The couch is where you and your loved ones gather to watch Netflix, catch up on the day, play games and more, often with drinks and snacks in hand. Because of this, it also happens to be the spot where chips, popcorn kernels and cookie crumbs land on the sofa or get trapped between the cushions. Not to mention, the occasional juice or wine spill that may happen during a rowdy board game or unfortunate accident.
Vacuuming your fabric couch or wiping down your faux leather sofa may get rid of light soil, debris and a few stray pet hairs, but in order to get rid of set-in stains, spills and pet smells you’ll need a deeper clean. Every six months or so, follow this step-by-step guide on how to clean a couch — no matter what kind of fabric it may be — by Carolyn Forte, executive director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Home Care & Cleaning Lab, to make your living room ready for another weekend of movie-watching.
Whether you’re trying to tackle a specific stain on a cushion or want to give your entire couch a refresh, the first thing you want to do is check the couch’s care tag to see what cleaning method and products are safe to use on the fabric.
The codes the upholstered furniture industry uses:
- W is the easiest to clean and means water-based cleaners are okay to use.
- W/S means that either water- or solvent-based cleaners are safe.
- S means only solvent-based cleaning chemicals should be used.
- X means do nothing more than vacuum or brush the fabric.
After checking the care tag, follow the guides below for fabric, microfiber and leather couches.
How to deep clean fabric and microfiber couches:
- Steam the couch. Use a handheld garment steamer or bursts from your steam iron to kill surface dust mites. Go over the entire sofa, allowing just the steam to touch and penetrate the fabric. If you don’t have a steamer or iron, skip this step and go straight to vacuuming.
- Vacuum the upholstery. With your vacuum’s upholstery attachment, go over the entire sofa: back, arms, skirt and cushions. If the cushions are removable, take them off and vacuum the fabric underneath, going as far under the back and arms as your vacuum can reach. With the crevice tool, go along the seams, around any buttons, and along the trim.
- Test a hidden spot. Be sure to test any upholstery cleaner or cleaning appliance you choose in a hidden area first, to be certain that it’s safe for the fabric and doesn’t cause any water spotting or color loss.
- Spot clean stains. For fabrics that can safely be cleaned with water, treat food and pet stains with an enzyme-containing formula like Bissell Professional Pet Stain & Odor Remover following package directions. In a pinch, mix together ¼ teaspoon mild dish soap with one cup of warm water. If your cushions have removable covers, unzip them and place a paper towel between the fabric and filling to absorb excess moisture. Apply the cleaner to a cloth and blot the stain carefully, working from the outside in. Once the stain is removed, dab the area with another damp cloth to rinse thoroughly and blot dry. For “S” fabrics, remove stains according to package directions with a solvent-based product such as ForceField Dry Cleaning Fluid for Fine Fabrics.
- Clean dingy arms and headrests. For water-safe fabrics, use a portable extraction cleaner like Bissell’s Little Green ProHeat Portable Cleaner. Simply dispense the cleaner and water mixture through the hose, agitate the fabric with the brush nozzle, and vacuum up the dirt into the tank. For solvent-only fabrics, it’s best to call in a professional for safe and thorough cleaning.
- Sanitize the couch. Once your sofa is clean and dry, kill lingering bacteria and eliminate odors on water-safe upholstery with a fabric sanitizing spray like, GH Seal star Tide Antibacterial Fabric Spray.
How to clean a leather couch:
Cleaning a leather couch may seem intimidating at first, but it’s fairly easy especially if there are no stains to remove. For routine cleaning, follow the steps below:
- Wipe the fabric with a microfiber cloth to get rid of crumbs or dirt.
- Vacuum the couch using the crevice tool to go along seams, around any buttons and along the trim.
- Work a leather cleaner into the leather one small area at a time, using a soft damp cloth. We like GH Seal Star Weiman Leather Cleaner and Conditioner, you can also use a mild soap solution.
- Rinse the cleaner or soap with another damp cloth until it is removed. Buff with a dry cloth. If necessary, go over arms and headrests multiple times.
- Apply a protectant to condition the leather, like GH Seal star Furniture Clinic Leather Protection Cream, to make it easier to remove future stains.
How to get smells out of couch fabric:
In between your deep cleans, freshen up your couch on a regular basis, especially as soon as it emits an unwanted stench. Whatever the reason — greasy takeout, wet dog, or messy kids — you can remove smells by sprinkling baking soda all over the sofa, or by spraying it with GH Seal Star Febreze FABRIC. Unlike some air fresheners, these products don’t just mask odors; they actually eliminate them.
More couch cleaning tips:
- If you only need to get rid of a few crumbs or stray hairs from a fabric couch, a lint roller is the easiest way to quickly nab small debris.
- For larger amounts of pet hair or crumbs, a good handheld vacuum can quickly clean up without the hassle of lugging out a full-size vacuum.
- Unfinished leather couches with stains will likely require a call to a professional to handle the job
Amanda Garrity is a lifestyle writer and editor with over seven years of experience, including five years on staff at Good Housekeeping, where she covered all things home and holiday, including the latest interior design trends, inspiring DIY ideas and gift guides for any (and every) occasion. She also has a soft spot for feel-good TV, so you can catch her writing about popular shows like Virgin River, Sweet Magnolias, Hallmark Channel’s When Calls the Heart and more.
Contributing Writer and Analyst
Jamie Kim is a consumer products expert with over 17 years of experience in areas of product development and manufacturing. She has held leading roles at both mid-size consumer goods companies and one of the most notable and largest apparel brands in the world. Jamie has contributed to several of the GH Institute Labs, including Kitchen Appliances, Media and Tech, Textiles and Home Appliances. In her free time she enjoys cooking, traveling, and working out.