry Clean only – But do not use trichloroethylene.

Cleaning code: SW

Dry Cleaning is recommended. You may also clean with water-based cleaning agents, foam or pure solvents (petroleum distillate-based products). 

If you have leather furniture you can read the tips given in this post for cleaning. If you have faux leather furniture you can read the tips given in this post for cleaning – 10 Frequently Asked Questions on Faux leather care.

How to clean fabric upholstery

Regular thorough cleaning

If you want to clean your upholstery more thoroughly you may want to use some solution – water based or solvent based. Check out the tag on your furniture to know which solution suits your fabric. 

If covers are removable, you can wash them. How you do it depends on the fabric you have. Most can be washed in the washing machine with a delicate cycle unless it is marked dry clean only.

Most upholstery fabrics have a loose weave. They have to be treated as you would a delicate fabric. If you have a blended fabric, look at the blends, and treat the whole fabric according to which fiber is more delicate in the mix. 

If your upholstery is made of Rayon fabric you will have to give for dry cleaning. Rayon is a dangerous fabric.  

You can clean your fabric-covered furniture with a foam made from dish washing liquid, regular shampoo, or upholstery shampoo. These are water-based and should only use if your fabric upholstery mentions that it can be cleaned with water-based solutions.

This foam can be made by agitating the solution in a vessel till foam is formed. The foam is used instead of the solution directly because if solution is used directly it can drench the stuffing inside the upholstery. If the solution is used as it is it may be of too much strength and may cause more damage than good.

Some fabrics cannot be cleaned with water based solutions. For using a solvent based solution (commercial dry cleaning solvent), dip a clean fabric in the solvent and use this for spot cleaning – do not pour directly on the fabric.

Do not use solvents on upholstery with latex/rubber stuffing.

Whatever you use, use it first on a small area which is at the back or under – you do not want any unpleasant shock.

Do not use anything that will remove color (bleach), or anything toxic.

Cotton fabric can shrink when you clean with a water-based cleaning agent. Put back the covers before they are completely dry (just a little damp) otherwise, it may not fit your couch anymore – however much you jump up and down in frustration.

Drycleaning ?

You may encounter some genuine problems in cleaning Fabric upholstered furniture at home and you may have to decide on giving the upholstery for drycleaning. When you clean Rayon and Silk upholstery with water-based solutions there is a possibility of water spots. Cotton, Rayon, and Linen may shrink when water is applied resulting in puckers.

It is very difficult to remove stains from fabrics like Nylon, polyester. If there are oil stains like fats, cooking oil, tar etc they will respond well only to professional dry cleaning. 

A word of caution in cleaning upholstery at home

Dry-cleaning solvents may be flammable and/or toxic; Use it only if you know what you are doing and only under controlled conditions. And always test whatever solution you are using to clean in an inconspicous place first. 

Related posts :Silk care, Linen care; Faux leather care ; Leather care.

How to tackle Mold

Ensure that your furniture is kept in a room with good ventilation and a regularly maintained air conditioning system. This will prevent mold build-up. Mold is very dangerous and can cause a lot of harmful indoor pollution.

After cleaning, remember that furniture needs to be thoroughly dry. No wetness should be left unattended. Use fan on full force, open windows to let air in – anything to dry the dampness from the furniture. It should be thoroughly dry within 24 hours of cleaning to prevent mold growth.

To hasten the drying you can use a hairdryer with the heat at the lowest setting kept a distance from the fabric – remember not to blow on one site continuously; distribute heat.

If you have a fabric with nap you will need to use a soft brush to set the nap.

For more details, you can read this post How to remove mildew/mold spots from clothes .

How to tackle stains – oil and water-based stains

If you have spilled something on your furniture, you will have to deal with it as soon as it is made. If there are solid particles scrape it out with a sharp-edged something (paper).

Step 1) Blot liquid with a tissue or cotton cloth. Blotting means not pressing, just absorbing the water away from the fabric. When you press, the stain will set deep into the fabric and it will be difficult to remove the stain. Step 2) After this use a sponge with a mild detergent to clean the space. Step 3) Again blot with towels/tissues.

