How to Clean Couch Pillows

When it comes to soft fabrics in a home, the carpet is the first thing people want cleaned. Naturally, the carpet takes the most abuse since we ... well, we walk all over it. However, the chairs we sit on are subjected to the same atmospheric dust and conditions as the carpet. Plan on lounging out on the sofa tonight? Take a look at the pillows. Are they developing a dark patch from hair oil? Do they look as clean as they used to?

The good news is upholstery cleaning requires only a little elbow grease and a bit of patience. Contrary to popular belief, no special machinery is needed to clean upholstery pillows.

The following is for fabric that can be cleaned with water. Check for a label under the cushions for a "W" cleaning code. "S" is for solvent cleaning (dry cleaning). If the fabric is "S" recommended, or you are unsure if the fabric is wet cleanable, then call a professional cleaning company for guidance.

Things You'll Need

  • Upholstery shampoo (available at most home improvement stores. Take note: purchase shampoo for HAND cleaning, or FOAM cleaning; not STEAM or EXTRACTOR cleaning.)

  • Large, dense sponge (natural, sea sponges are best)

  • White terry cloth towels

  • Latex or rubber gloves

  • Bucket

Upholstery Pillow Cleaning

Step 1

Mix shampoo as per manufacturer's instructions.

Step 2

Place pillow on a clean terry cloth towel.

Step 3

Using the sponge, agitate the shampoo solution to create a frothy foam. This is important. The key to successful upholstery cleaning is to use the least amount of water possible. Therefore, use the foam on a well-rung-out sponge to do the work.

Step 4

Ring out the sponge, then scoop up a fair amount of foam.

Step 5

Using a circular motion (read: Karate Kid, wax-on), work the suds into the fabric. Work a small section at a time (about one square foot). The key here is to apply an equal amount of shampoo to the upholstery for even drying.

Step 6

Once a section of the pillow is cleaned, apply a clean terry cloth towel to absorb the shampoo and soil. Light, circular motion is okay. However, avoid vigorous rubbing as this may damage the material.

Step 7

When the entire pillow has been cleaned, stand it up on a clean towel to dry. Do not return it to service on the couch until it is completely dry.


The cushion should dry in as little as an hour to as long as 12 hours. Longer drying times are an indication of too much water. If new to upholstery cleaning, try a small pillow first to get an idea of how much water to use before diving in to a full-size cushion.


If the pillows have zippers, resist the temptation to remove the fabric and place in a washing machine. For one, it is usually impossible to replace the fabric onto the pillow because the fabric might shrink; the pillow might expand, which will make it nearly impossible to fit back into the fabric.

Also, the fabric may fade differently than the rest of the sofa if washed in a machine.

Always check the fabric in an inconspicuous spot before cleaning to check for color loss and compatibility with the cleaning agent.