Today I’m sharing my favorite and most effective upholstery cleanings tips. After growing up in a family who owned a professional carpet and upholstery cleaning company, I learned some tricks that help remove stains, remove a dirt-attracting residue left by some products, and prevent stains from returning.
Affiliate links used in this post.
I’m pretty picky on products I will use on carpet and upholstery because of my upbringing and literally cleaning in hundreds of people’s homes. For years I would go with my dad or older brother and my job was to clean furniture, steps, and to pre-treat stains in carpet. We often were called to clean up after messes or problems resulting from people renting machines (which soaked the carpet and use detergents) or trying home remedies that caused more damage than it was worth. Many times people would use a popular product that looked like it removed the stain or dirt, only to find the stain returned or it got dirty fast again.
The reason why we had to clean up after many popular carpet and upholstery products, is they only clean the surface and they leave a residue that, once dry, attracts dirt.
With those things in mind, I came up with some simple methods and tips and combination of basic, household products that will not cause damage and nor leave a residue.
**Be sure to consult your furniture manufacturer’s recommendations for how to clean the upholstery. This is not a dry-cleaning method and is not recommended for dry-clean only furniture.**
I still believe calling a professional carpet and upholstery cleaner is going to give you the deepest clean, but these tips will have your upholstery looking great and you won’t have to call in the professional as often.
Let’s start with this cute little ottoman, shall we? It gets the dirtiest out of all our furniture because we put our feet on it and sometimes my husband will use it as a table to put a plate of food on.
Here is a video tutorial I did of the cleaning process:
6 Tips for Cleaning Upholstery Fabric
1- Spray Entire Fabric Surface with Hot Water
When dirt and stains are deep into fabric fibers, the best thing to do when you are cleaning them is to spray it with hot water. The heat relaxes the fibers and loosens the dirt so it can be extracted easier. Spraying the entire surface also prevents any ‘water marks’ from potentially forming. Boiling water isn’t necessary, just the hottest your tap can go.
2- Use Watered-Down Laundry Stain Remover To Treat Stains
I’ve tried lots of different carpet and upholstery spotters and honestly my favorite and most effective product to treat stains is the Free & Clear Clorox2 Stain Remover mixed with water (4 parts water, 1 part stain remover). For extra tough stains I might apply a very small amount of the stain remover- undiluted. I’m sure you could use other clear laundry stain removers like OxyClean, but this one doesn’t suds up very much, is super concentrated and it has hydrogen peroxide in it, so it gets out blood and so many other things. If using with a dark fabric, don’t let this product dry– it will lighten it since hydrogen peroxide is a gentle type of bleach.
3- Scrub with 100% Cotton White Rags
It is very important to have 100% cotton rags to absorb the dirt. I like using white because I never risk color transfer, and I can see how much dirt I’m getting out while I scrub. You also want to make sure you are switching to clean areas of the rag as you scrub– you don’t want to be rubbing the dirt back into the upholstery fabric. A box of 50 cotton painters rags cost about $12, and I use about 15 rags for an ottoman or chair (depending on how dirty it is, it could be more).
When scrubbing, don’t press or scrub super hard. Some pressure is good, and working back and forth going both directions or circular motions is the most effective. The idea here is to loosen the dirt particles and agitate the fibers so that they can be absorbed by the rag.
4- Use Sparkling Water + Vinegar for Soiled Areas and to Remove Soap Residue
If you are using any form of soap, detergent, or laundry stain remover that suds up in the slightest, you are likely going to have a residue if left to dry. For that reason you want to use a mixture of 1 cup sparkling water and 1/2 cup white vinegar and spray the surface of the fabric. The vinegar breaks down the soapy particles and the carbonation in the sparkling water will bring it to the surface, as well as any deeper dirt. Gently scrub the fabric again until your rags stop pulling dirt from the surface. Don’t be surprised if you get quite a bit more dirt on your rags on this step– the sparkling water works wonders!
I showed this on Instagram before, but if you drop some dirt or even raisins in a glass of sparkling water, they will rise to the surface. This same concept works in fabric and carpet! Sparkling water will bring ground-in dirt and some stains to the surface (especially any colored soda), so you can extract (absorb) them into a cotton rag.
5- Trim Lint & Pilling with Fabric Shaver
Once the fabric is completely dry, use a fabric shaver to trim the pilling and lint from the upholstery fabric. Most people use these for sweaters or sweatshirts, but upholstery is my favorite way to use a fabric shaver! It makes it look new again!
6- Protect Clean Fabric with ScotchGard
Finally, you want to protect the upholstery that you worked so hard to clean, so you want to protect the fabric. Put down a drop cloth so you don’t have over-spray and apply 2 light coats of ScotchGard, letting it dry completely in between coats.
Here is what the ottoman looked like before and after cleaning and protecting:
Here is the chair before and after cleaning using the same method:
Here is the step-by-step as I cleaned the chair:
The chairs look literally brand new again! This fabric hides dirt well, but you can tell as you look closer, the fabric definitely looks cleaner and brighter.
Thanks for reading and let me know if you felt this post was helpful!