You can use upholstery shampoo/dishwashing liquid to spot clean. But before that use simple regular temperature water (not hot or cold) to clean. If that is not working use foam from detergent to clean. If that is also not working use undiluted liquid detergent to spot clean. Remember that undiluted detergent can remove color.

You should not try to remove any stain spots on fabric with this water based solution on fabrics which are marked dry-clean only. You can use, or mild dry cleaning solvent, If you have upholstery which is not meant to be cleaned with water (for eg. if it is silk it may develop water spots)

You can spot clean these fabrics with raised designs with water-based solutions but do not use dry cleaning solvent.  Overuse of force will remove the pile. These may be best left to the professionals to be cleaned as your home-based solutions may destroy the surface texture.

Once in a while you can call a professional furniture cleaning service for their expert cleaning – they usually know their stuff.

If something hard is stuck on your fabric use a flat scraper or something like that to scrape off ; But if it is not disappearing even after all your mechanisms, use the ice technique. Rub the area with a zip lock bag with ice cubes inside. This method is said to make the thing hard and easier to remove. 

Read more on stain removing tips – Home remedies for removing stains from clothes ; Remove inkstains ; Remove blood stains ; Remove tea stains; Remove urine smell ; Remove color bleeding ; Remove turmeric stains

How to minimize wear and tear on upholstery

When you use something frequently, some wear and tear are inevitable. There is always a spot on your couch that is your favorite. Maybe you can see the tv better sitting there, or you like to keep your hand on the hand rest just there, of the place is near the bookstand. And if you sit in this same place every time, every day without fail, there will be consequences. You can rotate the furniture to prevent this type of wear and tear. You can do this with cushions, throws, carpets, etc as well. Flocked fabrics are susceptible to wear and tear more than any other.

Protecting your fabric upholstery

Many people cover their fabric upholstery with other removable covers that can be washed conveniently (slipcovers, removable cushion covers) but this is not a very attractive solution for many. You bought your furniture for enjoying but now you are covering it up.

Do remember that strong sunlight can fade the vivid color of your fabric upholstery. Other culprits are heat, water. Water should be blotted out immediately as it may cause big round marks (water spots). These water stains when permanent are really not so great looking.  

If any indoor plants are touching the fabric upholstery, remove them from there immediately. I do not have to explain why.

If you are eating food ( which is inevitable if your dining chairs are covered in fabric) try to use anything (force of will, napkin) to prevent spillage. It is better to prevent than to cure.

Do not leave pens open. I usually ask my kids to keep all their writing and painting activities away from my couch.

Do not leave colorful scarves and other brightly printed fabric (bags, purses, etc) on the couch. What if it is wet and the dye of your couch starts to bleed.

Do not use any sort of chemical composition near the fabric upholstered furniture. This includes applying perfumes, putting on nail polish, removing with remover. Perfume may spot, especially if you have a dark-colored fabric – in which case, it may fade.

Keep fire and heat away. This includes lit-up candles, phones and other electronic devices left on the couch, etc.

Apply Protective finish

A good quality fabric protection finish can keep your fabric upholstery intact for many many years. Scotchguard protecting spray is an example.

You can buy pre-treated upholstery fabric with a special stain repellent finish – this treatment makes a coating that acts as a shield over the fabric’s surface. It is done at the fabric mill.

Or you can apply a professional product that has proven effective in repelling oily stains and water-based stains on fabric. The pre-treated fabric is more durable than the DIY solution but it is better than no having any finish.

There are two types of fabric protectors – Fluorocarbons and Silicones. Scotch guard spray and Teflon finish are fluorocarbon-based fabric protectors; they protect the fabric from oil-based and water-based spills. Silicone stain repellents only protect against water spills.

Give for expert cleaning by professional service

Get references for any professional service you find on the internet and also get them to explain to you what they will be doing to your furniture. 

If nothing else works you can always do re-upholstering. That is the beauty of a fabric upholstered furniture. A complete change of decor. 

If your furniture is under warranty, or if you are unsure about what to do, please follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning

Reference : How to clean practically anything (Consumer reports books).

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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