How to Clean a Couch: 5 Techniques for a Spotless Sofa

There’s nothing quite as frustrating as finding a stain on your sofa or having guests leave your house covered in pet hair that was hanging out on the couch.  Often the centerpiece of the living room, and therefore the entire house, a sofa that's soiled or stained can ruin the aesthetic appeal of your space and create an eyesore that disrupts the entire flow of your design.  Thankfully, you don’t have to be Martha Stewart to know how to properly remove a stain or keep your sofa clean and well cared for.  

While there’s certainly the option to have a sofa professionally cleaned, you don’t actually need to do this unless your sofa has become so soiled that only a professional clean team can help.  There’s zero need for it to ever get to that stage, barring force majeure or toddlers.  With regular light cleaning methods and some spot cleaning, you can keep your sofa and other upholstered furniture in great condition for very little out of pocket cost and minimal time.  

If you’re ready to clean your couch like a pro, we have five techniques and cleaning tips to make sure your sofa is always guest-ready.  First, let’s talk about what kind of sofa you have. 

Determine Your Sofa’s Upholstery Type

The type of fabric used to upholster your sofa will largely determine a) your ability to clean it; and b) how you will approach the cleaning process.  Additionally, the type of fabric used should be the sole factor you consider when determining which cleaning products are appropriate for it. 

If your sofa did not come directly from the manufacturer to your door like a custom-made Whom sofa, you may have trouble identifying the material it's made of.  If this is the case, you may be able to locate a fabric care tag somewhere under the couch or on the side of one of the couch cushions.  These tags will usually display one of the following abbreviations which can help serve as cleaning instructions for your specific material. 

  •         W:  This abbreviation means the fabric with which your sofa is upholstered can tolerate distilled water for spot cleaning.  It does not mean you can only use water, it just means water, typically warm water, is suitable for use on the fabric.  This also generally means you can use water-based cleaning agents or foams on the fabric. 
  •         S:  This abbreviation is for “solvent,” and means you should use a solvent-based cleaner on the fabric.  If you see only an “S” listed on the tag, it is best to use a solvent and no water.  Dry cleaning is not recommended with this fabric, nor is a steam cleaner. 
  •         SW: Finding this on the tag of your sofa means you can effectively use a solvent based cleaner and/or distilled water to clean the upholstery. 
  •         X or O: For fabric with this symbol, only vacuuming or a bristle brush/stiff brush/brush attachment should be used to clean up dirt and debris.  This type of fabric can likely be cleaned more deeply, but it would need a visit by a professional upholstery cleaner to handle the job.   

5 Techniques for a Spotless Sofa

Now that you’ve determined what type of fabric covers your second favorite place to sleep, you can create a game plan for deep cleaning, spot cleaning, stain treating, and regular fabric care. Generally, with all of these below techniques, you can always test the technique by blotting or brushing in an inconspicuous area first to make sure that the cleaning detergent or cleaning method you're using is safe for your couch's material. 

  1.     Prepare.  The first step in cleaning your sofa is to sweep away and loosen surface debris and dirt, especially in the crevices of the couch.  This can be done by using a dry clean cloth or soft bristled brush and gently smoothing either tool across the entire sofa in one direction.  If you are using a soft-bristled brush, be sure the fabric can tolerate it.  If you have any question as to whether the brush could damage your sofa, contact the manufacturer, or simply use a microfiber cloth, which can be just as effective. 

  1.     Baking soda treatment. One of the best (and most surprising) ways to clean your sofa and rid it of unwanted odors is to use baking soda.  This is a great example of a gentle and mild way to clean upholstery. If your upholstery is suitable for solvents, simply sprinkle baking soda over the entirety of the upholstered area and allow it to absorb odors, stains, and dirt for half an hour.  Once you’ve allowed the baking soda to sit, you can use a vacuum cleaner attachment to remove the baking soda, and along with it, the unwanted dirt and smells. 

This may be all you need to clean your sofa if it is not heavily soiled.  This is also a great way to keep your sofa clean on a regular basis.  Treating your sofa to a baking soda "bath" once a month can keep it in great condition and can prevent stains from setting in. 


  1.     Spot Treatment. Sometimes you only need to treat a small area of your sofa.  If you’ve spilled some red wine or have left a newspaper or magazine print-side down on your upholstery (don’t do it!) you may need to treat the stain only.  It’s important to treat the stain as soon as possible.  The sooner you are able to treat it, the higher the likelihood of removing it. 

 Again, your treatment method will be determined by the type of fabric you have.  If you have a sofa that can only tolerate water-based cleaning solutions, you’ll want to treat the stain with one of those.  If you can use a mild solvent on the stain, you can try a mixture of baking soda and mild detergent.  With a spot treat, be sure not to rub or scrub the stain, as this can make it spread.  Always use a clean, dry cloth to gently blot the affected area. 

  1.     Cushion removal and cleaning.  Some sofas have cushions with zippered covers that can be removed and washed either by hand or in a washing machine.  If you have a machine washable cover, the best way to deep clean your sofa is to remove the cushion covers and simply toss them in the wash.  However, it should be noted that even if the manufacturer says the covers can be safely dried in a dryer, you run the risk of the cover shrinking or not fitting the cushion the same way it did prior to drying.  It’s our recommendation to just let the covers air dry.

  1.     Quick Cleaning.  Sometimes you just need to get the couch ready for guests in a hurry.  If you only have a short amount of time to clean up surface dirt, a great way to do it is to simply use a vacuum attachment over the entire sofa.  If you are even more pushed for time, a lint roller can pick up crumbs, pet hair, threads, and anything else lying on the surface in a hurry.

Keeping your sofa looking as gorgeous and inviting as it looked the day it arrived is easy if you make a conscious decision to care for it regularly.  Understanding your upholstery is the basis of knowing how to care for your sofa.  Most sofas don’t need deep cleaning if they are regularly cleaned lightly and kept free of stains.   

Whom carries sofas in a variety of over 50 fabrics available in nearly a dozen different weaves that allow you to create the visual design you want while still keeping a clear conscience about your environmental footprint.  As such, our sofas are all safe for spot cleaning, making them even more sustainable than the wood from which they were crafted.

Shop now

You can use this element to add a quote, content...