How to Clean Your Couch in a Few Easy Steps

Jill Gleeson
·5 min read

From The Pioneer Woman

In many ways, the couch is the heart of the home. It's where we welcome visiting friends and family, gather with the kids for a movie or game night, binge watch our favorite shows, and even do a little online shopping. As a result, most couches regularly get dirty from pet hair, food crumbs, wine stains, and more.

Yet when it comes to regular upkeep, or even spring cleaning, this crucial piece of furniture usually gets short shrift. That could be because most of us aren't exactly sure how to clean a couch, whether it's leather, microfiber, suede, or any other fabric. According to the experts, instead of using that old trick of flipping over the couch cushion to hide a stain, we should take the time to learn how to clean a couch—and not just for appearance's sake.

"It’s important to clean our couches regularly for a number of reasons, but preventing the spread of bacteria is a good one," says Jennie Varney, brand manager for Molly Maid, a Neighborly Company. "Think about how often we wash our bed sheets for this reason. If your couch cushions zip off, I’d recommend throwing them in the wash at least once a month. Not only will it keep your couch looking new and smelling fresh, but you’ll have a much more sanitary surface to lay your head on each time you settle down to watch a movie. Between the muddy paws, sticky hands, and food particles, your couch is trapping contaminants that could irritate your skin, or worse."

Photo credit: Cunaplus_M.Faba - Getty Images
Photo credit: Cunaplus_M.Faba - Getty Images

Couches come in a range of different designs. But whether you have a chic mid-century modern sectional, an English roll arm sofa like the one the Friends stars lounged on at Central Perk, or a classic tufted Chesterfield, it's not the type of frame that determines how you should clean your couch. It's the type of material sewn over that frame.

How to clean a couch:

Before doing anything, your first step in the cleaning process should be to check the care tag, where you might see some mysterious letters. According to Varney, here's what they stand for:

  • W – This indicates water can be used in cleaning

  • WS – A dry cleaning detergent or mild detergent and steam vacuum can be used

  • X – No water, vacuum only

  • S – Clean with dry cleaner detergent

First things first. No matter the material, vacuuming should always your go-to line of defense against dirt build-up on your couch. What you do next depends on what kind of fabric is covering it.

How to clean a cloth couch.

For couches that can be cleaned with water, like many cloth couches, you can spot clean stubborn stains with a product like Bissell Spot and Stain Fabric and Upholstery Cleaner, which is topped with a brush to help loosen and lift grime. Or, if you don't have any fabric cleaner on hand, you can "blot at stains with a mixture of a couple of drops of dish liquid in some warm water," says All Star Cleaning Services founder Laura Smith. "That's a safe bet for most fabrics."

But, she adds, you should always "test on a small inconspicuous area first. When you do use a cleaning agent, do not scrub or rub the fabric as this can damage it. Gentle blotting is best!"

How to clean a leather couch.

Meanwhile, leather couches are often the easiest to clean because they can simply be wiped down with a dry dust cloth or a product like Weiman Leather Cleaner and Conditioner. Be sure to vacuum under any removable cushions on your leather couch, too.

Photo credit: dowell - Getty Images
Photo credit: dowell - Getty Images

How to clean a suede couch.

The most difficult fabric to keep clean is suede, which reacts to liquid. If you have a couch made out of suede or something similar, vacuuming or brushing may be your only cleaning option. Take care to lift up the cushions and vacuum in all the crevices to ensure you're getting the couch as clean as possible. Worried about accidentally sucking up the loose change that inevitable finds its way into the couch? Ilya Ornatov, a support team member for Seattle's NW Maids, suggests rubber-banding some cheesecloth over the vacuum hose.

Photo credit: Helin Loik-Tomson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Helin Loik-Tomson - Getty Images

How to clean a dry-clean-only couch.

If you have a couch requiring the application of dry cleaning detergent, it's best to consult a professional rather than attempting to clean it yourself.

Or, says Lee Sheridan, owner of Virginia Beach's Two Maids & A Mop, you can always "rent a carpet and upholstery cleaning machine from any hardware store. It'll take several hours, but it is an easy and affordable way to bring life back to a sofa you love. Read the instructions and always remember that you need to use hot water—the hotter the better."

How to deep clean a couch.

Sometimes regular cleaning isn't enough to tackle deeply embedded dirt and stains.

To remove that deep-down dirt, like the kind that builds up on arm and head rests, use a portable extraction cleaner like the Hoover Spotless Portable Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner. Depending on the fabric, you can also try sprinkling your couch with baking soda, letting it sit for 20 to 30 minutes, and then vacuuming up the baking soda using the brush attachment on your vacuum.

Photo credit: DmitriMaruta - Getty Images
Photo credit: DmitriMaruta - Getty Images

Once your couch has dried, use a product like Febreze to take care of any lingering odors on water-safe material. After that, you can grab the kids and set up the board game. It won't be long before you're reminded why you loved that old couch in the first place!