How to clean upholstery – the best way to clean a fabric sofa or armchair, including using vinegar

Discover how vinegar makes a great upholstery cleaner – and get your sofas looking like new

Until a spillage occurs or a stain mysteriously appears, it can be easy to remain in blissful ignorance about how to clean your upholstery. But, even if a specific disaster doesn't strike, then given how often your furniture is used and how much hidden dirt and dust can build up - even on the fanciest of sofas, armchairs or sofa beds - it's good to know exactly how to give your homeware a freshen them up every now and then to keep them looking their best.

Tackle the whole house with ease thanks to our best upholstery cleaners guide – make this job simple

To make spring cleaning simple, just follow our four-step guide to how to clean upholstery, and you'll have fresh looking - and smelling - furniture in no time at all.

1. Clean off surface dirt

blue living room with sofa and book shelf

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

Start by removing throws and cushions and checking down the sides and back for any loose change, sweets wrappers and so on. For fabric sofas, fix the upholstery attachment to your vacuum cleaner. Use the brush attachment on leather upholstery to avoid scratching it.

Slowly suck up all the crumbs and dirt that have accumulated on the surface, using a slow sweeping movement. Switch over to the crevice tool to get anything from the edges your fingers couldn’t reach, as well as cleaning the seams. Repeat on the cushions.

2. Check the label

pink living room with sofa and plant pot

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

If your upholstery still has its label or a sticker attached to the underside, check it first before using any cleaning products.

  •  W means you can only use a water-based cleaner. S or P means it can only be cleaned with solvents (dry-clean only).
  • SW or WS means that you can use either a water-based detergent or solvent cleaner. A steam cleaner will be fine to use, too.
  • Finally, X means that you can’t use any water or detergent on the surface – get it professionally cleaned instead.

3. How to spot clean a fabric sofa with vinegar

We're often asked if you can clean a fabric couch with vinegar, and the answer is yes. In fact, white vinegar is a great natural stain remover for most types of upholstery. Start by blotting the stain with an equal parts water and vinegar solution, then wipe the stain away gently using a microfibre cloth (only use a new cloth or make sure it’s completely clean).

Follow this up with a mixture of mild detergent and tepid water to remove any lingering vinegar smell. Leave it to dry naturally. As a rule, you should always tackle stains as soon as they happen.

4. How to remove smells from upholstery

living room with wooden floor and sofa set

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dan Duchars)

More top advice: How to clean your mattress

From the dog’s secret naps on the sofa to cigarette smoke drifting in the window, your upholstery may look good on the outside, but it could still be harbouring a whole host of odours. Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda all over the surface and leave it overnight to let the powder absorb the smells. Vacuum it all off in the morning.

Millie Hurst
Millie Hurst

Millie Hurst is Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home. She first joined the team at the start of 2021. Previously, she worked in women’s lifestyle and homes news, writing about everything from budget kitchen makeovers and gardening tips to homeware dupes and cleaning hacks. Millie can often be found looking up trending terms, spotting news stories our readers need to know about and finding ways to decorate her rented flat.