Learn How to Clean a Fabric Couch Like an Expert
Style Bee enjoys her Sven in Birch Ivory sectional with her dog.

How to Clean a Fabric Couch

It always happens in slow motion. A glass of red wine is knocked out of a guest’s hand. A soggy soy sauce-dipped piece of sushi slips from your chopsticks. A bowl of powdery cheese puffs tips over and scatters. In a matter of painfully drawn out moments, your once pristine sofa looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. It’s time you learned how to clean a fabric couch. 

Not all sofa messes are a dramatic event, however. Sometimes they’re just the product of a busy month where cleaning your couch wasn’t at the top of your priority list. We’ve all been there. Whether looking for advice on general maintenance or you need help spot cleaning after a certain toddler decided the sofa upholstery was their personal napkin, we worked with our in-house experts to put together this comprehensive guide. 

A Sven Birch Ivory fabric sofa is draped with throws and throw pillows in the home of blogger Our Dwelling Place.
Don’t be afraid of a light colored sofa. Jennifer from Our Dwelling Place can enjoy her Sven in Birch Ivory fabric knowing there are easy ways to clean the upholstery.

How to Clean a Fabric Sofa Like an Expert

General cleaning and maintenance 

Picture this: your in-laws are coming for a visit. You’ve spent the week scrubbing the tub, dusting baseboards, and buying all of their favorite snacks. After a night of jubilant conversation and the perfect meal, you go to set up the Soma sofa bed. That’s when you see them: the crumbs. You forgot to vacuum in the crevices of the sofa, and now your in-laws can see that they were right about you. This is all to say that regular sofa cleaning and maintenance is crucial to not only elongating your sofa’s life — but yours too. 

To avoid these kinds of nightmare situations, make general cleaning and maintenance a regular part of your sofa care routine. Start by vacuuming every two weeks or so. Use the fabric attachment or a soft brush head to vacuum up any of those telltale crumbs, dust, or other dry messes. A reminder: please make sure your vacuum head is clean. Rubbing a dirty vacuum on a sofa you’re trying to clean is the most Sisyphean task

After you vacuum, take this opportunity to flip, rotate, and fluff your removable cushions. If you want some expert insight into the art of fluffing pillows, check out our in-depth blog post

Sarah Lit's kids jump on the Article Ceni sofa
Sarah Lit’s kids know how important it is to fluff your sofa cushions. This Ceni sofa enjoys a good fluffing as part of general couch maintenance.

Depilling 

Like your favorite sweater, your fabric couch can experience the annoying phenomenon known as pilling. Tiny balls of loose fibres and threads form when a surface undergoes repeated friction. Although it’s a common occurrence for all sofas, you can limit pilling as much as possible by choosing a high-quality couch. How can you tell if you’ve got durable upholstery on your hands? The Martindale test. It’s a universally-recognized unit of measuring the durability of fabric based on how many times robotic discs can oscillate abrasive materials against the upholstery before it shows signs of distress.  

Look for couches with a Martindale rub-test of 25,000 rubs or more. To put that into perspective, Article sofas are typically Martindale tested to withstand up to 100,000 rubs. Go us. 

The appearance of pilling makes your sofa look older and more worn than it actually is. Nobody wants that. It’s time for a trip to the salon. Insert fun and flirty makeover montage here. 

The first thing you’ll need in order to remove pilling on your sofa? A depiller. This is a common item you can get for around $14 at most big box, sewing, or craft supply stores (New York Magazine shares their favorite model here.) 

Start by pulling the fabric taut to ensure there are no wrinkles. If you’ve ever tried shaving a curved area like around your ankle, chin, or cat’s armpit, this step will make a lot of sense to you. Once you’ve done this, use scissors to cut off any longer loose threads. Take your depiller and run it over the surface of your sofa in light, circular motions. We don’t want any nicks, so make sure the depiller is barely touching the fabric. While your first depilling session might be a bit longer, regular trims will reduce the time needed for any future maintenance. Now that you’re done, all that’s left to do is run your hands over your newly soft and smooth couch. 

A Merry Mishap shares her white Article Solae sofa in a serene living room.
A Merry Mishap’s Solae sofa looks like the most beautiful magnet for wine and gravy spills. With quick action and the right cleaning process, it can stay looking pristine for years to come.

To sum it up: 

  • Vacuum every two weeks
  • Fluff pillows and cushions
  • Use a depiller on a regular basis  

Out, Damned Spot: Spot Cleaning Your Fabric Couch

Sometimes a member of royalty accidentally tips their glass of cognac onto their host’s chesterfield. And sometimes you bite into your personal deep dish pizza too fast and spit it out onto your white sofa. Both situations call for quick reflexes — and some focused spot cleaning. 

The best time to learn how to clean a fabric couch is not when tragedy strikes. It’s right now. The few minutes it will take to read through these instructions now will save you a headache, and heartache, if the worst case scenario happens in the future.

Michelle Sturgis' puppy and cat look innocent next to the Article Sven sofa in Birch Ivory
Who, us? Michelle Sturgis‘ puppy, Dora, and cat, Eva, are the picture of innocence as they hang out with the Sven sofa in Birch Ivory. A fabric cleaning regimen will keep this Sven looking spotless — even when these little rascals aren’t.

 The first thing you need to do is check your manufacturer’s cleaning instructions. They know what’s best for your particular piece, so always follow their care guide first. 

For most messes, the following steps will gently but effectively work for your fabric.  To start, grab a soft, lint-free cloth or paper towel. Use this to absorb any liquid, whether it’s pizza grease or your prized Merlot. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t blot or rub. Rubbing will only cause the stain to go deeper into the fabric. Leave the cloth on the spot until as much of the liquid is absorbed as possible. 

Next, mix a drop or two of dishwashing liquid into a cup of water. We recommend doing this in a lidded mason jar or Tupperware so you can shake it without making an even bigger mess. Shake until bubbles form. 

Take your cloth and dip it into only the suds of this mixture. Gently blot the stain, making sure not to saturate the fabric. 

Once you’re satisfied with the state of the stain, you’re ready to dry. Either let the fabric air dry or use a blow-dryer on the lowest heat and power settings to speed things up. 

If you’ve got an extra stubborn stain on your hands, it’s best to contact a professional upholstery cleaner. 

These steps again for those in the back: 

1. Check your manufacturer’s cleaning instructions for any special care requirements.

2. Use a soft, lint-free cloth or paper towel to absorb any excess liquid. Do not rub. 

3. Leave the cloth on the spot until as much liquid is absorbed as possible. 

4. Mix a few drops of dishwashing liquid into a cup of water.

5. Shake until bubbles form. 

6. Dip your cloth into the suds only. 

7. Gently blot the stain, making sure not to saturate the fabric. 

8. Let it air dry or use a blow-dryer on the lowest settings. 

9. Call on professional help if you need it. 

The best things in life are messy. In an ideal world, our kids and pets would be spotless angels, wine would always stay in its glass, and we’d never lose any french fries to the cracks in our sofas. While this world would be clean, it would lack the element of surprise and joy a messier life can bring. Now that you know how to clean your fabric couch, you can sit back and do what you do best on it: relax.

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