How to clean a couch – sanitize fabric sofas properly to lift stains, smells and more

Cleaning a couch properly: How to sanitize your sofa quickly and efficiently. Tackle stains on a fabric couch with vinegar, water and more for the best results

Cleaning a couch: Pumice linen sofa by Swyft
(Image credit: Swyft home)

Cleaning a couch is often last on our list of household chores. But if you think about what your sofa goes through on a daily basis – regular sittings, dirty paws, sticky fingers, and the likes – you'll soon realize that yours needs frequent deep cleaning and sanitising. 

Whether you've just invested in one of the best sofas from the Real Homes team's round-up and want to keep it looking pristine, or you've inherited a hand-me-down in need of a freshen up, our guide to how to clean a couch will show you how to clean a fabric, leather or suede sofa quickly and efficiently using regular household items like your vacuum, in addition to natural ingredients like vinegar and baking soda to help bust stains and smells. 

Do this while you're cleaning upholstery around the rest of your home too and enjoy a much fresher experience on your couch from now on.

cleaning a sofa: linen couch by Swyft home

(Image credit: Swyft home)

What's the best way to clean a sofa?

We’ve spoken to the head of creative at *Swyft, Kelly Collins, to find out how to clean a sofa and tackle visible stains without embedding them further into the fabric. 

Collins advises 'Like with any sofa - whether it’s linen, velvet or similar -  it’s important to hoover it on a weekly basis to get rid of any loose dirt or crumbs.' Swyft is a revolutionary furniture company that specializes in designing (biodegradable) microfibre sofas as well as other furniture items in velvet, linen, cotton and more. 'Hoovering your sofa can also prevent any smaller particles embedding themselves into the weave making it much more difficult to remove the dirt or future stains.' So staying on top of dust and spills is a must day-to-day, then for a more thorough clean, keep scrolling.

How do you deep clean a couch?

Whether it's the first time you've ever cleaned your couch, or if you've just inherited one from another home, a garage sale or what have you, it needs to be cleaned and sanitized thoroughly. Always check the label to see if there are any washing instructions available first, paying particular attention to the following guidelines: 

W — You can clean this material using water.

S — No water. You’ll need to purchase a special solvent-based cleaner.

WS — You can use water or a solvent-based cleaner on this sofa.

X — Vacuum only.

Take these into account if you do find them, and If not, proceed as follows to clean and sanitize your sofa.

1. Vacuum your couch 

Start as Collins suggested with a thorough vacuuming to lift debris, pulling up your couch cushions to get underneath if possible. If you've just picked up an old couch, keep a close eye for any debris that looks like it could be from a pest and make sure you get into all the nooks and crannies to suck up everything from toast crumbs to mouse droppings.

If your couch is full of (your own) pet hair, then don a rubber glove and run your hand over the sofa’s fabric – be that suede, velvet, linen or leather – to lift the fur shed by the four legged. You can also try dampening the glove and again running your hand over the furry upholstery. Rinse off your now hairy glove and go again if necessary.

2. Tackle spills on your couch

Next, you'll want to pull up any surface spills also. If you’re there when something gets spilled on your sofa, so much the better. If there’s anything solid in the spill (we could be talking animal or human vomit here, as well as foods) remove it right away, using a spoon. Then apply a clean towel or paper towels to the liquid and blot. Make sure you keep blotting on to a dry area of towel. 

Collins says 'For stains like mud, ketchup, lipstick or silly putty, you’ll need to get a teaspoon. First, remove any stain residue with the edge of the teaspoon or a similar flat utensil.' Things like pen marks, you can leave for now as we'll tackle this next.

3. Treat sofa stains and deodorize

If your fabric couch can be cleaned with water, you can try a weak solution of laundry liquid (or just plain water) and apply with a spray bottle. Again blot with a clean cloth, but don’t rub. Use water on a clean cloth to rinse. Collins advises to 'not do the circular motion rub trick because it’ll just rip your paper towel & drive the fibres from it into your fabric. Repeat the process until you can’t see the stain on the paper towel anymore.'

Continue to apply more water to the area, rubbing gently with a microfibre cloth if it's still not lifted, and 'If the stain is particularly stubborn you can mix some soap in with your water to help lift it. Any white bar of soap will do, whatever you have in the house. Repeat the process until the stain is completely removed.'

How to clean a couch with vinegar

If your couch label says water shouldn’t be used, and if you want an alternative to detergent, you can clean yours naturally using vinegar. Apply it on a cloth to gently blot the stain. 

How to clean a couch with baking soda or bicarbonate of soda

Baking soda is great to lift stains and neutralize odors too, it's also the best method to clean linen sofas. Just sprinkle generously, leave for at least 15 minutes and vacuum up. Collins says 'If you're dealing with a linen sofa you should avoid rubbing in a circular motion and stick to blotting. Bicarbonate of soda is great for linen; simply sprinkle some onto the stain, leave it for a few minutes to work its magic, vacuum it up (on a cold setting) and gently dab it until it’s gone.'

Remove food stains on microfiber couches with rubbing alcohol

According to Ocean Free, leading manufacturer in hand sanitizing products, 'Microfiber sofas can often be more complicated to treat than others, but stains can be removed easily by applying hand sanitiser to the affected area.  Spot test in an inconspicuous place first, of course.'

  • Check out our complete guide to stain removal for more tips on dodging discoloration around the home.

4. Leave your couch to air dry

This is one of the most important steps according to Collins 'This is really important, you must never use a hairdryer or apply heat to the stain. Adding heat will only help to set the stain. Patience is key. '

5. Disinfect your sofa

If you did spot mouse droppings, bugs or if someone in your house has got a cold – or we hate to say it, a virus – you should disinfect your couch of germs with a spray. Our favorite buy is below and for critters, try an all-purpose bug spray and leave it on for 24-hours or however long the instructions advise.

Dettol All-in-One Disinfectant Spray Orchard Blossom | £5.49 at Amazon
A life saver for dirty sofas

Dettol All-in-One Disinfectant Spray Orchard Blossom | £5.49 at Amazon
Use this disinfectant spray on everything from surfaces to upholstery. We're talking curtains, sofas, cushions, mattresses, and, it's great to use on handles, light switches, remotes and other places you rarely think to disinfect – but really should. It can kill 99.9 per cent of bacteria and it smells nice!

Top tips on keeping your couch clean and cozy looking

  • Go for a high rub count: 'A rub count indicates how durable the fabric of your sofa is. Ideally want a sofa with a rub count of over 20,000.' That's a lot of rubs before any wear and tear starts to show! 
  • Vacuum regularly: To stop a buildup of grub that can lead to staining.
  • Catch spills: Treat them quickly to the best removal results.
  • Lint roller: Keep a lint roller close by if you have pets running around to pick up hair fuss-free.
  • Air dry only: Any harsh heat will actually set stains and damage your sofa in the long-run.

Cleaning a sofa: rusty brown couch with printed throw

(Image credit: Photo by Stephanie Harvey on Unsplash)

Take a seat!

Sarah Warwick
Sarah Warwick

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For Realhomes.com, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.

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