Your Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning a Couch, From Steaming to Washing by Hand

We included cleaning instructions for fabric, leather, and microfiber iterations.

Modern scandinavian living room interior

There are many areas of our homes that we clean regularly—think bed sheets, toilets, and kitchen counters—but other parts often go neglected. If your couch is one of them, it's likely because you have no clue where to start when it comes to cleaning the bulky piece of furniture. Despite this fact, giving your couch a regular, thorough cleaning is necessary to reduce the amount of dirt, pet dander, and germs in your space.

"It's important to clean our couches regularly for a number of reasons, but preventing the spread of bacteria is a good one," says Vera Peterson, the president of Molly Maid, a Neighborly company. "Thanks to muddy paws, sticky hands, and food particles, your couch is trapping contaminants that could irritate your skin."

Although cleaning your couch may feel like a big task, with the proper tools and some patience, you'll be able to restore the piece to its former glory.

How to Prepare Your Couch for Cleaning

To ensure you reap the most benefits from cleaning your couch, there are a few initial steps you must take to get it ready.

Read the Cleaning Instructions

Before committing to a cleaning method, you must first learn what types of products your couch can handle. If yours has removable cushion covers, Peterson says you can zip those off and put them right into the washing machine. But let's say you have a leather couch with covers that aren't removable—if so, you should first check its label, which will likely feature one of the below cleaning codes, for cleaning instructions.

  • W: Water can be used when cleaning
  • WS: A dry cleaning or mild detergent and steam vacuum can be used
  • X: No water can be used; vacuum only
  • S: Clean with dry cleaner detergent

Remove Stray Debris

Before applying any cleaner, remove any debris hiding in or on your couch. "Thoroughly vacuuming your couch is the best way to prepare for cleaning, as it removes pet hair, dust, and allergens," says Madeline Miller, the product specialist at The Laundress. "Start by removing the cushions and vacuuming away crumbs and buildup. Then, replace the cushions and give those a thorough vacuum as well." She says this is particularly useful for couches with non-removable cushions, as those tend to be more difficult to clean.

Patch Test Your Method

The cleaning method you opt for will depend on the type of couch you have, but no matter what fabric you're working with, you'll need to test your technique before committing. Miller says to do this on a small, hidden area before using any water-based methods. "Do not continue cleaning if the water or product leaves a mark or creates discoloration, the treated area is cleaner and brighter than the rest of the fabric, or if the fabric ripples or wrinkles," she says. "If you see any of those reactions, do not proceed with spot treating and have a professional clean the item, instead."

Scandinavian interior design living room
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How to Clean a Fabric Couch

Don't let dirt and dander linger on your fabric-covered couch—instead, give it a quick clean using a DIY cleaner.

1. Apply Baking Soda

After vacuuming the couch, Peterson says to sprinkle the entire couch with baking soda and let it sit for at least 20 minutes or up to an hour. "Using a brush attachment, vacuum the couch to remove the baking soda," she says.

2. Make a DIY Cleaner

While the baking soda sits, Peterson says to make an all-purpose cleaner by combining 1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, and 1 cup of warm water in a small spray bottle. Next, add 1 tablespoon baking soda and quickly screw the top onto the bottle. "Beware that baking soda and vinegar will create a lot of bubbles when combined," Peterson says.

3. Wipe Down the Couch

Spray a cloth with the solution and wipe down the entire couch for a good, deep clean. Alternatively, you can just dab it onto specific spots and stains as you see fit. Let the fabric dry. "Do not sit on the couch for a few hours or until the couch had dried," Peterson says.

Leather sofa next to table with sunflowers in grey living room interior with posters

How to Clean a Leather Couch

When determining how to clean a leather couch, Peterson says to keep in mind that methods will vary significantly from one couch to another. "These cleaning instructions are specifically intended for cleaning protected leather," she says. "If you have an unprotected leather couch, consult the company's suggestions for cleaning."

