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Clean upholstered furniture like a pro

Clean upholstered furniture like a pro


Spill something on your couch?

If you’ve ever saved up to buy a nice couch or armchair — or have one you inherited and absolutely love — you know how much it hurts the first time a glass of wine tips all over your favorite couch. First, don’t panic! A stain doesn’t mean the end for your couch. Just learn how to combat tough stains, and while you’re at it, get in the habit of regularly cleaning your furniture to keep it looking its best.

Vacuum your furniture, not just the floors.

Our number one DIY upholstery cleaning tip? Vacuum your upholstered furniture often, since dirt not only affects the appearance of your furniture, it can also wear away upholstery fibers. Use a clean, dry upholstery attachment, or any stiff-bristle brush, to loosen dried dirt and debris. Use the crevice tool for hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.

Baby your furniture with wipes.

Baby wipes are surprisingly effective for quick DIY upholstery cleaning. They offer a nice mixture of water and soap, use very little moisture and are gentle. Keep a travel-pack stashed in the living room for instant spot removal.

Know your upholstery codes.

Your piece probably came with a DIY upholstery cleaning code. “W” means it’s OK to use water. “S” means skip the water and use a nonwater-based solvent, such as alcohol, instead. “S/W” means you’re OK using either solvents or water, and “X” means use neither — vacuum only.

Treat your stains frequently.

If your furniture doesn’t come pretreated with a fabric protector to repel stains, apply one yourself (or have an expert do it for you). If it does, ask how long it will last. “Many of the treatments on the market must be reapplied every few years to retain their stain-fighting powers,” says Melissa Homer, chief cleaning officer of MaidPro. Keeping it treated is key in maximizing the life of your furniture, she says.

Develop a need for spot-cleaning speed.

The sooner you treat a spot, the better your chances of removing it. If you catch it right away, says MyClean COO Kenny Schultz, you may be able to get away with simply blotting with a microfiber cloth.

Don’t scrub stains.

Don’t scrub, even when you’re dealing with tough, set-in stains. Scrubbing could actually grind the stain further into the fibers or damage the fabric. Better to let the stain remover sink in and do its thing, then gently blot away.

Don’t oversaturate stains.

“Many people believe that the more moisture you use, the better. This is not always true,” says Ron Holt, CEO of Two Maids & a Mop. Try a specially formulated solvent (water-free) spot remover first. Many upholstery sprays are inexpensive and work beautifully on most stains. If you move on to a water-based approach, Holt says, use it sparingly.

Try a DIY spot remover.

If water is safe to use on your upholstery, there are many DIY upholstery cleaning tactics you can try. Vacuum before attempting removal, says Two Maids & a Mop’s Holt, to reduce the risk of spreading the stain. (Always test in an inconspicuous spot first.)

  • General stain removal: Start with club soda. Dab it on gently with a clean, white cloth. Two more easy options: A little vinegar, left to sit for about 15 minutes before blotting with clear water, or plain old soap and water.
  • Grease/oil stains: Sprinkle with salt, let sit, then dab with soap and water. Alternatively, try using rubbing alcohol instead of salt.
  • Coffee stains: Blot with a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar with a little dish detergent.
  • Crayon stains: Work in a dab of non-gel toothpaste, then rinse with clear water.
  • Blood stains: Blot with hydrogen peroxide, then water.
  • Red wine stains: Sprinkle with salt. Blot with hydrogen peroxide or lemon juice. Blot with water to rinse.

Banish pet hair using just your hands.

To remove pet hair, put on a pair of rubber gloves and run them over your furniture, says Leslie Reichert, aka The Cleaning Coach. “The gloves create static that pulls the hair off to the edge of the piece, where you can easily vacuum it off,” she says.

Treat blankets and throw pillows too.

Don’t forget the blankets and throw pillows! Stick with the gentle cycle on cold. If the pillow covers are removable, remove and wash them inside-out. Be sure to dry pillows thoroughly, as inner dampness can lead to mold. If you’re not sure your pillows are washable, freshen them with a spritz of water, spiked with your favorite essential oil, followed by a tumble in the dryer with a couple of tennis balls.

(Better Homes and Gardens is a magazine and website devoted to ideas and improvement projects for your home and garden, plus recipes and entertaining ideas. Online at

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