How To Clean Your Sofa

updated: 14/05/2024

A large double-seat grey upholstered sofa

You Love Your Favourite Sofa, Right?

Sofa, couches, settees, ottomans… call them what you like, but we all like relaxing on them. Sometimes, we sleep on them as well.  It would be a rare household indeed that doesn’t have at least one sofa in it. And every household is going to be faced with the issue of cleaning the sofa at some stage or another.

Sofa Usage Rules

The first thing you can do to keep a sofa clean is to have a few rules to do with it.  The first relates to properly feeding a sofa – or maybe that should not be feeding the sofa. You should avoid eating or drinking on the sofa.  All right, perhaps that’s just a bit too strict for most people, as we all like to nibble in front of the TV or while reading the paper when we’re sitting on the sofa.  In this case, the best way to not feed the sofa is to use a coffee table or put your drink down on the floor so you don’t get coffee all over it and to use a plate for your biscuits to catch the crumbs.

Pets are another thing that will get your sofa dirty in next to no time.  In general, the larger the pet and the longer its hair, the dirtier the sofa.  Ideally, you should keep pets off the sofa as much as possible, but if you own cats, this is like trying to get water to flow uphill.  Dogs are easier to keep down on the ground.

An upholstered living room sofa with pillows


You can cheat when cleaning a sofa and use slip covers or throw rugs over them. These catch all the crumbs, coffee (most of it, anyway) and pet hair, and when they look a bit manky, you whip them off (and put a fresh one on if you’ve thought ahead and got a spare one) and throw them in the wash. Problem solved – as long as you read the care labels first. Throw rugs and slipcovers are perfect if your sofa is getting a bit long in the tooth and the upholstery’s wearing away as they cover over a multitude of sofa sins, such as stains and split seams.

If you don’t have a slipcover or throw, you must clean the sofa directly. Leather upholstery and its close el cheapo cousin vinyl are a bit easier to clean hairs and crumbs off, as these bits of dirt slide off and don’t get stuck the way they do with cloth. The upholstery fitting on your vacuum cleaner is your best friend here, even on a cloth-upholstered sofa.

You don’t just have to clean the visible bits of a sofa. You also have to go down deep when you clean it. To do this, you’ll have to pull the cushions off and get in there with your hands before you use the vacuum cleaner to get rid of the debris. This is where you will likely find old pens, teaspoons, bus tickets, guitar picks, fossilised raisins and coins. The coins are a perk for whoever gets the job! Once you’ve got the big stuff out, you can move the vacuum cleaner in – use the “nosey parker” attachment to get right down into the deep crevices.

The more frequently you clean your sofa, the easier the task will be. However, even if you do it as a weekly domestic cleaning chore, it is still a good idea to call a professional upholstery cleaner annually to keep your sofa looking its best.

Cleaning Tips Based On The Material

Cloth Upholstered Seats

Use a vacuum cleaner to clean these the same way you clean your carpet. To clean a big padded chair of the lounge suite type, remove the cushions and get into the nooks and crannies. But check first – you can often find pens, coins and other odds and ends down the backs of sofas and padded chair cushions. A spill or smear that won’t vacuum off can be spot-cleaned by gently dampening the spot with water (don’t use too much) and scrubbing gently with soap and a soft bristle brush (e.g. a toothbrush). Use a damp (not wet) sponge to rinse off the soap.

Large grey upholstered living-room furniture set

Leather Upholstered Seats

To clean a leather upholstered lounge suit (or any other leather, as a matter of fact), wipe it gently with vinegar diluted in warm water and apply with a soft cloth (the cloth should not be dripping wet). Alternatively, use warm water and saddle soap (found in any good horsy shop). To care for leather furniture, apply a mixture of linseed oil and vinegar (mix in the proportion of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts oil) sparingly with a soft cloth. This works for cleaning leather jackets, too.

Wicker Seats

The best way to clean wicker, cane or bamboo seats is to vacuum them using the brush attachment. If a wicker seat gets dirty, spray it lightly with plain water (take it outside and use the hose!) then scrub it with a soft bristled brush. Don’t use soap. Leave the wicker seat outside to dry. This should be done annually to stop the wicker from drying out too much if the wicker is untreated. You can use soap on bamboo: mix up some warm, soapy water with borax and scrub the bamboo all over. One trick for extending the life of a saggy cane seat is to turn it upside down and cover it with a towel that has been soaked in a mixture of boiling salty water (1 cup salt to 1 cup water or use seawater!). Leave this for 30 minutes before removing the towel. Leave the seat inverted for another 24 hours to let the fibres shrink and dry into place. Obviously, don’t sit on it during this process and try to keep cats off.

Really Dirty Sofas

If you have just bought a revolting second-hand sofa, you can clean it yourself rather than call in a professional upholstery cleaner. This writer did this with what she thought was a grey-green sofa that ponged cats and cigarette smoke. Wait for a sunny day. Start by thoroughly vacuuming the couch, including under the cushions. Any coins and paper clips you discover are a bonus. Then scrub the sofa everywhere with warm soapy water. Work up a good lather to get the grub out. Leave it to dry in the sunshine (it takes a couple of hours). When dry, sprinkle the sofa with baking soda, to which you’ve added a few drops of essential oil (lavender is good). Leave this to sit and absorb smells before vacuuming again. Repeat if necessary. The sofa I did this on turned out not to be grey-green but a delicate moss colour – the old cigarette smoke caused the grey.

Alternatively, you could hire a steam cleaning machine for carpets and use it on a grotty old sofa. It should work.

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.