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How to clean upholstery, from couches to car interiors

Upholstery needs regular cleaning. Here's the right way to do it.
Clean furniture
Your couch is probably hiding more than loose change.Lucky Business / Shutterstock / Lucky Business
/ Source: TODAY

Does your upholstered furniture look dingy and tired? Is your couch in desperate need of a clean? What about your car?

Upholstery, like carpet, needs regular attention, says Shawn Bisaillon, owner of Professional Carpet Systems of North Denver. As an industry consultant for cleaning and restoration, he's sharing insider tips for keeping upholstery looking great.

Upholstery cleaning basics

  1. If you're going to hire a professional: Bisaillon recommends having upholstery cleaned by a certified cleaning technician every 12 to 24 months — or more frequently in households with small children or pets. To assure that you’re getting a qualified cleaner, look for certification by International Cleaning and Restoration Association or International Institute of Cleaning and Restoration. Before booking an in-home cleaning, request the name of the technician and his/her ICRA or IICR registration number.
  2. Vacuum: Use upholstery and crevice attachments (they make a huge difference!) to pick up crumbs and dust on a weekly basis.
  3. Clean spills immediately: Blot them up ASAP. If the spill leaves a spot, follow instructions on the fabric care label. If it’s safe to use water, blot the area alternately with a damp towel and a dry towel to remove it.
  4. Treat the stain: As always, follow cleaning instructions on the fabric care label. For stains on silk and antique fabrics, consult a professional. Otherwise, if the stain is from an organic source, like mustard, coffee or other foods, Bisaillon suggests lightly misting it with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide.

Pro tip: Always test in an inconspicuous place first to make sure the fabric is color-safe.

For other stains, Bisaillon uses a CRI-approved spot remover, like Benefect Impact Cleaner for Carpet and Fabric. Test it first in a hidden spot, then follow the manufacturer’s directions. After working on the stain, leave a towel on top of the treated area as well as on the underside of the fabric to absorb residual liquid.

How to clean upholstery yourself

What to use:

Cleaning interior of car, vacuum car
Those vacuum attachments make a huge difference!Shutterstock

What to do:

  1. Start by thoroughly vacuuming, using the upholstery and crevice attachments.
  2. If using cleaning products to break up soil, remember to lightly mist them onto the fabric. (Overspraying can cause the cleaner to seep into cushions.) Then, with a gentle touch, groom the fabric with a soft sponge or brush.
  3. Rinse the fabric by lightly spraying with warm water and suctioning away moisture with a wet/dry vac. Blot with an absorbent towel. Allow furniture to dry completely before using. To hasten the drying process, use fans or place the cushions outside to dry.

Prepare for disaster

A word to the wise: Be proactive!

You can spare yourself a lot of work and expense by applying a fabric protector to new or newly cleaned upholstery, especially if the upholstery is made of delicate, soft fibers like silk. For such fabrics, professionally applied Fiber ProTector repels stains, adds UV protection, reduces static electricity and inhibits growth of bacteria, mold and mildew.

For family-friendly fabrics, professionally applied, high-performance 3M Scotchgard does the job. Regular 3M Scotchgard, while not as powerful, is a good DIY option.

Using interviews with specialists, online reviews and personal experience, TODAY editors, writers and experts take care to recommend items we really like and hope you’ll enjoy! TODAY does have affiliate relationships with various online retailers. So, while every product is independently selected, if you buy something through our links, we may get a small share of the revenue.