How to Deep Clean a Fabric Couch and Upholstered Furniture

The best way to clean a fabric sofa in 7 steps without solvent-based cleaners + 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 removable covers would remain a crisp clean white with just needing the occasional spot treatment on stubborn stains 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, leave pet hair everywhere, 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

Step-By-Step Guide 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. 

Supplies

Before You Start

It’s a good idea to spot test any cleaning solution you’re using in an inconspicuous hidden area first. Scrub a small area in a circular motion with a clean cloth and the above water-based cleaner 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

Look for a cleaning code on your sofa label as shown below to determine the best cleaning method to use. It’s not always a one-size-fits-all approach. Different fabrics require different kinds of care, but the method I’m sharing here works for many. 

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.) Check inner cushions for pet stains. Give stained areas a thorough cleaning with an upholstery steam cleaner, if possible.

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 tossing them in the washing machine with 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. 

Avoid using hot water as it can make couch covers shrink. 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 sofa, 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 in the entire couch 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

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the easiest fabric couch to clean?

Synthetic microfiber couches are the easiest clean and perfect in a home with kids or pets.

How do you deodorize a couch?

Vacuum the entire couch to remove any dirt and pet hair. Generously sprinkle baking soda all over the entire couch, including crevices. Let the baking soda sit for an hour or two to absorb odors. Then, vacuum the baking soda off of your now fresh smelling couch.

sign off

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21 Comments

  1. I just cleaned my off white performance fabric sofa and loveseat using this method and it worked really well. The furniture was professionally cleaned last
    year and it wasn’t no where near as clean using this method. Added bonus, the room smells wonderful! Thanks Lauren😊

  2. Hi there, thanks for all of the great info! Do you use the OxiClean White Revive on regular loads of light laundry? Also, no other detergent? Just the OxiClean and baking soda? Thanks!

  3. I have had zero luck finding a product to use to clean furniture labeled “S” for solvent. I’d appreciate any suggestions from anyone who has cleaned an S labeled fabric. I have a floral chair and ottoman that’s in great need of a cleaning!