How to clean your couch

Make your sofa spectacular again with this simple process.

Alina Bradford CNET Contributor
Alina Bradford has been writing how-tos, tech articles and more for almost two decades. She currently writes for CNET's Smart Home Section, MTVNews' tech section and for Live Science's reference section. Follow her on Twitter.
Alina Bradford
3 min read

Your couch doesn't have to be a no-fun zone with these tips.


No matter if you have messy toddlers, distracted teenagers, a less-than-neat roommate or an untidy spouse, keeping your couch clean is a struggle. This simple process can help you take your sofa from grubby to great in just an afternoon.

Strip it down

The first step is to remove the cushion covers -- if your couch has removable cushions. Simply unzip each cushion cover and pull it off, making sure not to pull any stuffing along with it. 

Most pillows are made with a sheet of white fluff called batting over a square of foam padding. Do not remove the sheet of batting. If it looks a little dirty, dab the soiled areas with a damp cloth. The yuck should come right up.

If your couch doesn't have removable covers, your focus will be on spot cleaning. Just skip to our advice on removing stains, below.

Start a load

Next, turn all of the cushion covers inside out and throw them in the washing machine. Use enough detergent for a small load and skip the fabric softener. If you're pillow covers have special washing instructions on their labels, be sure to follow them. 

If you can't find any washing instructions, set your washer to gentle cycle with a slow spin speed and warm water. Your cushion covers are somewhat delicate, so these setting are important. Otherwise, you may end up with a tear or a detached zipper when the load is done.

When your cushion covers are clean, don't put them in the dryer. It is a little too tough on the seams of the covers. Instead, let them hang somewhere to air-dry.  Be sure each cover is completely dry before you put them back on the cushions to avoid the growth of mildew or mold. 

Suck it up

While the covers are washing, vacuum your couch using an upholstery attachment on your vacuum's hose.  Your vacuum may have so many attachments that you're not sure which one is for upholstery. That's okay! The upholstery attachment is the one with the bush around the suction area. The brush prevents fabrics on the sofa from getting sucked into the hose.

Be sure to pay close attention to divots and creases in the fabric. Crumbs and dust tend to gather in these areas.

Remove stains 

If you don't have slipcovers or you find stains on the arms and back of your couch, you'll need to spot clean. Here are some options for spot cleaning:

  • For general scuffs and stains: Dampen a dishcloth and warm water. Then, dab each spot firmly, but don't rub. This will remove dust and dirt from the fibers without damaging them.
  • For oil stains: Mix two drops of dish soap with 16 oz. of warm water. Then, spray the dingy area with the mixture, let the spray sit for five minutes and dab the spot with a clean, damp cloth.  

Before you spot clean, test the solution you plan to use on a hidden area, such as where the fabric folds around the bottom of the frame. It's best to test an area and wait 24 hours before determining if a solution is safe, since results can take time to appear. 

If your couch is made of leather, use a cleaner that is specifically made for leather and follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Drying is the last step to a clean sofa. Let all of the areas you cleaned dry before anyone sits down. You can speed up the process by setting a portable fan in front of the couch or by using a blow dryer set on low heat.

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