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How to Clean Every Type of Couch

A clean couch looks better, smells better, and has a longer life span. But do you know how to clean yours correctly?

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Grey corner couch with pillows and blankets in white living room interior with windows and glass door and fresh tulips on end tableKatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images

Treat your couch right

Out of all the surfaces in your home, couches tend to get the most wear and tear. The entire family sits on them, kicks their feet up on them, and snacks on them. And if you have pets, they’re often right there alongside you, cuddling in and getting their hair everywhere. When you think about it, couches are a prime gathering spot not just for your loved ones but also for dirt, grime, crumbs, hair, and more. And that’s just one of the reasons it’s important to know how to clean a couch properly—and to do it frequently.

No matter what type of couch you own, wiping down the surface at least once a week will keep it looking great for years to come. (And don’t forget to clean under the cushions, as well!) But beware: Different materials call for different cleaning methods, and if you’re not careful, you can easily ruin your couch. That’s where this handy guide comes in. From microfiber to genuine leather to wood and metal details, here are the expert-approved tips and techniques for keeping your sofa super clean and in spectacular shape. Once you’re up to speed, find out how to clean more of the dirtiest items in your home.

microfiber couchGetty Images, via amazon.com

Microfiber couch

You know microfiber as the soft, cushy material that’s super comfortable to sit on. What you may not know is that it’s made from a synthetic blend of materials and that your cleaning approach should vary depending on the specific blend.

According to Melissa Maker, founder of the Canadian housekeeping service Clean My Space, you need to look at the care label or fabric tag for a cleaning code. Those codes are as follows:

  • W: Clean with a water-based cleaner in liquid or foam format
  • S: Clean with a solvent cleaner
  • S-W: Clean with either a solvent cleaner or water-based cleaner
  • X: Vacuum-clean only, without using any type of cleaning solution

“Water-based cleaners could include warm, soapy water to store-bought upholstery-cleaner solutions,” says Maker. “For solvent, you can use rubbing alcohol by spraying soiled areas, or you can find a solvent-based cleaner specifically for upholstery. If you are using a store-bought cleaner, check that it’s an upholstery-approved cleaner and make sure to always follow the directions on the package.”

If you’re attempting to remove a stain from a microfiber couch, Maker recommends scraping off or blotting the material first. To blot the area(s), use a clean cloth to lift out dirt and stains. After, spray the surface with the solution you need to use, according to the care label.

But wait—you’re not done yet. The spot you’ve treated may look different, and you don’t want it to stay that way. “To restore the nap (the raised, fuzzy surface) of the fabric, use the scrubby side of a Scotch-Brite Non-Scratch Scrub Sponge [and] work in a simple S pattern,” Maker says. “This simple step helps to restore the nap and make your furniture look great.”

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velvet couchGetty Images, via amazon.com

Velvet couch

Velvet is beloved for its luxurious look and feel. This textile dates back to the 14th century, and today you’ll find both cotton and synthetic varieties. Synthetic options tend to be more popular in upholstery because they’re less expensive and they tend to be easier to keep clean.

“The best way to clean velvet sofas is to vacuum up dust with a soft brush attachment—the brush will help prevent scratches,” notes Brian Sansoni, senior vice president for the American Cleaning Institute. “When your velvet gets crease marks or compresses with wear, you can use a handheld steamer or the steam setting on an iron against the grain.” One good option to try? The Conair Turbo Extreme Steam Handheld Fabric Steamer, which has more than 1,200 five-star reviews on Amazon and can also be used on curtains, clothing, and more.

For stains on a velvet couch, blot (don’t scrub) the area until it’s no longer wet. You can then use soapy water to pull the rest of the stain away, maintaining the blotting method versus scrubbing. Another pro tip from Sansoni: “Keep velvet furniture out of direct sunlight to help prevent fading, and fluff frequently.” While you’re on a cleaning kick, find out the other places you’re not vacuuming—but should be.

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genuine leather couchGetty Images. via amazon.com

Genuine leather couch

Genuine leather couches are popular not just because they’re beautiful and boast longevity, but because they’re pretty simple to clean. The key is to make sure you only use gentle, leather-approved products.

“First, lightly brush off any crumbs using a gentle cloth, and then vacuum away any additional debris,” advises Leanne Stapf, chief operating officer for the Cleaning Authority. “Next, wipe down [the leather] with a damp cloth. Keep in mind that it is best to use distilled water to avoid chlorine that can be found in tap water.”

When cleaning a genuine leather couch, Stapf says it’s important not to use too much water and to make sure you thoroughly dry the couch afterward. This routine can be done every two to four weeks. You can also introduce a leather conditioning product, such as Chamberlain’s Leather Milk Formula No. 5, which can keep the material soft, hydrated, and crack-free. If you have a self-professed neat freak in your life, check out these 25 gifts for people who can’t stop cleaning their houses.

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faux leather couchGetty Images, via walmart.com

Faux leather couch

Faux leather requires a similar approach to genuine leather. Stapf says to begin by vacuuming the surface in order to remove crumbs and dirt. Though tiny, these particles can end up scratching your couch. A handheld vacuum with a crevice attachment—such as the Roborock H6 Cordless Stick Vacuum—will make the job easier.

