How to clean a linen sofa to keep it in pristine condition – even in a busy family home

Say goodbye to water marks and stains, once and for all

White linen sofa with yellow and green cushions in front of white panelled wall
(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

Sofas are one of the biggest investments in the living room, so it's normal to want to keep them in the best condition possible. Knowing how to clean a linen sofa will help you keep this beautiful seating looking just how you like it to.

Even the best sofas, no matter how well cared for, will be liable to a spillage here and there so it's important to learn how to make sure you get yours spick and span and in time.

'Sofas require maintenance over time to keep them looking good as new, and no matter how hard you try to keep your brand-new sofa looking as perfect as the day it came home, it’s inevitable some pesky stains will show up over time,' says Patricia Gibbons, senior buyer at

'If your design vision includes a linen sofa, they are relatively simple to take care of but cleaning linen requires a gentle approach to maintain its natural texture and colour.' 

How to clean a linen sofa

Neutral L-shaped sofa underneath floating shelf in beige living room

(Image credit: Future PLC/Lizzie Orme)

First off, breathe easy, because linen is one of the more straightforward sofa fabrics to clean. You can clean up nearly whatever's happened yourself, and should only need to call in the pros in a stain disaster situation.

'Linen is naturally anti-static and so does not attract dust in the same way that a synthetic material does,' explains cleaning expert Sarah Dempsey from 'It’s also quite durable and most dirt can be removed from the surface without too much penetration.'

'Most spills just bead up on the fabric, and you can usually blot them away with a damp cloth,' continues Baqir Khan, cleaning expert and owner of Proactive Cleaners. 'Plus, many linen covers are removable and are able to go in the washing machine for an easy clean. However, they do wrinkle easy, so be prepared for a bit of ironing if you like things to look perfect.'

Nevertheless, to save you crying over spilled milk, here's what you'll need to do if you're learning how to clean a linen sofa...

How to remove light stains

White linen sofa with yellow and green cushions in front of white panelled wall

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

Light stains are obviously not the end of the world unless in an obvious position, but dealing with them correctly and quickly will stop them from sticking around. Plus, there's only two sides to your cushions so turning them over really isn't the best method – denial won't help you here!

'For minor spot cleaning, I’d recommend mopping up the spillage as quickly as possible by using a dry, absorbent kitchen towel or clean cloth,' advises Nicky Line, chief product officer at Loaf. 'Place this over the spillage and press gently to absorb as much of the spill as you can, ensuring not to rub or scrub, as this can worsen the spill.'

If there's already a stain forming, you'll want to add something extra to the cloth. 'For light stains, mix a solution of mild detergent and water, making sure test it on an inconspicuous area first to check for discolouration, then dab the stain gently with a clean cloth or sponge,' suggests Patricia from

Alternatively, if you're in a rush and want to know how to clean a linen sofa or sofa bed with removable covers from a light stain, then you can go automatic. 'Some covers can be chucked in the wash on a cool, gentle cycle,' explains Baquir.

How to remove water stains

Pink linen sofa in front of pink panelled wall

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

One thing linen hates? Excessive liquid of any kind. 'Adding more liquid to the stain can result in watermarks or discolour the dye in the fabrics,' notes Nicky from Loaf.

However, if you went a little overboard and need to correct your cleaning or have water marks from a spillage, you can fix it. 'White distilled vinegar or lemon juice can be fantastic options for eradicating water marks,' advises Dawnn Hilton-Lito, general Manager at One Less Thing. 'You should avoid using harsh cleaning products on linen as this could cause permanent damage to the sofa.'

Cleaning expert Sarah explains what steps you should take. 'First spray around the edge of the water stain with the distilled white vinegar, then blot it with the microfibre cloth and leave for about 10 minutes.'

'Rinse with distilled water, spraying it around the edge of the stain again. Next, blot the distilled water and fan it out with the cloth. Finally, leave to dry for a few hours and the stain will have gone.'

How to remove tough stains

Upping the ante a little, it's a good idea to know how to clean a linen sofa from those tougher stains.

'First and foremost, for any bad spillages or stains, I’d always recommend seeking advice from a recognised upholstery cleaner who can give you expert tips and carefully carry out a deep clean if needed,' advises Nicky from Loaf. 

However, if they're tough but don't seem impossible, you can try some good ol' bicarb. 'Grab some bicarbonate of soda and sprinkle it on the stain before leaving it for an hour to soak up the moisture,' suggests Baquir. 

'Hoovering it up should have the desired effect, but if it's stubborn, mix a splash of white vinegar with water and dab it gently with a clean cloth.' 

How to clean the worst stains

White linen sofa with blue cushions in front of white panelled wall in nautical themed room

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

Here's something you probably hope you never have to know – how to clean a linen sofa when the toughest stains around have occurred. 

There's a bit of a debate amongst the experts when it comes to which the worst is but, as you can probably guess as it's the same for most of your upholstery that face spillages, they're all richly coloured.

'Generally speaking, rich beverages like wine and hot chocolate are among some of the most challenging substances to get out of linen,' says Dawnn from One Less Thing. 'Therefore, you should be extra careful when drinking darkly coloured drinks on a linen sofa.' 

However, accidents do happen, so let's find out what the pros see the worst stains as being, and how to rectify them.

How to clean up tomato sauce from a linen sofa

'Tomato sauce is probably one of the most difficult stains to remove out of linen, as they contain protein, fats and highly coloured pigments,' says Nigel Bearman, Director of Daily Poppins. 'If you don’t move quickly, you will struggle to remove a tomato sauce stain.' 

Here's what Nigel suggests to do in a tomato spillage emergency...

