Easy Ways to Clean Sofas

With proper care a sofa can easily be passed from one generation to the next.
With proper care a sofa can easily be passed from one generation to the next. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Family furnishings take a lot of abuse, particularly in homes with pets and small children. Over time, the daily wear and tear takes a toll, leaving well-used items such as sofas and loveseats looking dingy and unkempt. With proper care and cleaning, sofas can be easily maintained, allowing them to be an attractive, useful part of the home décor for many years. While it is not difficult to clean a sofa, it is essential to consider the material the couch is made from, as different fabrics require different cleaning techniques.

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Leather furnishings are soft, supple and stylish. In spite of its legendary durability, leather cannot be cleaned with many ordinary household chemicals, as they can damage the material and lead to cracking or unsightly discolorations. Clean leather sofas by dusting them with a soft, damp cloth, then vacuuming the cracks and crevices between the seat cushions. Cleanse heavily soiled areas with a damp sponge that has been rubbed across a bar of glycerin-based soap. Do not rinse the leather after washing; allow the sofa to air-dry, then buff the material with a soft cloth to remove any residue and bring out the leather’s natural luster.


Many sofas are covered in textiles such as microfiber, tweed, wool or linen. These fabrics cover the cushions and the furniture frames, giving the finished piece an attractive, polished appearance. Check the tag beneath the seat cushions before attempting to clean an upholstered sofa. Upholstered furnishings should be clearly labeled with a W, S, S/W or X. Furniture bearing a “W” can be safely wiped down with water-based solutions, such as soapy water. Sofas with an “S” tag can only be cleaned with dry-cleaning solvents, while those with an “S/W” on the label can be cleaned with either water or dry cleaning solvents. Items marked with an “X” should be brushed lightly or vacuumed and should not be treated with any type of fluid. Regardless of fabric type, sofas can all be kept reasonably clean by removing the cushions and taking them outside for a brisk shake, and running the vacuum over the sides and back of the couch to remove any dirt, dust or crumbs.

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When there is no time for an all-out sofa cleaning, wipe down leather couches, “W” fabrics or “S/W” fabrics with a baby wipe; the same chemicals that keep the baby’s backside clean can be used to remove soil and stains from fabrics and leather goods. Treat “S” fabrics with a cloth from a commercial, at-home dry cleaning kit; the chemicals are fabric-safe and will leave the sofa fresh and clean.


Tempting though it may be, do not remove the covers from sofa cushions and toss them in the washer. Even fabrics marked with a “W” will shrink when laundered. The freshly washed covers will be clean, but they will not fit over the foam seating pads. Moreover, washing the cushion covers will make them noticeably cleaner than the rest of the sofa, giving the furniture an uneven, unappealing appearance.


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