After vacuuming, Stapf says to mix dish soap and warm water to create a cleaning solution. “Typically, about two tablespoons of soap per gallon works best. This solution is preferred over chemical cleaners, as chemicals can easily damage the fabric or make it stiffer,” she says. “Dampen your cloth with the solution and wipe down the couch to extract dirt. Wipe down once again with a rag that only contains clean water to remove any soap. Be sure to dry off the couch to complete the cleaning process.” Here are more DIY cleaning products for every room in the house.

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silk couchGetty Images, via nordstrom.com

Silk couch

Silk couches aren’t very common, mostly because this delicate fabric is notoriously hard to keep clean. However, they’re not completely unheard of, and silk is also sometimes used for throw pillows. “Silk can be cleaned with a soft cloth and mild detergent,” says Sansoni. “However, it always is best to test a small, hidden section first, to test for colorfastness.”

When possible, it is recommended to have silk couches and pillows professionally dry-cleaned. However, if you do end up cleaning by hand, make sure to use a gentle, upholstery-specific product such as Slip Gentle Silk Wash. Warning: These are the 10 ways you don’t realize you’re over-cleaning your house.

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sythetic fiber couchGetty Images, via amazon.com

Synthetic fabric couch

Examples of synthetic materials used on couches include acrylic, polyester, nylon, and olefin. Because there’s so much variation in material, Maker recommends starting with a basic soapy water or mild detergent and testing in a small, hidden area. If a more heavy-duty cleaner is needed, make sure to find one that is upholstery-specific.

“Also, if you have a portable extraction cleaner for carpets and upholstery, you can try this as well. I like the Bissell Spot Clean Portable Carpet Cleaner,” says Maker. “Start by brushing and vacuuming, and then treat. And remember, less is always more in terms of product.” Got dogs? Review these 8 ways to get that dog smell out of the couch.

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linen couchGetty Images, via walmart.com

Linen couch

Linen is a strong, absorbent, and sophisticated-looking fabric that’s made from the flax plant. Sansoni says that because of how it’s made and its porous quality, it has natural heat- and moisture-wicking properties that make it a cozy, widely appreciated upholstery option. Regularly vacuuming this type of couch is important to prevent dust and other messes from digging into the weave of the linen. Aim for about once a week.

“Dry cleaning or other professional cleaning is recommended for a thorough cleaning, though some linens can be cleaned in the washing machine using cold water and gentle spin cycle,” says Sansoni. If cleaning at home, he recommends using a soft cloth and a mild detergent, such as Seventh Generation Free & Clear Natural Laundry Detergent. “Hang-dry the coverings, and place them back on the sofa when they are almost dry, so that they can retake the shape of the cushions.”

Use a stain guard to protect linen, and steam it to remove wrinkles or creases. Also, never rub stains or spills. Instead, use a clean, slightly damp cloth to soak up a spill. Of course, couches aren’t the only stain magnets in your home. Here’s how to remove every type of stain, from anywhere.

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wool couchGetty Images, via walmart.com

Wool couch

Wool is a popular upholstery material because it is durable and waterproof while still feeling soft to the touch. To clean wool, Sansoni says to start by vacuuming up any loose dirt. Then use a water-based detergent that’s specifically recommended for wool, like Woolite Extra Delicates Laundry Detergent. “Diluting the detergent with water will make rinsing easier,” notes Sansoni. “Use a clean, damp cloth, and avoid scrubbing, to remove cleaning solution residue. If the label says that you can use the washing machine, turn inside out beforehand.” Check out these other things you never knew you could put in the washing machine.

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wood detail couchGetty Images, via amazon.com

How to clean metal and wood details on a couch

Some couches feature metal and wood details—usually on the arms and legs. Other materials, including plastic, might be used as well. Luckily, cleaning them doesn’t require too much effort. “For non-fabric sections of the couch, create a solution of warm water and liquid dish soap to wipe it down,” advises Stapf. “Apply the solution with a cloth, but be sure it is just damp, as you do not want to apply too much water.” Wipe down with a dry cloth afterward to prevent spotting.

For wood pieces, including wooden legs, you can also use a conditioner to restore shine. Spritz a product like Weiman Furniture Polish & Wood Cleaner onto a clean cloth and then wipe the area. Speaking of wood, never use these 13 cleaning products on your wood floors.

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under cushions clean couchGetty Images, via bestbuy.com

Cleaning under and around cushions

In our discussions about how to clean a couch, all of the cleaning experts agreed that it’s important to vacuum your couch cushions. Make sure to lift them one by one to clean underneath, as well.

“Vacuuming your couch regularly every couple of weeks removes dead skin cells, dirt, and pet dander that can lead to odors and discoloration,” says Maker. “I use a handheld vacuum with a brush attachment or a mini motorized tool. (I have the Dyson v11 Outsize.) You’ll want to use a crevice tool to get into those hard-to-reach areas or any tufting, seams, or corners. Spot cleaning should always be done as needed.”

While you’re at it, don’t forget to vacuum under the couch, too. Maker says to put your heavy furniture on sliders to make the units easier to move around. Next, learn the 13 secrets of people who always have a clean house.

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Sources:

Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a freelance lifestyle reporter covering pets for Reader's Digest, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Rescue Pop. She's also a regular contributor to NBC, Real Simple, Brides, Business Insider, and other outlets. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, by way of the Indiana countryside, Wendy holds a journalism degree from the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism and another bachelor's degree in Philosophy. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter @wendyrgould.

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