Cleaning a Couch is Not as Hard as You Think, Here’s How to Do It

how to clean a couch
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Some parts of your home just attract messes. No matter how often you clean, fold and tidy up, these areas get dirty again in seemingly the blink of an eye. They also tend to be the spots where you spend the most time, and are your most relaxed self. We’re of course talking about the focal point of most living rooms, and most people’s favorite spot for at-home comfort: the couch.

The couch is probably the most multipurpose part of any home. It serves as a dining area, a play area, napping spot, movie theater and babysitter. Even if your kids know they’re not allowed to eat there, and your dog knows he’s not allowed to cuddle up, sooner or later you’re bound to have a giant spaghetti stain and a trail of paw prints lining the lather. Don’t panic, cleaning a couch might seem like a daunting task, but there are many methods for keeping this spot pristine in the face of busy families and messy hands.

A Note About Sofa Slipcovers

One foolproof way to keep your couch clean? Cover it. A good sofa slipcover will keep stains and messes from the surface of your couch, and is easier to throw in the wash than couch cushions when it needs a refresh. Plus, it’s a great design hack if you inherited your couch from in-laws whose taste leaves something to be desired.

We’ve got a whole piece on our favorite sofa slipcovers that you should definitely check out, but I’ve also pulled a few of our favorites that are worth checking out.

PureFit Stretch Sofa Slipcover

This sofa slipcover from PureFit is designed to completely cover a three-seater sofa and is made from a polyester spandex fabric blend that’s very easy to put on and pull off. It’s got a non-skid elastic bottom that’s designed to stay in place, not snag and not wrinkle over time. It also comes in a wide variety of colors.

PureFit sofa slipcover, how to clean a couch Courtesy of Amazon


Homonic Armless Sofa Cover

This sofa slipcover is designed to cover a sofa bed or futon that’s armless, and has a 360-degree, all-cover, stretch band design for full coverage. It comes in simple, solid colors and is made of durable polyester spandex material that’s machine-washable.

Homonic armless sofa slipcover, how to clean a couch Courtesy of Amazon


If you’d prefer not to cover up your couch, because you like the way it looks or the idea of a slipcover brings back awkward memories of your grandma’s plastic-covered sofa, there are methods for removing stains from a couch’s surface once they’ve already occured. Here’s your official SPY guide for cleaning a couch, from removing stains and gathering crumbs to conditioning leather so it stays in tip top shape for as long as possible.

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Step 1: Vacuum + Remove Dust

Couches tend to accumulate lint, dust, pet hair and other dry dirt that doesn’t necessarily stain but keeps the couch from looking and feeling clean. Before you do any washing with soap and water, you’ll want to vacuum your couch and remove as much of this dirt as possible. You can use a small handheld vacuum to get the job done, or your larger vacuum’s hose and brush attachment. Make sure you hit all those nooks and crannies underneath and between the cushions! A lint roller can also be helpful in removing lint, pet hair and dust from the surface of your cushions.

BLACK + DECKER Handheld Cordless Vacuum

This cordless vacuum from BLACK+DECKER is perfect for cleaning smaller, harder-to-reach nooks and crannies in your home like in between your couch cushions. It’s lightweight, has a long battery life and can hold a charge for up to 18 months if needed. It’s got a rotating slim nozzle that can easily fit into tighter spots and it’s got Smart Charge Technology that uses up to 50% less energy.

black + decker handheld vacuum, how to clean a couch Courtesy of Amazon


BISSELL Pet Hair Eraser Cordless Vacuum

This cordless handheld vacuum is designed to be ultra portable and has a powerful suction for removing pet hair, dust, dirt and more easily. It’s got triple level filtration that helps make cleaning more effective and comes with a set of specialized tool that includes an upholstery tool, that’s perfect for use on couches.

BISSELL handheld vacuum cleaner, how to clean a couch Courtesy of Amazon


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Step 2: Wipe Down Wood or Metal Parts

Remember, anything that isn’t fabric needs to be cleaned as well! If your couch has a wooden or metal frame, or the armrests aren’t covered in fabric it’s a good idea to wipe down those surfaces from time to time. There are many ways to do this, including with a simple solution of warm water and a small amount of liquid dish soap. You can also use a pre-moistened sanitizing wipe.

We’ve got a whole guide on cleaning wooden furniture, which you can check out for more details on cleansing wooden surfaces in your home effectively without causing damage or unnecessary deterioration.

Method Daily Wood Cleaner

This cleaning spray from Method is made for wooden surfaces out of plant-based wood cleaners. It’s designed to remove grime and dust, and is gentle enough to be used daily if needed. It has a rich almond fragrance and comes in a spray bottle made of recycled plastic.

method wood cleaner, how to clean wood furniture Courtesy of Amazon


Weiman Wood Cleaner and Polish Wipes

These wipes are designed to be used to clean wooden surfaces, and are made with a micro-filling technology that forms a scratch-resistant protective layer as it removes scratches from the wood’s surface. They’re versatile, made without a sticky residue and are made with plant-based ingredients that are safe to use around children and pets. They also contain UVX-15 that protects against fading, discoloration and drying from UV rays.

weiman wood cleaner and polish wipes, how to clean wood furniture Courtesy of Amazon


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Step 3: Identify Fabric Types and Remove Stains

Cleaning a couch, for the most part, means removing stains. Before you can effectively remove stains from your couch you’ll need to identify which type of fabric the upholstery is. This is so you can get a more effective clean, and so you don’t accidentally damage the fabric in the process.

