Is your upholstery looking a bit dingy? Are noticeable stains bothering you every time you walk into a room? Perhaps it’s time to give that fabric a good cleaning. Before you get on your hands and knees with a scrubby brush or spend the money to rent a steam cleaner, you need to identify the type of cleaning that’s best for your unique upholstery.

Research What's Right for Your Fabric

Did you keep any of the marketing information from when your furniture was purchased or your upholstery done? Many times you can find a tag hidden out of sight on your furniture. Give these a good lookover to determine what kind of materials your upholstery is made from.

(Note that generally the tags will declare what kind of stuffing is inside the upholstery and not the fabric itself. If you are unsure of whether or not to trust the notification, it’s best to call a professional.) Pay special attention to any recommended cleaning techniques—or what it tells you to avoid.

  • If you see a little “W” noted somewhere, this indicates that you should use water-based cleaning techniques. Generally, water-based cleaning is used for synthetic fibers.
  • If you see a little “S” noted somewhere, this indicates that you should use solvent-based (also referred to as dry) cleaning techniques. Generally, solvent-based cleaning is used for natural fibers.
  • If you see a little “WS” noted somewhere, this indicates that you can use either cleaning technique.

Fabrics respond differently to different cleaning methods, so never assume that a one-size-fits-all technique will help your upholstery. In fact, using the wrong cleaner could harm it. 

For example, if you have a grease spot, you may not get it out with a water-based product; if you have a water-based spot, you may not get it out with a solvent-based product.

Remember that not only can ignoring the fabric’s cleaning requirements damage the material, but you can also void any warranties the manufacturer may have included with your original purchase.

If you don’t have any information about your upholstery, now is the time to do some detective work. Start by calling the furniture store or upholsterer, and have them identify the brand of upholstery that was used.

Sometimes these contacts also have care instructions to give you, but if you find yourself armed with only brand information, you can go straight to the manufacturer and ask what kinds of care instructions they recommend for your upholstery.

It is especially helpful if you have a particular upholstery stain in mind when you call, as the more information you can provide the company, the more specific they can get with recommended cleaning instructions.

Oops! You Just Spilled Something. Now What?

The way to remove red wine from cotton is different than the way to remove a pet stain from synthetic material. Without knowing all of the factors, it will be hard to determine if it is safe to clean a stain yourself. (Hint: it is probably not.) Dark stains, large stains, set stains, and stains found on natural fibers are usually best left to a professional.

However, there are some spots homeowners can tackle on their own, with relative success. Please be aware that unless you are a trained professional, there is a chance you can permanently ruin your upholstery by trying to clean it yourself. Before proceeding, decide if it is worth the risk.

Fresh, small spots are the easiest of all to clean. Before proper cleaning of any fresh spots is done, you can help keep them from spreading by blotting them with a washcloth or paper towel. Do not rub, as this will spread the stain to the surrounding areas.

If you have a fresh stain, it may be tempting to research DIY spot removal online or head to the store to buy a bottle of fabric cleaner, but this is not your best choice. Remember that without proper research, cleaning attempts made with the best of intentions can cause the worst damage.

If you are determined to clean the spot yourself, once you blot, consider vacuuming the area, as dirt or residue left behind can hinder cleaning. When vacuuming, do your best not to spread the stain further. Then proceed to follow the instructions provided to you by your manufacturer or installer.

Preventing Stale or Stained Upholstery


The easiest way to prevent dingy dust or grit from piling up is to vacuum your upholstery. Since your vacuum should be set up to mainly handle carpet or flooring, make sure to look at its attachments for the one that will work best on furniture or draperies. It is wise to vacuum fabrics at least once a week for best results.

Stain Blockers

When you first get your hands on your new fabric, your installer may recommend a stain-blocking treatment as a prevention method. As with anything, some treatments work, and some treatments don’t. Do your research on the treatment before you agree to purchase anything.

See what you can dig up as far as consumer reviews. Does this treatment work for the same types of stains you anticipate happening to your upholstery? How long does it last? Could it cause any damage to the fabric? Does this void the warranty?


You do have the option of covering your furniture, fabrics, or carpet with plastic or tarps when they’re not in use (or even when they are, if you are very worried about stains). 

If the idea of plastic rubs you the wrong way, slipcovers may be an option worth considering. They come in a variety of styles and fabrics, or you can have one custom made for your piece of furniture.

It may not be wise to take cleaning upholstery into your own hands, as it can permanently ruin the fabric. Upholstery fabric is not made to be cleaned like carpet, so before you dive into any sort of cleaning, pre-test a small, inconspicuous area.

If you choose to hire a professional instead, it is always good to hire someone who has relevant certifications and experience dealing with the kind of upholstery you have.

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