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What’s the Best Way to Clean Upholstery?

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Many of us love our furniture. That big comfy couch or that luxurious lounge chair is a not just a great place to relax. It’s a beloved part of your home. But whether you have a fancy investment piece, a treasured heirloom, or just a super-comfy family treasure, keeping it clean can be a struggle. Over time, dirt settles into the cracks and crevices of cushions, buttons, and other hard-to-reach spots. Even the surfaces of your cushions can soak up dirt. Over time, your favorite piece of furniture starts looking worn. It may even start to smell. But don’t worry. There’s no need to get rid of your beloved furniture. Some simple cleaning and regular care can keep your upholstered furniture looking and smelling fresh for years to come.

What’s the Best Way to Clean Upholstery [infographic]

Finding the Best Cleaner

There are literally hundreds of upholstery cleaners on the market. Some of them are specialized for specific uses. Some claim that they are especially suited for removing fur and animal dander. Others promise to work great on suede or wool or some other specific material. But it may not be necessary to spend your hard-earned money on expensive specialty products. Often, some simple products you already have at home can do just as well or even better than the high-priced cleaners.

Using Bicarbonate of Soda to Clean Upholstery

You might be surprised to find out that one of the most effective upholstery cleaners is a very cheap ingredient that may even already have in your pantry or fridge. Bicarbonate of soda, or as it is commonly known, baking soda, is a great cleaner. You may already be familiar with baking soda as a deodorizer for your refrigerator. It can work in much the same way on your upholstery. In fact, it can do even more.

Bicarbonate of soda is no ordinary cleaner. It gains its power from its chemistry. Bicarbonate of soda is a strong base. In other words, it is the opposite of acids. Much of the odor and stain causing molecules in your upholstery are acidic. The baking soda doesn’t just cover up those acids, it actually breaks them down and neutralizes them. In addition to its chemical attack on odor and stain-causing acids, baking soda has another useful quality. Baking soda is mildly abrasive. The small particles are just gritty enough to scrub dirt and debris out of your upholstery.

How to Clean Upholstery with Baking Soda

This method of upholstery cleaning is very mild. It is safe for almost any upholstery and is also safe for people, pets, and small children.

The first step to cleaning with baking soda is the same as the first step for almost any method. Before you attempt any cleaning, start by vacuuming the entire piece of furniture. Take your time and move slowly, covering the whole piece in slow, deliberate strokes. You’ll be amazed at how much of a difference just a good vacuuming makes. It is quite likely that after you vacuum your piece of furniture, it will already look visibly cleaner. Over time, upholstery can trap a lot of dirt and particulate matter. A good, strong vacuuming can pick up a lot of that.

After you vacuum, it’s time to go for the more stuck on dirt. Start by sprinkling an even coating of baking soda over the whole piece of furniture. Most baking soda comes in small boxes which can make it hard to sprinkle evenly. If you have an old talc powder or baby powder bottle you can put the baking soda in there to make it easier to spread. Even an old spice shaker could work. Make sure to coat the whole piece. Then let the baking soda sit for about 30 minutes.

After the baking soda has had a chance to settle in and work its magic for a half hour, bring out your vacuum again. Vacuum up all of the baking soda, making sure no powder is left over. And that’s it! Your upholstery should look and smell better than it has in a long time.

Using Soap to Clean Upholstery

The baking soda method is a great way to clean upholstery. It has the advantage of using absolutely no liquid, so once the baking soda is all vacuumed up, you can go right back to using your furniture. But if you need a slightly deeper cleaning, you might want to try using some soap. But don’t just go pouring soapy water all over your favorite furniture. There are a method and a technique to using soap effectively on upholstery.

The first thing you will need to do, as with any cleaning, is to give the upholstery a really thorough vacuuming. Your furniture will look better with just that. But now you can go even further. All you need is a little unscented dishwashing soap and a small bucket. You could even use a large measuring cup. You just need room for lots of suds.

To prepare your cleaning solution, add 3 tablespoons of dish detergent to 2 cups of warm water. Some experts suggest adding 3 tablespoons of white vinegar, too. If you have tough stains or your furniture is extremely dirty, you can try that. Otherwise, soap is fine. Once you have your soap and water mixture, get a fork or whisk and start whisking it. This is why you need a small bucket or large measuring cup. The mixture will start to create suds. Keep whisking until you have a huge head of suds. This should take about 20 seconds of consistent mixing. You’ll be using the suds to do the cleanings, not the actual water and soap mixture, so make sure you have plenty.

Cleaning with Soap Suds

Once you have lots of suds, you can start cleaning. Scoop up some of the suds and spread them over the area you are cleaning. If you have a large piece, like a couch, you can clean it in sections. Make sure that you are only getting the suds. The biggest danger to this method is leaving unsightly water stains. If you just use the suds, you can control the amount of liquid that gets on your upholstery. Also, spreading the suds evenly across the whole piece of furniture helps avoid water spots with hard edges that look like stains.

Once you have coated the furniture with suds, you can go after any tough stains with a soft to medium-bristled brush. A simple dish brush is usually fine, as long as it’s not too stiff. Once you’ve attacked the worst stains, you are ready to remove dirt from the whole piece. Get a soft, really absorbent cloth. A washcloth works great. Dampen it lightly with some warm water. Just make sure it’s not so wet that it will transfer water to the upholstery. Take the cloth and wipe off the suds in long strokes across the entire area you are cleaning. Again, the long strokes help prevent water marks. Go over the whole piece of furniture like this. If you use a light-colored washcloth, you can actually see how much dirt you are lifting off the upholstery.

Once the cleaning is done, you need to dry your upholstery completely before you use it again. The faster you can dry it, the better, so we recommend using a large fan, ideally one that oscillates, to help it dry more quickly. If you want to do both sides of your cushions, do one side as described and let them dry completely. Then you can flip the cushions and do the other side.

If Home Cleaning Doesn’t Work

If you try both the baking soda method and the soap suds method and you still have stains or feel like your furniture looks dirty, avoid going for harsher cleaners. You want to get your furniture clean, not damage it. You can try some cleaning solutions made especially for cleaning upholstery. Just be sure to test them in an inconspicuous spot before using them anywhere else. If a stain is really stubborn, don’t risk damaging your upholstery to get it out. Sometimes professional cleaning is the best solution.

There are lots of upholstery and carpet cleaning companies out there. Some are more reliable than others. At TrustDALE, we always recommend doing some research before hiring a carpet and upholstery cleaner or any other service provider. Look for online ratings. Even if a company is highly rated, read the low ratings just to see what problems people may have had. Some people may rate a company poorly for reasons that have nothing to do with their service. If the ratings are overall positive, you can ignore a few bad ones. But if a bad rating raises a red flag, look elsewhere. You can also check a company’s rating on the Better Business Bureau website. Finally, ask for references from real customers. Call one or two to make sure you are getting a reliable company.

Of course, if you want to take the guesswork and risk out of hiring a service provider, you can always check TrustDALE.com. Businesses in our Circle of Excellence have been pre-screened with Dale’s 7-point investigative review. They are also bound to Dale’s trademark Make-it-Right Guarantee™, so you know that you’re getting reliable service with the best guarantee out there.