You can usually identify the type of fabric, and preferred washing instructions, easily by peeking at the upholstery tag. Here’s a quick key to help you decipher what the most common abbreviations mean.

  • WS: mild detergent, steam vacuum and/or a dry cleaning detergent is preferred
  • S: only a dry cleaning detergent
  • X: no water, use a vacuum only
  • W: water is okay to use when cleaning

How to Clean a Fabric Couch

The most notable thing about fabric upholstery is you can and should follow the soap with clean water to remove it. You can’t use water on other fabric types, like leather, as it can leave a stain, but on a fabric couch it’s necessary. You also want to make sure you dry the cleansed area thoroughly after cleaning it doesn’t develop mold or mildew.

You can make a homemade cleaner for fabric couches out of 1/4 cup vinegar, 3/4 cup warm water and a bit of dish soap, or you can use a fabric cleaning spray designed to be used on upholstery.

ForceField Fabric Cleaner

This fabric cleaner is designed to remove tough stains from water-safe materials like rugs, carpet and upholstery. The formula is designed to help keep the stains from reappearing and to repel the dirt and grime so they don’t re-soil the material. It does this through a combination of nonionic and anionic surfactants that create a fluorocarbon, anti-soiling chemistry within the fabric. This spray is great for spot treatment or a deep clean of your sofa.

ForceField fabric cleaner, how to clean a couch Courtesy of Amazon


BISSELL Spot & Stain Fabric and Upholstery Cleaner

This fabric cleaner comes in a bottle with its own fabric-safe brush that’s designed to loosen up stains and soils. This formula is also made to repel dirt so fabrics stay fresher for longer, and it can be used for small spot treatments as well as entire sofas if need be. Note: before using it, the manufacturers do recommend spot testing on a small, hidden part of your couch’s fabric to make sure no discoloration occurs. In fact, we recommend doing this with any cleaning technique recommended in this piece.

Related: The Best Upholstery Cleaners

bissell spot & stain fabric cleaner, how to clean a couch Courtesy of Amazon


How to Clean a Leather Couch

Leather couches might seem more intimidating to clean than fabric ones, but there are only a few steps you need to follow to safely remove stains from them.

You should avoid using water-based cleaners on leather upholstery if you can, as they can leave a stain. It’s best to use a homemade mix of 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup vinegar, if you want to go the homemade route, or use any one of the many leather cleaners and conditioners available out there. A leather conditioner is a good addition to your cleaning routine in general, as it doesn’t just restore the overall presentation of the leather but prevents stains in the future.

Weiman Leather Cleaner and Conditioner

This leather cleaner from Weiman is made of simple, non-toxic ingredients and is designed to condition, clean and protect your leather’s surface all in one step. It’s great for all leather goods, from couches to purses, and contains UVX that protects against cracking, fading and drying over time due to light exposure. It’s formulated to remove dirt, soil, residue and grime, and can even soften and strengthen older leather that could use a tune up.

Weiman leather cleaner and conditioner, how to clean a couch Courtesy of Amazon


Leather Cleaner by Leather Honey

This leather cleaner from Leather Honey is non-toxic, natural and has a formula designed for all leather goods, including couches. It’s designed to remove stains from all types of leather of all different colors, and is ready to use right out of the bottle so there’s no mixing required.

leather cleaner by leather honey, how to clean a couch Courtesy of Amazon


How to Clean a Couch With Synthetic Upholstery

If your couch is covered by a synthetic material, like polyester, you can also use a homemade formula of vinegar and water along with a dash of dish soap. Lightly scrub the stain with a soft cloth until it’s gone, and avoid using a lot of complex ingredients, since synthetic fabrics tend to be more sensitive.

It’s also very important to let your couch, no matter the material, dry completely after cleaning. If you live in a hot, humid environment you might want to set up a fan above it. This will not only help dry the cleansed areas faster, it’ll help prevent mold and mildew growth inside the couch cushions.


How to Get Grease Stains Out of Couch

Lastly, we’re going to cover a few specific cleaning situations that require special treatment, including one of the most common stain headaches we all encounter from time to time: grease.

Baking soda is one of the best ways to remove grease stains from your couch, as it’s super absorbent and easy to vacuum up after the job is done. Simply sprinkle a bit of baking soda on the stain, wait 20-30 minutes and vacuum it up afterwards.

Arm & Hammer Baking Soda

arm & hammer baking soda, how to clean a couch Courtesy of Amazon


How to Get Water Stains Out of a Couch

We’ve all been there: a giant glass of water is dumped on our couch, and even though it’s better than a mug of coffee or tea, you’ll still want to clean it up effectively to avoid mold or mildew growth. First of all, vacuum it up as quickly as possible, this will keep the water from penetrating too deeply into the couch cushions.

Next, spray a diluted vinegar solution over the stain and blot it with a microfiber towel. These towels tend to be super absorbent and work more effectively than your standard cotton.

MR. SIGA Microfiber Cleaning Cloth

These microfiber towels are designed to be super soft, ultra-absorbent and scratch-free. They’re also lint-free, so they won’t leave debris behind on your fabric. They’re reusable, machine-washable and easy to keep on hand for messes of all kinds.

Mr. Siga towels, how to clean a couch Courtesy of Amazon