1. Spot-Treat Stains

The beauty of a leather couch is that if you spill liquid on it, you can quickly wipe it up. However, if you're dealing with stains that have been there for a while, you'll need to call in some reinforcements. Peterson says try and blend the stain with the surrounding area by dampening a soft white cloth with water and wiping outward from the center of the stain. "Be gentle as you wipe and use drier areas of the cloth as you work outward to blend the stain," she says.

2. Make a DIY Cleaner

Once you've followed the preparation steps, wipe the entire couch down with a clean, dry microfiber cloth. Next, create a cleaning solution by combining equal parts water and white vinegar in a small bucket.

3. Wipe Down the Couch

Dip a microfiber cloth into the cleaning solution so that it is damp, but not wet; then, wipe the couch down, rinsing the cloth regularly as you go, says Peterson. Dry the piece of furniture with a clean microfiber cloth.

Interior of a vintage style living room.

How to Clean a Microfiber Couch

According to Peterson, rubbing alcohol is your friend when you are cleaning most microfiber couches. The cleaning code S, for solvent, means rubbing alcohol is safe to use on your couch—but you should still patch test first.

1. Scrub With Rubbing Alcohol

Working in small sections, spray an area of the couch with rubbing alcohol and then scrub with a white or light-colored sponge (Peterson says this ensures no color transfers to the couch while you scrub). Not only will this clean the couch, but it will also remove any lingering stains.

2. Brush in Circles

Your couch should dry quickly, as alcohol evaporates rapidly. Once dry, Peterson says to use a dry scrub brush to brush the couch in a circular motion, which will fluff the fabric.

3. Remove Water Stains

While the rubbing alcohol will remove most stains, it won't be able to eliminate water spots. If your couch allows both water and solvent cleaning, Peterson says to follow the steps outlined above using distilled water. "Spray, scrub, then brush after the fabric has dried," she says.

How to Clean Couch Cushions

If you're lucky, your couch will have removable cushion covers, which Peterson says can be washed in your washing machine. "Take these off and wash them with hot water. Then dry them in the sun," she says. "It's important not to dry upholstery fabrics in the dryer with high heat, as it might shrink the fabric."

If your cushions don't have removable covers, clean them following the steps outlined above depending on your specific material.

How to Clean Couch Legs

As most couch legs are made of wood, cleaning them is relatively straightforward. "You can simply use a mild dish soap, water, and sponge to wipe down the surface," Peterson says. "But be sure to use as little water as possible when cleaning wood."

If you want to bring back the shine to couch legs, use a polish made for the type of finish on your wood. "If your couch legs are plastic or polyurethane, skip abrasive scrubbers, which could scratch the material," Peterson says. "Instead, simply spray with an all-purpose cleaner and wipe with a damp sponge or cloth."

How to Steam Clean a Couch

If you're looking for a more heavy duty couch cleaning method, try steam cleaning.

Durable Fabrics

According to Miller, using a standing or hand steamer on an everyday couch, like one made of fabric or microfiber, is a great way to neutralize odors and lift debris. "Hover the steamer over the couch and move over the entire surface, letting the steam penetrate each side of the fabric," she says. "Be sure to focus on high-contact areas like the couch arms."

Delicate Fabrics

For couches made from more delicate fabrics, like silk or velvet, Miller says to keep the steamer about 6 to 8 inches away from the fabric to avoid water marks.

How to Remove Lingering Odors

For a fabric couch, the baking soda method outlined above will remove any odors emanating from your couch—but there are also other ways to do so. In between deep cleans, Miller says to spray your couch with a refreshing fabric spray to keep it smelling nice.

Spray With Vodka

Peterson says an alternative to baking soda is vodka; spray it on the piece liberally to moisten the upholstery. "Allow it to dry outside in the sun and thoroughly vacuum after it dries," she says.

Infuse Steamer With Vinegar

Your steamer is also effective at eliminating couch odors. "Take care to ensure your steamer is thoroughly cleaned before trying this method, as it can loosen debris from inside the steamer itself," Miller says. Then fill your steamer's reservoir with two capfuls of white vinegar and steam your couch following the instructions outlined above.

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