  • Remove the excess tomato sauce using the edge of a credit card of a dull knife to lift away as much tomato sauce as possible
  • Mix one tablespoon of liquid hand soap with one pint of water
  • Use a clean cloth and sponge the stain with the solution
  • Blot until the liquid is absorbed
  • Repeat until the stain disappears
  • Sponge with cold water and blot dry

How to clean up curry stains from a linen sofa

'Curry stains are a nightmare on linen as turmeric is an extremely difficult product to remove,' says cleaning pro Baquir. 'Nevertheless, it is possible to restore your linen sofa if you spill a curry on it.'

  • Blot up any excess with a clean cloth
  • Mix some bicarbonate of soda with water to a paste and lather it on
  • Leave it for at least half an hour before popping it in a cool wash with biological detergent
  • If it's still there, try soaking it in white vinegar before repeating the wash

How to clean up red wine from a linen sofa

'Red wine is potentially the toughest stain to remove from a linen sofa,' says Sarah from My Job Quote. 

If you do have a spill of red wine on your linen sofa do the following:

  • Lay an absorbent cloth over the spill to soak up the majority of the wine
  • Blot the stain with a clean cloth to remove as much liquid as possible
  • Use a spray bottle and some distilled water and dampen the area
  • Carry on blotting until you have removed as much as you can
  • Create a paste of three parts bicarbonate of soda with one part water and apply it to the stain
  • Leave for about 20 minutes or until it dries out
  • Vacuum the bicarbonate of soda residue off the sofa
  • Blot the area with a dry, clean cloth

Linen sofa cleaning tips

Pastel sofa, armchair and ottoman in living room

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

As well as specific cleaning methods, it's always useful to have some handy tips to fall back on for how to clean a linen sofa with ease and keep your furniture as pristine as possible.

'Don’t scrub at stains or spills on a linen sofa as this will just drive the stain deeper into the fabric,' advises cleaning expert Sarah. 'On dark-coloured linen sofas be mindful of the dye lifting as you clean up the spill as this can cause lighter-coloured patches to appear on the fabric. Use a white cloth to lift wet spills so that you can see if any dye is coming out of the linen fabric.'

'If you have removable covers, check the care label, but most are fine to go in the wash on a cool cycle with gentle detergent,' notes Baquir. 'Air drying is best to avoid shrinkage. Keep your sofa out of direct sunlight to prevent fading. Rotate the cushions regularly for even wear and tear.

Baquir also suggests to sprinkle a generous amount of bicarbonate of soda over your linen sofa and leave it for half an hour every so often. 'This absorbs odours, lifts dirt, and freshens things up naturally, and if you vacuum thoroughly afterward, your sofa will feel and look revived.'

Cleaning hacks to avoid with a linen sofa

We love a cleaning hack, but one size definitely doesn't fit all.

'The laundry pod pot lid scrub hack is one that should be avoided,' warns Baquir from Proactive Cleaners. 'While tempting, laundry pods are often packed with harsh chemicals that can damage delicate linen fibres, and using them directly could cause discolouration or weakening. Plus, the pot lid method might not target grime effectively and leave a sudsy residue.'

How to protect your linen sofa

Striped linen sofa in white country living room with beams and fireplace

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

As with everything, prevention is better than cure. So to avoid having to actually put into practice how to clean a linen sofa of those bad spills, there are a few things you can do to help keep it in good condition on a day to day basis.

'Start by using your best vacuum on the sofa weekly using a soft brush attachment to remove loose dirt and debris,' advises Patricia from 'Regular vacuuming and occasional spot-cleaning will help keep your linen sofa looking fresh and inviting.'

'Lift any cushion that isn't affixed to the sofa and vacuum underneath and along each seam,' adds Nigel from Daily Poppins. 'Doing this will help your sofa look smart and prevent furnishings from sustaining long term damage.'

'A fabric protector is a great idea for a linen sofa even in homes without children or pets,' suggests cleaning pro Sarah. 'It will give you an additional level of protection for your sofa and make cleaning up even easier. Make sure to apply the fabric protector as soon as possible after purchase or after a professional cleaning.'

'Rotate the cushions on your linen sofa. This will help to keep them plump and comfortable but will also mean that one side is not constantly exposed to sunlight, reducing the risk of uneven fading,' she continues.

If fading is one of your bigger concerns and you've got your eye on a sofa deal, then choose colour carefully. 'When choosing a linen sofa for a room that gets a lot of sunlight go for a light colour. Sunlight can fade linen and darker colours will show this more readily than lighter ones,' explains Sarah. 'Alternatively, place your sofa where it is not in direct sunlight.'


Can you steam clean a linen sofa?

Steam cleaning is a great method for many fabrics, but you need to be really carefully when it comes to your linens. 

'If you want to get your linen sofa steam cleaned, it's recommended that you enlist the aid of a professional, as finding the right balance can be tricky and you don't want to accidentally shrink your sofa covers by introducing too much heat and moisture,' warns Dawnn from One Less Thing.'

'Steam cleaning a linen sofa is always a risk,' agrees Baquir from Proactove Cleaners. 'The heat and moisture can shrink the fabric or leave odd wrinkles. You’re better off testing a hidden spot first or getting a professional cleaner who knows their linen.'

While we hope you won't be in a panic cleaning up your sofa any time soon, this guide should sort your linen furniture out in no time. Just maybe leave the curry and red wine at the kitchen table...

Thea Babington-Stitt
Managing Editor

Thea Babington-Stitt is the Managing Editor for Ideal Home. Thea has been working across some of the UK’s leading interiors titles for around 10 years.

She started working on these magazines and websites after graduating from City University London with a Masters in Magazine Journalism. Before moving to Ideal Home, Thea was News and Features Editor at Homes & Gardens, LivingEtc and Country Homes & Interiors.