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Removing Stubborn Stains on Upholstery

Removing Stubborn Stains on Upholstery Blog Hero Image

One of the most frequently abused surfaces of your home, and the trickiest to remove stains from, the upholstery on couches, recliners, chairs and other surfaces is often treatable. However care is warranted to avoid damaging your favored furniture. What’s the best way to tackle the job?

What the X? Cleaning Codes

The first step in figuring out how to clean upholstered furniture is determining its cleaning code, which should be visible on the cushion tag. This code determines your ideal cleaning solution:

  • W: Water-based upholstery cleaner.
    Manmade fabrics typically including polyester, nylon, herculon, acetate, olefin.
  • S: Solvent-based upholstery cleaner.
    Cotton, linen, rayon, wood, silk, denim, velour, damask.
  • S/W: Water- or solvent-based upholstery cleaner.
    Cleaner is based on stain type: Water for water-based; solvent for oil-based.
  • X: Professional attention is warranted.
    This rare code, found on delicate furniture, means only brushing and vacuuming is recommended.

Save the Change! Pre-Cleaning Prep

Next, before commencing with cleaning, a bit of prep work is advised: Brush down furniture with a stiff brush or clean, dry white cloth, avoiding colored options that could transfer dyes. If odors are an issue, sprinkle on a bit of baking soda, letting it sit for 20-60 minutes, then vacuum nooks and crannies, removing any hidden treasures to the piggy bank.

Out Darn Spot! How to Clean Upholstery By Hand

  • “W” Couch
    “W” furniture is simply cleaned with a solution of homemade cleaner comprised of a teaspoon of dish detergent and one cup of warm water. Dab the solution onto stains, being careful not to oversaturate and overscrub. Follow with a rag dampened with water, then blot dry.
  • “S” Couch
    For “S” furniture, solvent-based dry cleaning solutions, which typically contain ingredients like pine oil, d-limonene, and glycol ethers. Spot remove, blotting soiled areas with a white cloth moistened with solution, then allow to dry. Brush or vacuum upholstery to restore the original texture. (For large areas, hire a pro.)
  • “S/W” Couch
    Couches constructed with blends of natural and man-made fibers are often labeled with this code. Clean water-based stains with water, and oil based stains with solvent (fry grease, skin oils) using the methods above.
  • *All Couches
    Due to the assortment of materials, be sure to check each surface in an inconspicuous area before going crazy with cleaning.

Giving Tough Stains the 1-2 Punch: How to Clean Fabric Sofa Stains

  • Add a little vinegar.
    Add a little white vinegar to your homemade solution.
  • Try a little retail therapy.
    If this doesn’t work, try a water-based upholstery cleaner from the store. ‘Special’ stains, such as coffee or wine/grape juice, try Wine Away.
  • Put the pressure on.
    If neither of these work, or your upholstery has odors - try steam cleaning.

You Have the Power: How to Clean Upholstery with a Steam Cleaner

  • Pick the right steam cleaner.
    Avoid buying/renting the giant steam cleaner (typically used for carpet), opting for one made specifically for upholstery or fabric. Handheld or canister-style with an array of detachable wands and hoses are better for small, tight upholstery surfaces.
  • Prep your cleaner right.
    Add water to the machine based on manufacturer instructions. Don’t overfill, or you could oversaturate upholstery. When adding cleaning solutions, don’t overdo it – too much cleaner can be hard to remove. Then choose the best attachment for the job.
  • Start with the cushions.
    Spraying surfaces with steam, and quickly dragging the attachment over the surface to remove excess water. Repeat on all visible surfaces, then let pillows dry in a method where all wet surfaces are exposed to avoid damage/odors.
  • Clean the rest.
    Moving a small section at a time so water does not set-in. Repeat until the entire item is clean.
  • Let your furniture dry.
    Dry times will vary based on saturation and weather. Open a window, use a fan, or grab a blow dryer to speed the process.

X Men: When It’s Time to Call a Couch Cleaning Pro

Sometimes, the easiest and most effective stain removal technique is calling a pro. For upholstered furniture with an “X” code, or deep stubborn stains, count on Rainbow Restoration® to return your furniture to its former glory. From stain removal and deep cleaning to odor removal and allergy control, we’ve got your upholstery cleaning needs covered. Request an appointment online or call us at for professional upholstery cleaning services you can trust.

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