How to Clean a Fabric Couch

How to clean a couch with fabric in 7 steps + a DIY sofa cleaning solution to make upholstery bright and fresh.

How to clean a couch with fabric in 7 steps + a DIY sofa cleaning solution to make upholstery bright and fresh.

Cleaning a couch is right up there on the chores list of things I dread alongside cleaning the oven, scrubbing the shower, and mopping floors all rolled up into one. It’s a workout!

But when it’s done? It feels SO good, plus, it’s like having a brand new sofa.

Over the years, we’ve had 5 couches, all of which went through trails and errors in cleaning. But I’ve found the winning combination of a few different methods if you’ve ever wanted to know how to clean your couch, plus a DIY sofa cleaning solution that’s quick and cheap to make.

Pottery Barn couch with Sunbrella fabric before DIY couch cleaning

This was our sofas’ grubby “before” (pictures make it look better than it did in person). We got our two down blend Pottery Barn York couches (which I shared the full unbiased pro/con review about here) about a year ago.

I was under the impression that the Sunbrella fabric would remain a crisp clean white with just needing the occasional spot treatment because it’s a super high performance upholstery fabric. But time has proven to me that it still gets dingy just like you’d expect any white sofa would (surprise, surprise).

We have a dog and two kiddos who spill all over them, track dirt all over them, and honestly, Robert and I aren’t exactly the easiest on these sofas either. We have little to no rules against food and drinks on these couches, and our crew is a rowdy bunch, so you can imagine the carnage.

It called for an all-over majorly intense couch cleaning. This method I use works on fabric chairs too, slipcovered or not.

dirty couch slipcover before with dog

How to Clean a Couch with Upholstery

I recommend doing this couch deep cleaning method once or twice per year (I usually prefer spring and fall). But it’s best to vacuum couches once per month and treat spills as soon as they happen to prevent permanent stains.

Over the years, I’ve cleaned everything from our slipcovered IKEA couches to upholstered sofas and chairs, and they’ve all resulted in a beautifully deep clean that looks like new.


Before You Start

Always check any cleaning solution you’re using in an inconspicuous area first. Scrub a small area with a white cloth and cleaning solution. If color from the couch shows up on the cloth, don’t use the cleaning solution on your couch.

Check your couch manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning guidelines on the label.

Upholstered Furniture Cleaning Codes

W – Water based cleaning agents or foam may be used, preferably distilled water.

S – Only mild, water-free cleaning solvents.

S/W – Water-based cleaning agents may be used, distilled water recommended.

X – Clean only by vacuuming or light brushing to remove soil.

removing cushion covers for couch cleaning

Step 1 – Remove Cushion Covers

If possible, unzip and remove covers from the couch cushions. Take the time to “fluff” the cushions and batting. Give the covers a good shake to release any loose debris.

(If you can’t remove your cushion covers, move on to Step 3.)

washing white cushion covers for all over sofa cleaning

Step 2 – Wash Cushion Covers on Cold/Gentle

My favorite combination for white fabric all over our house (sheets/towels/bedding/slipcovers) is washing in 1 cap full of OxiClean White Revive and 1 cup of baking soda. It makes all dingy, dirty whites look bright and clean without bleach!

The OxiClean White Revive is color safe and septic safe, if that’s a concern for you. I used it on our white IKEA slipcovers for years to get them as white as possible.

Wash the sofa cushion covers on cold and on the gentle cycle.

Line dry until damp, DO NOT tumble dry. It’s best to put clean covers back on the sofa cushions while they are still damp to stretch out wrinkles, prevent shrinking, and make them easier to put back on.

If you’re washing slipcovers on the entire couch, you can toss the whole thing in the wash separately from the cushion covers to prevent overcrowding.

But since our couches mainly needed cleaning on the arms, I didn’t want to go through the hassle of cleaning the entire cover. You can use this method below on attached sofa upholstery too.

vacuuming debris underneath sofa cushions

Step 3 – Vacuum Couch Upholstery

Remove any loose hair, dirt, and debris under couch cushions and on the couch upholstery itself with a vacuum wand brush attachment. Get in every nook and crevice as much as possible with the wand hose.

We have this Shark Navigator Lift-Away Vacuum that we love!

cleaning upholstery with a vacuum wand attachment

Step 4 – Sprinkle Baking Soda

To help absorb any odors, sprinkle baking soda all over the sofa (focusing on high traffic spots like the sofa arms) and let it sit for at least 30 minutes.

Use the vacuum wand attachment again to vacuum up the baking soda.

baking soda sprinkled on surface of couch to deodorize
vacuuming sofa slipcover with wand attachment to remove hair, dirt, and lint

Step 5 – Make a DIY Couch Cleaner Solution

I’ve used a few upholstery cleaners in the past (Folex is one I generally like), but I’ve found mixing this DIY couch cleaner in a spray bottle to be just as effective.

Mix in a spray bottle:

  • 2 cups distilled water
  • 2 Tbsp clear Dawn dish soap
  • 2 Tbsp white distilled vinegar

Only use this cleaner if your couch’s manufacturer label allows water-based cleaning agents.

DIY couch cleaner using water, white vinegar, and dish soap in a spray bottle

Step 6 – Spray Couch Fabric with Cleaner

Spritz the couch upholstery with the water/soap/vinegar solution until damp.

spraying DIY couch cleaner onto sofa to clean off dirt and grime

Step 7 – Wipe Sofa Fabric Surface

Using a dry, lint-free cloth, wipe the soiled sofa fabric surface to remove any dirt and grime.

Optional: If you have an upholstery cleaning machine (we have this Bissell Little Green Stain Cleaner we like), use it after this step for an even deeper clean.

Allow your sofa to air dry before putting cushions in place.

wiping up DIY couch cleaner on upholstery to clean a sofa

Cleaned Couch

Does it look so much better?! It smells absolutely amazing. Robert has said over and over ever since I cleaned our couches a few days ago that they feel like brand new! So fluffy and bright!

The good news is, even though it is quite a chore to do, if you make it part of your regular spring and/or fall cleaning along with spot cleaning tough stains when they happen, it can extend the life of your fabric couches.

clean couch with white slipcover

I was really feeling the sofa fabric regret last week, but now that these couches have gotten a deep clean, I’m even happier with these Pottery Barn couches that we saved up for for years.

Even if we did have feathers flying throughout the whole cleaning process, I still love how squishy soft and comfy they are.

All in all… totally worth it.

white clean couches with white slipcovers in a living room

My reward for tackling this couch cleaning chore was to bust out some fall decor to make this living room feel extra cozy, so you can guess what comes next in here. 😉

By the way, in case you want to know since sometimes people ask, here are our living room’s decor sources.

Living Room Decor Sources

white clean couch in a living room with white slipcover

More House Cleaning Ideas

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  1. Hi!
    To clarify, you add baking soda in the washing machine along with the oxy white revive? It is the baking soda just sprinkled on the couch body?

    1. Hi Shannon! I use the baking soda in 2 ways. I put a cap full of OxiClean White Revive in the dispenser or drum of the washing machine and sprinkle a cup of baking soda in the drum of the washing machine with the cushion covers. For the body of the couch, I sprinkle more baking soda all over, let sit for 30 minutes, and vacuum.

  2. Hi- love this tutorial! I would like to ask if the Oxi Clean white revive is OK for printed sofa fabric? Or is there another product safer to use? I have linen printed fabric on my sofa cushions. If not I will test an area to see if the color holds.Thanks !

    1. Yes! OxiClean White Revive is color safe, so it should work well. To be safe, I’d spot treat an inconspicuous area to make sure your fabric type doesn’t have color run issues.