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Blog/How to Clean a Fabric Sofa

How to Clean a Fabric Sofa

Castlery   |   Jul 10, 2022

The sofa is often the centrepiece of a living room. Between spilling drinks, dropping crumbs, and muddy kids playing near your furniture, sofas are extremely prone to getting dirty. All these things can rub into the fibres of the fabric, causing staining and discolouration, and considering the cost of replacing a sofa, we all want to ensure that our sofas remain in their best condition.

Of course, covers can be removed and washed, or even replaced (at a hefty cost) but regular maintenance and learning what to do in the event of a spill could potentially save you a lot of time and money. This guide to fabric sofa cleaning aims to tell you everything you need to do in the event of a sofa catastrophe, as well as offer some regular sofa cleaning tips. With just a few simple steps, you can keep your sofa looking its best for longer.

Beige sectional sofa in a neutral colour-themed living room A little TLC goes a long way in keeping your neutral sofa, like the Dawson, looking fresh as day one. Picture credit: @dotandpop

Act fast if accidents happen

The key to dealing with any sofa spillage is to act fast. The sooner you clean, the easier it will be to remove any stains. The longer you wait, the more the liquid or substance can ingrain itself into the fabric and can dry solid around the fibres, making it more difficult to remove in the future.

If the stain is a liquid, blot the spills immediately and gently with a clean white cloth. Do not rub as it may cause the liquid to seep deeper or set into the fabric, and possibly damage the fibres as well.

If the spillage is solid or partially solid, such as food, you can use a vacuum cleaner to remove any excess debris without rubbing it into the fibres. If the substance has already dried onto the fabric, then use a very dry brush with stiff bristles to loosen it before using the vacuum to remove the surface excess. Vacuuming and brushing on a semi-regular basis is also a great way to keep your sofa looking its best. It can prevent dirt build-up and remove any particles stuck in the top layers of the fabric.

A light grey sectional sofa in an earth-toned room The Tana Chaise Sectional Sofa comes with washable covers for an irresistibly fresh lounging experience. Picture credit: @chelseamohrman

Check the labels

Whether you are considering deep cleaning your sofa or are dealing with a stain or a spill, there are a couple of things to think about. Firstly, checking the manufacturer's recommendations or instructions for sofa care is extremely important for maintenance. For further instruction, check the sofa cleaning codes on the label to see what products can be used and what might damage the upholstery. For most sofas, the codes are as follows:

W = Water-based cleaner Only use a water-based cleaner to clean the upholstery.

S/W = Solvents and water-based cleaners It is safe to use both solvents and water-based cleaners.

S = Solvents Only use a solvent to clean the upholstery. These are solutions that use a cleaning chemical as the main component.

X = Vacuum only

Using natural cleaning products

Once you have checked the manufacturer’s instructions and are sure which types of cleaning products (if any) are suitable, then you can start to apply your knowledge. If you would rather use natural cleaning agents, then there are a couple of household items that can work. One is baking soda, which can be applied as a paste in a solution with water. First place your solution where you wish to clean your sofa then let the paste dry, which should take around 20 minutes. Then vacuum or brush away the dried crystals to remove much of the stain or dirt build-up. A regular clean with baking soda can also help to remove odours from your sofa.

Vinegar is another natural product that can be used on your sofa to remove stains. Make a solution that is equal parts water and white wine vinegar. Use a clean white cloth that is slightly damp and rub away the stain. Make sure you rinse the cloth in clean water regularly.

Another effective way to remove stains is by using a steam cleaner, which utilises hot water to remove any dirt or grime. Steam cleaning is also a great way to keep the whole sofa looking its best. Use it once a year to remove everyday dirt and debris from furniture including sofas, 2 seater sofas and armchairs.

Beige sofa in a modern contemporary living room @whiteblossomhome creates the perfect lounging corner with the Owen Sofa. Picture credit: @whiteblossomhome

Using chemical cleaning products and shampoos

If the manufacturers label allows the use of solvents and other chemicals to clean the sofa, then these can be applied as per the instructions on the products. Sofa fabric shampoos and spot cleaners should always be tested in a less visible areas before a total application. This way, if there is any discolouration, the consequences will be minimised.

Remember to let the product do the hard work and avoid scrubbing too hard. Always use an appropriate white and non-abrasive cleaning cloth. It is also important to rinse out your cloth regularly during cleaning to ensure you are not spreading any dirt around.

If you are not 100% confident using cleaning products, or any of the above sofa cleaning techniques, then you can always call in a fabric cleaning specialist to do the job.

Whether you are dealing with a sofa emergency or just carrying out a regular clean, the key is not to rush or attempt anything that could potentially damage the sofa fabric. Keep your sofa looking better for longer by vacuuming the sofa with a brush attachment regularly to remove any dust particles and by utilising clean and white cloths with natural cleaning solutions. Most importantly, always ensure that you are following the manufacturer’s guidelines for instruction on how to maintain your fabric sofa.

Modern sectional in a neutral-toned living room The Adams Chaise Sectional Sofa is a timeless option that comes with removable cushion covers – perfect for lounging, hosting, or catching a wink. Picture credit: @ellisandhale

How do you clean a couch without ruining it?

Always follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions and use suitable cleaning products according to the sofa’s cleaning label. Never attempt any cleaning method or product that you are not sure about and test any cleaning method in a small and less visible area before applying it to the whole fabric area.

Can fabric sofa be washed?

Some areas of the fabric may be removable and washed in the washing machine (if the manufacturer’s instructions allow). But there are plenty of less drastic cleaning techniques, such as regular vacuum cleaning, baking soda and diluted vinegar solutions available too.

How can I clean my sofa at home?

Deal with any stains or marks as quickly as possible and carry out regular cleaning in the form of vacuum cleaning, wiping down with clean damp cloths, and using only products recommended by the manufacturer.