How to clean a sofa – handy cleaning tips to spruce up your seating

Whether it's fabric, leather or velvet, keep your sofa looking its best by getting the cleaning just right

With constant use, it can be hard to keep our sofas spick and span, free from crumbs, dust and grubby marks. You've chosen what you consider the best sofa, but with kids clambering over them, pets sleeping on top of them, and many of us preferring a trays-on-laps dinner scenario every now and again, it's no surprise that they don't stay looking as fresh as the day we bought them.

Not to fear though, as we're channeling our Mrs Hinch with this 'How to Clean Your Sofa' guide that tells you all you need to know. Whether your ideal living room sofa idea a beautifully squishy fabric sofa, a luxurious velvet design or sophisticated leather, we've found the best ways to keep any sofa clean enough to eat your dinner off of – literally!

How to clean a sofa

When it comes to sofa cleaning, it's not a 'one rule fits all' situation. A lot of it will depend on the fabric that your sofa is made of and whether you have loose or fitted covers, so make sure to check the label to see what type of cleaning products you can use (solvent or water based) and how best to wash them.

There's some controversy as to whether sofa covers should or shouldn't be washed in a washing machine, with many finding that the covers don't go on the same afterwards or look out of shape. Generally manufacturers say 'dry clean only' to avoid such outcomes. However there are those who swear by putting loose covers in the washer on a wool wash – saying they come up like new. It's a case of how brave you feel about washing your own sofa covers.

How to clean a sofa

(Image credit: Future)

Regular maintenance is also key when it comes to keeping your sofa clean, so hoovering or brushing it on a weekly basis will help keep it looking its best and avoid any accumulating dirt dulling its colour or wearing the fabric.

It's also wise to deal with any spills immediately, dabbing them with a paper towel or soft cloth to soak it up, rather than rubbing at it, which can push the spill deeper into the fabric.

Let's take a look at the different sofa fabrics, and how to clean the upholstery

How to clean a leather sofa

How to clean a leather sofa

(Image credit: Future)

Leather sofas are often chosen for their durability and easy wipe-clean material, but how can you ensure your model stays in good condition?

1. Give it a vacuum

First, remove any dirt by giving your leather upholstery a good vacuum, using the brush attachment if you have one to avoid scratching the material.

2. Wipe away dust

Use a clean cloth to remove any build-up of dust – it's best not to use water or a cleaning agent as some types of leather can be delicate and stain.

3. Use a specialist leather cleaner

Gently wipe your sofa, using a circular motion, with a leather cleaner. 'A specialist conditioner from a quality care kit will help to clean and condition your sofa, reviving the sheen of the leather and preserving its soft suppleness,' says Suzy McMahon, buying director at Sofology. 'To prevent the leather losing its colour or from becoming dry, apply this conditioner twice a year.'

How to clean a fabric sofa

How to clean a fabric sofa

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Dominic Blackmore)

Fabric sofas can be easier to clean than you think, no matter how light in colour the covers – including neutral and grey sofa living room ideas.

1. Clean any surface dirt

Start by removing throws and cushions, checking down the sides and back for any loose change or sweet wrappers, etc, then give your sofa a vacuum using the upholstery attachment. Make sure to vacuum the seams and any crevices, and repeat on all your cushions.

2. Check the label

Before you start cleaning the covers, make sure you check the label to see what products you can use on your sofa. 

  • 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.

If your sofa allows, wipe down the cushions with a clean, damp cloth to remove any dust and dirt, and stop any staining.

3. Remove any stains or smells

There are some easy home remedies that will help remove stains and spills. Firstly, white vinegar is a great natural stain remover for most types of upholstery. Use it to blot 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 and leave it to dry naturally.

Baking soda is good for removing any unwanted sofa smells – apply a sprinkling of it to the area, leave it for 15-20 minutes and then vacuum clean it.

4. Give it a steam clean

Cleaning expert and Instagram sensation Lynsey Queen of Clean swears by a steam cleaner for keeping her sofa in tip-top condition. ‘I steam clean mine with a handheld steamer,’ Lynsey explains. ‘What steam will do is it will refresh it. It will kill any germs and bacteria that’s in the sofa. And if there are any stains on there, it will help the stain lift,’ she adds.

Sadly, the steam cleaner may not remove the stain completely and you will need to go back over it with a stain removal product, but it will refresh your sofa no end.

How to clean a velvet sofa

How to clean a velvet sofa

(Image credit: Future)

It used to be the case that velvet was a no-go for anyone with pets and/or small children, but these days, easy-care fabric (most are no longer silk based) makes it easy for us to enjoy having a luxurious finish without the hassle of ridding it of marks.

1. Remove dirt and dust

Gentle vacuuming is key for cleaning a velvet sofa, so use slow circular motions to rid it of any debris. Another alternative is to use a lint roller instead, which does the job quickly and easily – however you'll still need a vacuum for those under-cushion and hard-to-get-to areas.

2. Give it a brush

You can buy soft metallic brushes that are  designed specifically for velvet, and these are great for maintaining your sofa's sheen. Be sure to brush in the direction of the pile.

3. Treat it to steam

If your sofa allows (you'll need to check the label to see if you can use water on your sofa), use a handheld steamer to prevent marks and creases. Use it on a low setting and move the steamer constantly to keep it from staying on any one spot for too long and damaging the fabric.

How to clean sofa stains

(Image credit: Sofa.com)

How do I clean sofa stains?

'Speed is key when it comes to spills and stains,' says Sofology's Suzy McMahon. 'Try to remove the stain as soon as you notice it by blotting with water and paper towels and avoid rubbing the fabric, as this will likely spread the colour. Use a solution of soapy water and a clean white towel to blot until you’ve removed the colour. '

'To avoid water marks after cleaning we advise that you dampen a colourfast cloth with boiled water from a kettle and gently wipe the entire panel or cushion from seam to seam. This will help to prevent any water stains as the fabric dries.'  

How often should you clean a sofa?

Until you spill something or a stain mysteriously appears, it can be easy to ignore upholstery cleaning, however given how often your sofa is used and how much hidden dirt and dust can build up, it’s good to give it a freshen up each week if you can, to keep it looking its best. A quick vacuum will rid it of any dust or dirt that could, over time, dull your sofa's colour and affect the material.

'There’s no denying sofas require regular maintenance, and no matter how hard you try to keep your  brand-new  sofa looking as spotless as the day it came home, it’s inevitable some pesky stains will show up over time,' says Sofa.com (opens in new tab)'s Patricia Gibbons. 'You often won't have to do the whole top-to-toe deep clean, but we recommend lots of spot cleaning and opting for fabric protection to help your sofa keep its new, fresh look.'

Laurie Davidson
Laurie Davidson

Laurie Davidson is a professional stylist, writer and content creator, who lives and breathes interiors. Having worked for some of the UK’s leading interior magazines, styled homes up and down the country and produced sets for TV shows, adverts and top brands, it’s safe to say Laurie has had a pretty exciting career. Find her on Instagram at @lifeofaninteriorstylist or over at lauriedavidson.co.uk