How to clean upholstery

Written by peter mitchell
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How to clean upholstery
Use extra care on older upholstered items. (queen anne style bench image by James Phelps from

Whether being sat on, spilled on or covered in household dust, upholstery takes plenty of daily punishment. However, upholstery generally can't withstand harsh chemical cleaning. Upholstery may require specialist furniture shampoo and some gentle application. Yet, you may find that some simple household products are just as effective as expensive alternatives. Avoid rough cloths or heavy rubbing, which can damage material or stain fabrics. Car upholstery may need special cleaning fluids, so check your instruction manual before proceeding.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Sponge
  • Cloth
  • Vacuum with thin nozzle attachment
  • Laundry detergent or washing liquid
  • Bowl
  • Fork
  • White vinegar

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  1. 1

    Fix an upholstery nozzle to the end of a vacuum hose. This is the thin nozzle also used to get into corners and tight spaces. Vacuum dust and hairs from the upholstery, making sure to get into the folds and creases.

  2. 2

    Remove cushions or anything else that can be taken off the furniture. Vacuum underneath and on the underside of any cushions.

  3. 3

    Take off any removable cushion covers and loose fabrics. Check the label for washing instructions. If the fabric is machine-washable, use the recommended settings and give it a clean in a washing machine. If they're washable only by hand, fill a large sink with cold water. Add a small capful of laundry detergent and gently rub the fabric through the water. Allow to dry, but replace covers before fully dry to avoid shrinking.

  4. 4

    Pour 1/4 cup of laundry detergent or upholstery shampoo into a bowl to prepare a liquid for fabrics fixed to the furniture body. Add a cup of lukewarm water. Whisk the liquid with a fork until foam suds appear on the surface. Scoop a small amount of suds up with a clean sponge or cloth.

  5. 5

    Apply the suds to an area of the upholstery, ideally somewhere out of sight, such as the back of a couch. Work the suds into the fabric gently and allow to dry. Make sure that the area doesn't stain or spoil before using the technique on the rest of the upholstery.

  6. 6

    Open windows in the room or use a fan to help dry damp fabric fast. If the fabric stays wet for long, it might stain.

  7. 7

    Dip a clean cloth in neat white vinegar. Apply the vinegar to any stains and then use some soap foam on the same area. This removes general upholstery stains, according to the Channel 4 website.

Tips and warnings

  • Vacuum about once a month to prevent dust building up on your upholstery fabric.
  • Use special stain removing liquid for large or stubborn marks.
  • Try damp cloths to wipe down leather upholstery after vacuuming.
  • Take special care with antique or delicate upholstery. Look for appropriate cleaning fluids or call in a specialist.

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