Commercial shampoos for upholstery cleaning are readily available and do a good job, but if you are expecting company and junior spills his Kool-Aid, you'll need something more immediate. Whether your upholstery cleaning needs are vinyl, leather, or cloth, there will come a time when you will need to remove a complicated, set in stain in between having a professional come give it the once over. When this happens, reach for cleaners around the house before calling someone in.
The best thing you can do is ask when you buy the furniture what the maker recommends for all purpose upholstery cleaning. Some manufacturers have their favorite cleaners, and some will even have a specific cleaner listed as part of the warranty-to use anything else will invalidate it, so when purchasing upholstery brand new, get all the information up front.
Also, ask for swatches or remnants of fabric to be used in color fast testing of cleaners. Armed with this information, your new couch or loveseat can outlast even the kids!
A mild detergent with a soft bristle brush is usually your best bet. Make sure the detergent dose not use bleach as the first or second ingredient, then dilute with warm water and rub the stain gently, blotting the excess cleaner with a soft towel. Use a hair dryer to dry the area. This is quick and easy, but will also prevent the damage that wet stains can cause to, say, arm chairs by the possibility of mildew setting in. The best thing you can do when cleaning your furniture is to keep it as dry as possible, as quickly as possible.
This is especially true if your upholstery cleaning consists of vinyl surfaces-some commercial cleaners have chemicals which can cause the plastic to harden, ruining the furniture forever. Mineral spirits work wonders on vinyl if used correctly, but the age of the vinyl often dictates how well it will respond to homemade treatments-with vinyl upholstery cleaning the rule of thumb is when in doubt, buy commercial cleaners made especially for vinyl. Likewise with leather, which improperly cared for can harden or dry out, cracking. Leather oil is sold for this purpose, and a once a year massage for your leather furniture with a good oil will keep it looking nice for years.
To revitalize upholstery, use three quarters of a cup of baking soda and two tablespoons of cornstarch-a natural stain lifter-along with some baby powder. Sprinkle liberally and then lift up with the upholstery cleaning wand on your vacuum. This is a great trick for people with pets who are expecting company on short notice, and if you find gum on the couch when you're doing this, take an ice cube and freeze it, and then scrape it off. Heating gum or rubbing it with cleaners will cause it to dissolve and make an even bigger mess.
For the most part, you can treat upholstery like you would carpets. The material is basically the same, and so are the cleaners. Keep sharp objects off the couch, and don't let the kids put their feet up with their shoes on-now you know why your mother was so strict with you!