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
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  • Until a spillage occurs or a stain mysteriously appears, it can be easy to forget about cleaning your upholstery. But given how often it’s used and how much hidden dirt and dust builds up on your sofas and armchairs, it’s important to freshen them up every now and then.

    Tackle the whole house this spring with tips from our care and cleaning category

    Follow this four-step guide to clean upholstery and leave it looking, feeling and smelling fresh.

    1. Clean off surface dirt

    How to clean upholstery

    Image credit: 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

    How to clean upholstery

    Image credit: 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


    Image credit: 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.

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